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Disasters are rare, but inevitable, and they do happen somewhere. When they do, technology is often among the first casualties.
Laptops, desktops and tablets are ultimately trivial items that can be replaced and hold little value, but the same might not be true of the data they contain. Losing a project you’ve worked years on because of a fire or flood would just be salt in the wound and could even disrupt your livelihood. Fortunately, there are some ways to prepare for the unthinkable, be it a personal tragedy or a natural disaster.
The most common and intuitive form of offsite backup is cloud storage, a service most readers are probably familiar with. Some options, like DropBox and Google Drive, are designed to provide users with easy access to files while others, like CrashPlan, are specifically built to provide consumers with data protection. In either case, cloud storage protects your files by placing them somewhere far, far away from your home.
These offsite backup services are often easy to use and, in some cases, automated. Backing up your files may be a matter of drag-and-drop, or files might be backed up on a daily basis by a software client. There are a ton of competitors in this space, so you’re spoiled for choice.
Price can be a problem, however, as most cloud storage services provide between 5GB and 10GB of free space. After that you’ll have to pay, and the cost can add up, particularly if you’re using a general cloud storage service rather than a backup service. Security can also be a concern, as most services rely only on a password for authentication and don’t provide a guarantee that data can be restored if security is compromised.
Online Off-Site Data Protection
Technically, any cloud storage solution will fall into this definition, but there’s a differentiation between services that are just “cloud storage” or “online backup” and those that are billed as “offsite backup.” The differences are in security and reliability.
A consumer cloud storage service provides little guarantee beyond “your data will be fine, trust us,” while an off-site backup service will promise multiple server redundancies, a secure access portal and configurable multi-user access. Examples include Iron Mountain, Barracuda and CyberSecure.
Beefy offsite backups like this are extremely reliable and secure, but tend to be expensive, and many aren’t even accessible to a consumer. This is obvious by the way such services conduct business; you don’t go to a store and buy their service, you call or e-mail them and negotiate a deal. Barracuda, at $50 per month per 200GB plus the cost of hardware (at least $699), is about where this market’s floor can be found.
Rent A File Server
Companies in the business of renting file servers were hurt by the coming of cloud storage, which is generally more intuitive and less expensive (for small amounts of storage). But companies like Rackspace and XLHost do still rent file servers, and this option may be a fit for your needs.
The main difference between a dedicated file server and the cloud is that the former gives you a specific piece of hardware, be it physical or virtualized, to use however you’d like. This will come with its own RAM, processing capability and storage. Prices can be somewhat competitive with cloud storage solutions, though it really depends on the service.
Renting a file server is somewhat more secure than cloud storage because an attacker would typically require both your login information and knowledge of the file server’s IP address. File servers are also easy for multiple users to access. In exchange for these advantages, however, you receive a service that’s much more difficult to use. Don’t expect the ease of Dropbox – you’ll need to at least be familiar with how file transfer protocol works.
Vaulting is an extreme method of protection where data is physically moved to a secure location using removable storage media such as an external hard drive. This provides the most secure protection possible; once data has been vaulted, it’s only accessible by direct physical contact.
This offsite backup strategy is often impractical for an individual, but there are a few useful options. The most basic is to ask a family member or trusted friend if you can “vault” data at their house by storing a hard drive in a fire-proof safe.Another avenue is to store data in a neutral location, like a bank’s lock-box or a self-storage unit. And if you’re really paranoid you could find a local high-security storage location that provides 24-hour surveillance, on-site security and automated fire-protection systems.
Whatever offsite backup method you choose, encrypting the data on the drives is advisable, since there’s a chance (however slim) that they could end up in the wrong hands.
Vaulting can be affordable for people who want to archive a lot of data. A 10-inch by 10-inch deposit box will fit several hard drives, each of which could contain several terabytes of data, and typically costs $80 to $200 a year (depending on location) plus the cost of the drives (another $100-$300, let’s say). That’s a lot less expensive over the course of a year than Google Drive, which charges $199 a month for 4TB of space. Of course, where you really pay is convenience; if you want to read your data you’ll have to drive to the storage location.
There’s no way to plan for every eventuality, but taking even the most basic steps can save you a huge headache later. Basic cloud storage is free and will protect your valuable data against a wide variety of disasters and accidents that could destroy your personal belongings. Absolutely everyone should at least take this most basic step.