Nothing scares professionals, small businesses and big companies alike as much as data loss. In the blink of an eye, important data can become corrupted or deleted by accident. Or a surge may fry your hard drive and you can kiss your data goodbye. The danger is very real and not everyone is ready to deal with such an emergency. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to improve protection from data lost that don’t cost much or anything at all.
Backup your data regularly
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: there are two types of data, data you’ve lost and data you will lose. Computers, like every machine, aren’t 100% reliable and unintended losses can happen at any time. This is why having a good backup strategy is vital. We’ve already dealt with how to set up automatic backups using File History. If you’re looking for a more advanced backup solution, Cobian Backup may suit your needs, although it’s slightly more complicated to use. I strongly suggest you don’t back up your data manually, because chances are you’ll suffer from the I’ll-do-it-later syndrome. If you’re one of those persons that are very diligent about their routine, that’s great, but if you aren’t, let a program handle backups automatically.
Don’t back up to internal drives
Internal drives are not your friends when it comes to backing up important data. An important rule of thumb to remember at all times is “backup devices should be easy to remove to protect them from electrical faults and physical damage“, which means that an USB drive is better for backups than an internal one.
An UPS is a worthwhile investment
Uninterruptible power supplies may be expensive, especially more advanced models, but they help power your desktop computer for half an hour that is, the time you need to close all of your applications and shut it down safely. More advanced (and expensive!) models also have a USB port used to send a safe shutdown signal to the computer automatically. If you use a laptop, its battery acts as a simple, yet effective UPS.
Repurpose an old desktop computer as a NAS
NAS stands for Network-Attached Storage and basically means a computer whose task is to provide file access to other computers in the local network. They’re essentially small servers with a minimal set of functions and they can run even on dated hardware. If it’s possible, consider adding two or more drives in a RAID configuration to ensure data safety. You can also find specially-made NAS enclosures that are basically small computers with two or more hard drive bays, but those options are more expensive than using stuff you already have laying around. The good thing about NASes is that you can backup your data to them, meaning you can say goodbye to external hard drives. Not only that, but backup solutions play much more nicely with network locations than with external hard drives.
Run a SMART self-test from time to time
Despite the Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology not being 100% accurate in identifying a failing hard drive, it’s still the only tool that can give an indication of a hard drive’s imminent breakdown. HD Tune is a small utility that benchmarks mass storage devices and reads SMART data, presenting it in human-readable form. An alternative that runs on Windows, Linux and macOS is GSmartControl. You can read more about SMART attributes here.
Consider using the cloud as your documents folder
Storing your documents on the cloud helps adding an additional layer of protection from data loss, because all of the data protection measures are performed by a third party. An additional advantage of using the cloud is the ability to syncronise all your data among your devices, allowing to access it even from outside the office.
Google Drive, Dropbox and Onedrive have free apps that provide you with 15, 2 and 5 GB of free storage space, which can be expanded to 1 TB if you purchase a yearly plan. Be aware that Google Drive shares its available space with your GMail box and Android’s Photo app. Windows allows you to include additional folders, including cloud ones, into your Documents library by right-clicking on the folder and selecting Include in library and then Documents. Get used to saving to that folder: your data will be in safer hands and can be synchronized to all your devices, if you so desire.
Keep an off-site copy of your data
Having your data on a drive or server somewhere in your house or office is all well and good, but (knock on wood) if disaster strikes them, your data may be at risk. Asking a friend or relative to keep a copy of your data (possibly encrypted) at her home is a good idea. Alternatively, you may decide to ask a fellow freelancer to keep a copy of your data while you keep one of theirs.