If you loose your data you'll need cheering upStephen Covey has already published the The 8th Habit, so I’ll have to put this down as the 9th habit of highly effective people.

These days we have more knowledge than we can comfortably fit in our heads, so we depend on our trusty computers to keep all of that overflowing information safe. From important e-mails, to irreplaceable family photos, or even the music collection to keeps us going through the day. It’s all there in those tiny magnetic particles.

Needless to say, it’s no laughing matter when it goes wrong. Hard disk failures, flat batteries and lost laptops are becoming everyday events. It isn’t that the technology is getting less reliable, it just that we are increasingly reliant on it. That should make the limitations of storing data on a PC or laptop obvious:

  • When the machine is destroyed, stolen or fails, all of that data is lost (or at least compromised).
  • Data is inaccessable to others (unless you are doing some form of funky personal file sharing).
  • Data isn’t available when you are away from the machine or it is off with a flat battery.

These were some of the reasons that IT departments installed LAN servers in the 90s. Data was kept somewhere safe and backed up regularly. You won’t know how valuable your data is until it is lost, and by then it is too late to do anything about it.

  • A laptop is stolen from the car.
  • A hard drive fails for no apparent reason.
  • Data is corrupted by poor software.
  • A flat laptop battery and a lost power supply.
  • The list goes on. In the last week I have come across nearly a dozen people who have lost days, if not weeks, of productive time. You might have the most well organised to do lists in the world, but if you loose your data, your productivity goes down the drain.

    Data storage continues to plummet in price (see “the exploding digital universe“), which means we consume more and more, but also that a backup system needn’t be expensive. Consider one of these ways to protect your data:

    • Back up data onto an external drive.
      • External firewire drives are fast, although a little more pricy. A USB drive is fine.
      • Store it somewhere safe, but different (a friend down the road?).
      • It is no good if you loose the drive at the same time at the computer.
      • Consider using encryption to keep the data safe.
    • Set up a file server or NAS.
      • If you have enough machines to make it worth while.
      • Ethernet and wireless connected storage systems are affordable.
    • Back up data with an on-line back up service.
      • They are surprisingly affordable.
      • Some services double as a way to share files with others.
      • You’ll need a decent amount of bandwidth, and the first back up will take a while.
    It is all basic stuff, but human nature means that we say “it won’t happen to me.” Trust me when I say that it will. A few hours choosing and setting up a system for backing up all of your data will save you hours if not days in the future. A few more things to think about:
    • Ensure that you back up often, to minimize what you might loose.
    • Test that you are actually able restore from the back up.
    • A backup system is only useful if it is workable, usable and used.
    I’ve been pointed to Tom Olzak’s post on TechRepublic: Four reasons to validate your backup processes which has a good rational for checking that your backups work.
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