Thursday, 21 April 2011

Back-up your Data or That Disaster will be a Disaster!

2011 so far has been a year of disasters with floods, two in Queensland and counting cyclones and bushfires across the country. This got me thinking about the repercussions this can have.

In the event of  disasters like this happening to you, have you safeguarded your years of research? What if you lost those irreplaceable photographs and documents? It doesn’t even have to be a major disaster, many people now only use a digital camera and download many census and other images from Ancestry and FindMyPast to their computer. A hard drive crash can be quite final.

It is never too early to start thinking about protecting your research.

In the old days we used floppy disks but with the large file sizes and the increasing amount of digital media available for download this doesn’t really work any longer (and most computers don’t even have a floppy drive installed and if you talk about 5 1/4 floppies you get vacant stares from most people!).

Backing up to CD or DVD does work but remember to check your backups regularly. You can also use USB drives (but ideally not for long term secure storage) These average around 8 gigabytes nowadays. A better way is to use an external drive. These have become very cheap. (I just bought a 1TB (terabyte) Western Digital drive for under $100 and i saw one in a catalogue today for $84. One terabyte is a trillion bytes (characters) which is also 1000 gigabytes, one gigabyte is 1000 megabytes).

An external hard drive is an easy solution. Many come with backup software that will copy the entire contents of your computer with just a few clicks. You can even schedule automatic backups - ensuring you won't forget to backup for a few months at a time. However because it is attached to your computer, an external hard-drive can still fall victim to the same viruses that attack your computer so it is important to keep your virus protection up to date. You are also able to network these external drives so that more than one computer is able to use it for backup and you are able to set up sharing folders for your  data files or photos.

Ideally when you are backing up to external media you should  use the grandfather system. This means you actually have three backups going: grandfather then father then son so that if you do have a virus that goes undetected you have at least three backups. Of course you can’t store these near your computer as if it is stolen, the thief is also likely to take any discs and if a flood or fire strikes they are at risk. Storing them off-site with a friend, relative or at work is required for safety.

All good genealogy programs have the ability to backup your family file. Usually it is a menu choice and then you choose where the file will be saved. Ideally this should not be just on the computer you regularly use.

Another option which is very useful is to use online storage. This has a number of advantages:
  1. You can access your files from any computer with an internet connection
  2. You can allow others to view some or all of your files
  3. Someone else backs those drives up on a regular basis
  4. Generally you can get up to two gigabyte free
  5. In the event of a disaster at your home your precious files are protected

I use Dropbox (http://www.dropbox.com/) where you can access 2GB for free or I pay a yearly fee and have 50GB of online storage available. For me, Dropbox is excellent as I can set up sharing folders that I allow certain people to access. This is an excellent way of collaborating with others on research and sharing large files that can be difficult to send by email. I have my family history collaborators as well as my microbiological colleagues.  There are many online storage sites available including Google.

Ideally you will have scanned or taken digital images of your documents, certificates and photographs, named and organised these files for easy retrieval. Your ‘My Documents” folder and “MyPictures” folders (for Windows users) are obvious folders that need to be backed up.  However it is not just these files but what about your Internet browser favourites folder (all those bookmarks you have saved!)? Your email archive? Perhaps where you found that useful utility program that you use all the time? In fact it is important to backup anything that you are not prepared to lose!

Any backup method is better than none. It does take time and sometimes a bit of money but planning ahead of time is definitely a million times better than suddenly wishing you had done that back up when disaster strikes!