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Three cool data backup ideas
Data backup software is boring
So, ignore my other hubs on backing up ... and read this one.
Here are some useful resources on storage solutions for your data and recovery of data should anything ever go wrong but, in the meanwhile, let's talk three cool backup ideas that won't get you all hot and sweaty.
Most backup software, whether it comes as an online service or a desktop application, follows a fairly standard pattern. Some programs have a few more bells and whistles than others, but they all do essentially the same thing. There are even several online backup services worth examining.
Some are paid programs and I've reviewed freeware and shareware programs; we've even spoken about using Windows itself to backup your data but, today, I have some less well known strategies to share.
Backing up for technophobes
If backing up can be a chore, learning to use a backup program can be a hassle in itself. Then, as is the wont of software nowadays, it'll keep coming up with nag screens wanting to phone home... and/or get more personal data from you. Worse, one day it'll break down just when you need to recover data and restore your hard disk.
So why bother with software at all? Because you need to backup, right? But, if it's your files you are worried about, not Windows, the 1990 version of dumping your files on external media is a minimalist's solution. No, I'm not talking installing DVD writing software and grappling with the millions of complex, technical questions writing software impose on you. Or limiting your backup to 4 GB of space.
No, I'm talking copying and pasting.
Organise your main work in a folder/s on your desktop then all you need to do is select all those folders and drag them to an external media. Floppies are out, of course. And CD/DVDs don't hold enough. But, have you considered USB flashdrives? 128 GB should be more than enough for even the more demanding user. Leave it to copy overnight and you don't need to even bother whether your USB port is a 1.0 thingie or a 2.0 backward compatible improved thingie - the speed becomes irrelevant.
Backup to your email
If you’re sitting on a Gmail account, wondering whether you’ll ever get enough email to fill up your storage quota, there is some software out there that might just help. It wraps around your Gmail service and allows you to use it as an extension of your hard drive. Of course, this is a great way to back up important data that you don’t want to see stranded on your own machine.There are quite a few utilities now which turn your Gmail account into a virtual drive.
Although ingenious, the concept is not officially supported by Google. It’s based on the current incarnation of the Gmail API which could change at any time. Just looking over the version histories of some of this software, it’s clear that, at times, they have become temporarily unusable because of changes in the Gmail service. Not exactly an ideal solution for storing that vital piece of data which you must be able to gain access to at any time, then, is it? However, given Google's past history your data is probably less likely to get lost with them that it is with you.
Although Gmail once ruled the roost as far as the generosity of its online storage space allocation was concerned, that’s no longer true. There are now quite a few online backup providers who’ll offer you just as much space for free, along with software specially designed to let you use it for backup purposes. I don't use them but if any readers want an invite to a Google mail account, just drop me a comment in my fan club.
Peer to Peer (P2P) Backup is an idea which has intrigued many for a number of years, particularly within the academic world. Its proponents claim there are vast quantities of free hard drive space out there which could effectively be used for doing distributed backups. The problems involved in making it work, though, are daunting.
Naturally, it has to be impossible for whoever’s hosting your backed-up data to have a read through it, poring over all your stuff. Then there’s the availability problem. The computers in most P2P systems aren’t going to be online all the time. So what do you do when you need access to that vital file you had stashed away but the machine where you stashed it is inaccessible? And what about the storage space problem? You may have a hundred free megabytes now and be glad to act as host for someone else’s backup data, but what about in three months’ time when you’ve filled up all your free space with programs and mp3s? You’re not going to be quite as sanguine about it then. Will you just delete someone else’s precious data to free up a bit of space? If it’s a stranger, perhaps, but perhaps not if it’s a friend. Some of the P2P backup implementations have tried to fold in something of the instant messaging buddy concept to get round this problem. That way, you backup your most important data to your friends’ PCs and vice versa.
P2P backup is still at an exploratory stage. It’s a fresh idea which may either become the “next big thing” or fizzle out and die forgotten. If you want to check it out for yourself, have a look at two of the best practical implementations of the concept below : Buddy Backup | Zoogmo
Do hard disks go down and lose data? Without a shadow of doubt. But, strangely, that's not the problem most people have. The lowest denominator with data problems is one that is best solved by what's called Versioning Software.
FileHamster, for example, is essentially a versioning program. Designed for content creators, it saves different versions of files as you work on them. If you've ever struggled with versioning software such as CVS or Visual Sourcesafe, you'll be relieved to know that FileHamster is much easier to use. In fact, it involves almost no effort at all. Once you've created a Library archive, you just select files and folders to add to it. After that, every time one of those files or folders is changed, the new version will be saved in your FileHamster archive.
It preserves a complete versioning history of each file and folder and you can even enter comments for each one if you wish. If you decide you don't like the latest update you've made to a file, you can easily restore a previous version. There are options to include or exclude certain file types and to use zip compression on your archives via a plugin. The open plugin architecture makes the program highly extensible, allowing you to add capabilities by downloading new plugins or even developing your own. Although it's by no means a complete backup solution, for creative professionals, who're constantly working on documents with their PCs, FileHamster really is a great little utility. There is even a commercial "+" version which comes with a few more sophisticated features.