At least once a month, some friend or family member asks me how to recover data from a failed hard drive. I help them as best I can, but in my head, my answer is always the same: "go back in time and back up your computer like you know you should have."
When your computer's hard drive fails, it can be gut-wrenching. At best, maybe you lost a really important presentation you were working on. At worst, maybe you've lost every photo of your kid's childhood. Sometimes, you can recover that data yourself — but often, it's gone forever (unless you want to pay a lot of money to get it back). Every hard drive fails one day. Backup service Backblaze says 50 per cent fail after only four years. Save yourself the trouble and start backing up your computer now.
One Day, Your Hard Drive Will Fail
It's my firm belief that everyone will experience this at least once in their life. Maybe you accidentally erase your data beyond saving, maybe you lose your computer, or maybe your hard drive just dies one day. It's inevitable: one day you will lose all of your data. Many of you have probably already experienced this once. And those of you that haven't...well, you just haven't yet.
It's a scary thought, but it doesn't have to be. I've experienced at least three catastrophic data losses in the past few years, but none of them were particularly stressful, because I was able to restore from a backup and keep on going.
Backing Up Isn't Just For Tech Geeks Anymore
What shocks me the most about these hard drive failures is that every single person I talk to — everyone — knows they should be backing up their data. They just don't. They know what backup means, and they even know what an external hard drive is. They just seem to think they can "do it tomorrow" and keep pushing it back forever and ever until one day, their hard drive inevitably craps out. (If you've never heard of backups before, then I apologise for the slightly bitter and condescending tone of this rant. However, you should still heed these warnings.)
Everyone has something to lose. Maybe it's family photos, maybe it's important work materials, maybe it's your finely crafted resume you worked so hard on. Backing up isn't just for computer geeks with lots of data — it's something each and every one of us needs.
Backing Up Is Easy: Just Set It And Forget It
So now you know you should back up — all that's left is to actually do it. Luckily, we've got guides just for you.
You generally have two choices when it comes to backup. You can:
- Back up to the internet (recommended) with a program like Crashplan or Backblaze. This is preferred. It's very easy to set up, and ensures that your data is kept safe even if your house catches fire or gets burgled.
- Back up to an external drive with Windows 7 Backup, Windows 8's File History or Mac OS X's incredibly simple-to-use Time Machine. You can also back up to an external drive with Crashplan, as described above. External drives are ok, but this method won't protect you in case of fire or theft. If you do this, you should still back up your most important files to an online service like Dropbox. (Make sure you use a good external drive, too.)
Check out the guides linked above for instructions on how to set up each method. Heck, it's even a good idea to have multiple backups if you really want to keep that data safe. But at least have one.
Do It Today
Convinced yet? If so, stop whatever you're doing right now and put it on your to-do list. Got a free hour tonight? Do it tonight. Got a bit of free time this weekend? Skip the movies and set up your backup. The movies will still be there next weekend. This is not something you can afford to keep pushing back.
Most importantly, pass it on. If you already have a backup — or if you're officially planning to do it soon — let your friends know what you learned about how important it is and how easy it is. If you don't, you'll have to hear about it the next time they lose something important.