DON'S FREEWARE CORNER - JAN 2018
ONLINE BACKUPS FOR YOUR COMPUTER
©2018 Donald R. Snow - This page was last updated 2018-01-16.
These Freeware Corner notes are published in TAGGology, our Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group
(UVTAGG) monthly newsletter. They are also posted on my Freeware Corner Notes page on
where the links are active and there may be corrections and additions, as well as other related notes
ONLINE BACKUPS VS ONLINE STORAGE
Online backup companies provide space and automatically upload there all files in folders you have specified on your computer. They are not free, but protect you in case of disasters such as fires, floods, tornados, and even break-ins with theft of your computer. They work over the Internet and store your data, usually, in two or three computer server farms in different geographical locations. These server locations may be in different states or even countries, for security. The server farms have large arrays of hard drives connected together and all linked to the other locations, so if any are destroyed, the data is available from others. For me, signing up for one of these has led to a calm reassurance that whatever happens to my home or computer, my data can be recovered by me or one of my children. This data recovery even works for inadvertently deleted files. The only problem for inadvertently deleted files is that I have to recognize that I deleted the file from my computer in about one month or it is then deleted from my online backup, too. There are exceptions, as I'll point out below. Online data storage is different than online backups in that for online storage, when you upload data, it stays there as long as you pay the storage bill and can always be downloaded. But online storage data is not updated unless you do it yourself, so you don't always have your latest version stored. I will discuss online storage in another Freeware Corner article and only discuss online backups in this one.
ONLINE BACKUP COMPANIES
There are many online backup companies, each with different features and different costs. A few of the more commonly known ones are BackBlaze https://www.backblaze.com/ , Carbonite https://www.carbonite.com/ , and Mozy http://mozy.com/#slide-9 . Other related websites include Dropbox https://www.dropbox.com/ . Comparisons and others are at https://www.lifewire.com/online-backup-comparison-2617891 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_online_backup_services . The different features are things like the fact that some companies allow you to backup unlimited amounts of data and others limit you to a terabyte or so (1000 gigs). Some companies will let you back up several computers to the same account and others will only allow one computer. I use BackBlaze since it is inexpensive, allows me unlimited data backup, but will only allow me to backup from one computer. Because of the one-computer restriction, I make sure that everything I need backed up is on that computer, my main desktop computer. I presently have 2.5 terabytes (2500 gigs) of data backed up on their servers and it costs me about $60 per year. Before I signed with BackBlaze I had been using an online backup company that was costing me more than times that much.
I first became aware of them at RootsTech conferences since they support that family history conference and always have a large presence there. The company is based in the San Francisco Bay Area with servers in various locations. They use thousands of smaller (several terabyte) hard drives and, hence, are a good source of information about the longevity of hard drives and publish such reports regularly.
BACKING UP YOUR COMPUTER
When you first sign up for a backup program, you select the password and tell it what parts or all of your data to backup. Their program goes through your hard drive(s) and organizes the way it will upload your data and starts encrypting and transmitting it. I have three internal hard drives on my main desktop computer and, for simplicity, I told it to backup everything on each. You don't really need to back up program files, since you would have to reinstall those later anyway, but it was easier to just say backup everything. When the backup starts, the process may take a week or more depending on the amount of data and the speed of your Internet connection. It is set to not interfere with your working on the computer during that time. After the first part is complete, the program only checks for changes made since the last backup and uploads the changes. That occurs almost instantaneously and you don't see any slow-down of your Internet speed. If you have a slow connection, you can tell it to only backup data late at night, for example. These incremental backups keep the backup updated on their servers. BackBlaze sends me an email once a week telling me how much I have backed up on their servers (2.5 terabytes at present) and the last time it backed up my computer, which is almost always "Last backup: today." It's comforting to see these emails and each has the link to click in case I want to download anything. Occasionally, when something happens that BackBlaze can't get into my computer to upload the incremental changes, the message says, "Last backup: 4 days ago." and that alerts me that I had reset my firewall for some reason and need to change it back to allow BackBlaze back in. The receipt of these emails is very helpful. I also have a DROPBOX account, but only use that for ease of access of data on each of my computers. I have never checked to see if using DROPBOX alone would be cheaper, but I doubt that it would be and it doesn't have the incremental backup feature since it's an online storage facility. It does, however, have an option that you can go back and download any earlier versions of a file you stored there.
If I need to restore a file or an entire directory or even an entire hard drive, I can go to the BackBlaze link and get into my account to do it. This makes it crucial that you remember or have your password written down somewhere, since BackBlaze doesn't keep that and you can't get into your encrypted files without it. There is probably some way you could pay some company to find your password and get into the files, but that might be expensive. My children know how to find all my passwords, including my BackBlaze one, so they could always get into my account without me. Once you are into your account, you can search through all your directories, folders, and files and download anything you want from there. It is organized online just like it was on your computer. If your entire hard drive crashes or your house burns down, you can even pay them and have them send you a new hard drive with all your files on it. I don't know how much this costs, but just the fact that you can do this is comforting and it is probably cheaper than trying to regenerate your data in any other way.
WHAT YOU ARE PROTECTED AGAINST
We've mentioned being protected against local disasters of your home or business and inadvertent deletions of files, but this also protects against things like ransomware where the bad guys lock your computer and request money, usually several hundred dollars, to unlock the data or they will erase your entire hard drive. Trying to recover from ransomware is a problem no matter how to do it, but with your data backed up online, you can just turn off your computer, clean off the ransomware, reformat the hard drive, and download the latest version of your files from the backup company's servers. It takes time and may cost you money, but is a safety feature of using an online backup company.
MY BACKUP PROCEDURES
I do my daily journal on a digital recorder every night after writing the outlines in an appointment book. It only takes a few minutes and I have a complete accounting of each day. My kids are always amazed at the details that are in my journal since it is so easy to do this way. The problem is that there is no simple way to transcribe all this to text to make it readable and searchable and it's an enormous amount of data. But the worst case scenario would be that I have to pay someone to type it all off. As for backups, during the time that my journal is only on my digital recorder, it is not backed up and if I lose it or it gets fouled up, I will have lost those recent files. About once a month, I rename the journal files on my digital recorder with a process I have developed so they are easily findable and organized chronological by date (See some of my class notes and Freeware Corner articles for details.) and move the files from the recorder to my desktop computer. As soon as they are on the computer, they are automatically backed up online and I don't have to worry about losing them. The same is true of photographs with my digital camera by moving them from the camera to my desktop computer and naming them with a convention that make finding them easy.
AN EXAMPLE OF HELPING A NEIGHBOR
Several years ago I got a call from a neighbor telling me that she couldn't find the audio interview file she had on her computer of her late husband. I went over to her house and she had inadvertently deleted it and it was her only copy and none of their kids had a copy and it wasn't in the recycle bin. She was panic-stricken. I asked if she was using any kind of backup service and she didn't think so, but I mentioned the names of several backup companies and she recognized one and said she thought she may have signed up for it a few months ago, but wasn't sure and had no idea of what it did. When we checked, we found she had signed up for one and had used her usual password (Not always a good idea) and we tried that and sure enough, there was a backup of her lost file on the company's servers. We downloaded it and a couple of others and she was almost in tears of joy that we had been able to resurrect it. It taught me, and probably her, a major lesson about the need for good backups.
CAN YOU HAVE TOO ANY BACKUPS?
Unexpectedly, my answer is yes. The problem is that I have copied files to various flash drives and external hard drives and later find them and wonder which version of the file it is. It takes time to check and see if I have that file and the latest version of it so I can delete the old backup. As an example, I recently found in my bank safety deposit box 3 small flash drives from 15 years ago with old PAF files on them. I had forgotten all about these and had to check and compare them with my current genealogy database (not PAF) to see if I have all that old data. To avoid such problems in the future I have started naming files I copy for particular purposes so I can tell that this is just a copy that can be deleted without checking when I am through with it. Live and learn, as they say.
You need a good backup system and what I have described here works for me. It has the advantage of storing all my files off-site, so disasters like have occurred recently in New Orleans, Texas, California, and Utah won't destroy everything I have worked on. Every time there is a physical disaster, the media interviews someone whose house has been destroyed and they say we can replace everything except all our photos and genealogy information is gone. I cringe every time I hear this and think we need to get the word out to everyone that there are ways to protect all this information so it won't be destroyed. This article has only discussed online backups and a way that works for me, but there are other ways to do it that may work better for you.