Tuesday 12 July 2016

Protect Your Documents & Photos

Most of us have an ever-growing number of photos and documents that we would never want to lose. Those family photos are priceless. Those documents and scanned images would be nearly impossible to replace if they were lost. That's why we saved them to our hard drive in the first place.

But there's a problem. Hard drives fail. It happens all the time.

I've had 2 different friends call me in a panic because their hard drives suddenly stopped working and they had lost a ton of photos, documents etc.

In one case they were able to ship the drive to a data recovery company who had special hardware and tools to try and recover data in this kind of scenario. It's expensive, and it's not guaranteed to get back everything. So what can you do instead?

I suggest you get yourself a NAS (Network Attached Storage) appliance that supports RAID-1. RAID-1 is a method where the NAS writes all data to 2 hard drives simultaneously, providing a higher level of protection.

In this scenario if one of the hard drives fails, a perfect copy of all your data is still sitting on the second hard drive for you to access. You simply buy a replacement hard drive for the one that went bad and the appliance rebuilds the RAID array. No muss, no fuss.

Most NAS appliances can be configured to send you an email alert if it detects a problem with one of the drives, so you don't have to be constantly checking on the device health, it'll let you know if there is something wrong.

One of the great advantages of a NAS is it can be used by all the devices on your network, so you can store family photos or videos there and everyone can view them from their own computers. Map it as a network drive and instead of saving your photos and documents to your C:\ drive you save them to the NAS over the network. To make it easy I just mapped all our computers to our NAS by calling it the Z:\ drive.

I bought a D-Link ShareCenter on sale for $80, and then bought a couple of 1TB hard drives to put in the NAS. It supports drives up to 4TB in size, but I just don't need that much space yet. There are a bunch of other vendors out there, at varying price points. I just went with the D-Link because it fit my budget and I liked some of it's features.

So a NAS will help protect you from losing all your data to a failed hard drive, but it won't protect you if there's a fire, flood, or someone breaks in and steals all your technology. So how do we guard against that?

Time to embrace the cloud. There are a bunch of options out there you can use to keep copies of your critical photos and documents, and many of them are free. I'll touch on a few of my favorites, but feel free to search for more..

Dropbox, from dropbox.com is an easy to use cloud storage option. They have a local app for Windows or Mac you install and your dropbox folder automatically synchronizes with the cloud. You save something in the dropbox folder and it sits online.

Microsoft is also in the online storage game with their Onedrive service, which gives anyone with a Microsoft account (free to sign up for) up to 5GB of data in their Onedrive for free. If you need more they offer 50GB for $1.99 per month.

Amazon has an absolutely huge cloud service, so it should surprise no one that Amazon got in to the home user cloud space with Amazon Drive. Amazon will give anyone with an Amazon Prime account unlimited storage for photos, and 5GB of space for video or other documents. I like this choice for protecting my photos since I already have a Prime subscription. They also offer an "Unlimited Everything" plan for $59.99/yr if you just want to not worry about space ever.

Amazon also has their S3 offering. Typically this is more for business use but I mention it because the D-Link NAS I bought has the option to automatically back itself up to Amazon S3. This would take the onus off you to remember to occasionally copy the contents from your NAS up to the cloud for redundant backup as the NAS will do it for you.

GOOGLE DRIVE is available for everyone who has a free Google account. This option gives you 15GB (3X the Microsoft amount) of storage space to use as you see fit. So far this seems to be the largest free offer from the various popular providers.

Google also provides an app to install on your computer so you can drop & drop files/photos in to your Google drive and organize it however you like. If you're an Android smartphone user you're probably already saving copies of your phone pictures up to Google's cloud as they offer unlimited storage for that.

Finally we have Box. The folks at Box.com offer you 10GB of free storage in their cloud. As with all the others the interface is fairly intuitive and easy to use. Box touts their security aspect as setting them apart from other players in the cloud storage space, and many businesses agree. Whether that's a concern for you or not, 10GB of storage is a pretty healthy offer for free.

Some of you may be wondering why I suggest both an on-premise copy stored in a NAS, and a cloud copy for protection. The reasons are twofold:  1) A local copy will be faster to access, and is available even if your internet connection is down.  2) A cloud copy protects you from fire/flood/theft, etc.

If your budget is zero for this sort of thing I'd strongly encourage you to start with Google Drive just from a space perspective, and add other free services as you run out of free storage.

Whichever method you decide on you will have helped protect your data and photos/videos so you won't be the one making that panicked phone call down the road.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

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