The Best File Backup Solutions
You've probably seen the commercial: A family’s home is devastated by fire. A heroic National Guardsman locates a photo album (symbolizing the most valuable material family possession), wipes it off, and hands it to the grateful survivor.
If this resonates with you in the slightest, you may want to do a quick assessment of where your own pictures are. It’s easy enough to gather up the hard-copy images and put them in a safe place. But what about your digital photos? What about your family videos? If you wanted to grab the moments of your life, would they be grabable?
The most common place for files to be stored is on your PC. But your PC's hard drive is the least safe place to store your digital images and video.
Hard drives crash. Like all mechanical devices, they wear out. Storing all your photos and files on your PC's hard drive is like speeding down the wrong side of a freeway — it's not a matter of will you crash, it's simply a matter of when. The older your hard drive is, the more likely it will go down, taking all your irreplaceable digital memories with it.
Of course, you're not the only one living dangerously digitally. According to the Photo Marketing Association, just 39 percent of digital camera owners back up their pictures — and this likely includes those who define "backing up" as simply transferring their shots from an SD card to their PC.
Here are three quick, cheap and easy methods for backing up your priceless digital visual files: an online storage service, an external hard drive, or recordable DVD or Blu-ray discs. And these aren’t mutually exclusive either-or choices; rather, they’re complementary, because each method offers advantages in particular situations and because your files are pants you want to hold up with both a belt and suspenders.
Plus, each of these methods is relatively inexpensive; a belt-and-suspenders approach will ensure that your life's memories and work won't be erased by the capricious nature of technology, or by nature itself. Don't wait for a hard-drive crash or an act of God to teach you a sad lesson about backing up the digital moments of your life.
SOLUTION 1: ONLINE STORAGE
Store your photos and video where fire and water can't get at them — on a remote server by way of an online storage Web service. Online server sites offer a no-muss, no-fuss, no-bother solution — relatively speaking. You can sign up with an online photo storage site, pay a nominal monthly fee (anywhere from $5 to $15 a month, depending on how much storage you need), and then choose what folders or individual files to upload.
After the upload process is finished, your pictures will be stored on what's called a "cloud" server: computer drives metaphorically located in the virtual sky, but, in actuality, a vast data-farm full of secure servers offering security and backups upon backups to ensure the continued fidelity of your files.
How much photo storage do you need? Right-click on your photo folder, and scroll down to “Properties” to see how much space your photos take up. Now double that amount, and you're looking at the minimum cloud space you'll want to lease.
The growing number of cloud storage sites offer more than storage and more than sharing. For instance, many of the better sites provide:
- Remote access: Get to your files from any PC with Web access, Internet-connected HDTV or Blu-ray player, or via a cellphone.
- Desktop application: Download a desktop application to automate file uploading and management, and to schedule the time that your backups occur.
- Bulk uploads: Instead of having to choose individual files, you can upload the entire contents of a folder.
- Versioning: Store both current and past versions of files so you can go back in time and retrieve earlier versions.
- File format/OS agnostic: Better cloud sites don't care if you're on a Windows PC, Mac or Linux, and won't discriminate about what files you can upload.
- Sharing options: All files you upload are password protected, but you'll have a variety of sharing choices, such as making certain files or folders completely public or accessible to those you list or to whom you give permission by sending them a link, just like on photo sharing sites.
- Security: The better services offer 128-bit SSL security, which requires a password to get in.
The Best Online Storage Sites
Here are our top picks for cloud storage sites, based on their combination of price, storage capacity and features. The pricing listed is the least expensive plan.
Our favorite photo and files site automatically propagates any changes you make to your files, regardless of their location. In other words, you edit a picture or a document on your desktop, and the changes are made to the copy stored on the SugarSync servers. SugarSync’s Magic Briefcase feature allows you to save files to a desktop folder and instantly access them from any other PC with the SugarSync software installed. The best part, though, is that you can set some folders to sync and others to back up. So you can create an online archive for those files you won't be changing.
30 GB: $5 per month or $50 per year
Unlike other services, you can back up an unlimited number of PCs to one account (Sorry Mac users). And it provides continuous coverage, backing up your files every time you make a change rather than at a set time. For remote access to your files you'll have to step up to a Pro account.
40 GB: $46 per year
Pro 20 GB: $82 per year
This is the service we use for our work files. It provides real-time back-up and the ability to go back to older versions of a file. Delete a file by mistake on your computer? Until you've gone online and deleted a file a second time, you can still get it back. You can also share your "public" folders by sending others a link, which is a great way to distribute photos to friends and family.
2 GB: free
50 GB: $9.99 per month
This site is the least confusing server service we reviewed. No complicated per-gigabyte pricing schedule, no fancy services. Just a flat annual fee for all the storage space you need, with a desktop application that constantly updates and backs up your files.
Unlimited storage: $55 per year
Owned and run by Google, this photo-sharing site gives you the option of storing your photos at full or compressed resolution via a desktop application, but let's you store any and all files for a ridiculously low annual price.
20 GB: $5 per year
Online video storage is far more complex than it is for photos. First, of course, is the sheer size of HD video files: an hour of video is about one gigabyte. Transferring files from your camcorder to your PC is more time consuming.
One cloud server service, MotionBox, specializes in sharing and storing video, with a simple solution for uploading, storing, sharing and downloading your footage. They also provide basic online editing functions, such as rearranging clips to tell your story.
Nearly unlimited storage: $40 per year
SOLUTION 2: EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE
Since hard drives crash, why back up to more of them? It's called redundancy. The theory behind this is that multiple hard drives won't crash simultaneously, and data lost from one drive can be replaced by backed-up data on a parallel drive. What makes this system so attractive is that external hard drives are CHEAP. You can buy a one-terabyte (1,000 GB) external hard drive from suppliers such as Seagate, Buffalo, Clickfree, LaCie, Iomega or Western Digital for less than $100 (just a few years ago, $100 could only buy you 250 gigabytes). Isn't the safety of your personal files worth $100?
Nearly all external drives include free automated backup software. Once you set the backup parameters — which files you want updated, how often you want the backup to occur and at what times — the entire process happens behind the scenes without you even thinking about it.
The latest trend in external drives is making the content stored on your external drive accessible via the Web or from any other computer on your local area network. These networked hard drives add about a 20 percent premium above the regular price.
Overall, one brand of drive isn’t inherently "better" than another. Which external hard drive you choose is mostly a matter of narrowing down choices based on capacity, connecting jack types, networking capability, capability of backup software included, hardware or operating system compatibility, and, of course, price.
SOLUTION 3: BLU-RAY or DVD
Cheaper but more labor intensive is burning your digerati to blank DVDs or Blu-ray discs — many PCs now include a built-in Blu-ray recorder as a high-end option. Here's what you'll be to cram in:
Blu-ray (25 GB)
- 7,500 10-megapixel pictures
- 5 hours of HD video onto a single 25-gigabyte Blu-ray blank, about
DVD (4.7 GB)
- 1,500 photos|
- 1 hour of HD video
Depending on how many pictures you have, one Blu-ray disc may be all you need.
But don't trust your memories to the cheap, bargain DVDs you bought on sale at the local drug store. These DVDs are cheap for a reason — they're crap. Inexpensive Blu-ray discs and DVDs have a silver reflective layer. Silver oxidizes, sometimes in as little as six months. This creates black spots on the disc, which means dropouts in your pictures and video, and loss of your data. A better investment is to buy blank Blu-ray discs with pure gold reflective layers, available from Delkin, and gold DVDs from Delkin, Memorex and MAM-A. Anyone else selling "gold" blank Blu-ray discs or DVDs likely mixes the gold with silver. Good, but not best.
Once you burn your photos and other files to Blu-ray discs or DVDs, don't leave them strewn about the house. Put them in a fireproof safe or a safe deposit box like any other family heirloom where they'll be safe from disasters of any kind for decades to come.