Don’t gamble with all your hard work

backup drive


I once got a call from a buddy of mine.  In a panicky voice he said, “My computer crashed and it won’t reboot! What do I do?” I replied, “Boot from your backup.” His answer: “I don’t have a backup.”


What we can do with computers is pretty amazing. But your work is being saved on aluminum and metal coated glass discs that are whirling at thousands of times per minute. Not much room for error. And with all that stuff spinning away, stuff can, and will, go wrong.

All your work exists as ones and zeros. What are you doing to protect it?

My first experience with computer backup was when I worked at an agency. The state-of-the-art at the time was “digital tape”. To say it was buggy and slow would be an understatement. I spent more time troubleshooting the system than actually retrieving files. It was what we had at the time. Back then, memory was pretty expensive. As an example, the 1GB external drives we used in 1994 cost $1,000 CDN.


One. Thousand. Dollars.

Fortunately, storage prices have dropped dramatically since then. The 4TB USB drives I now use cost me about $100 CDN each.

My backup strategy is pretty simple.

  1. An “always available” back-up HD attached to my computer.
  2. Two “off-site” back-up drives (an “A” and a “B”).

I have an always available USB back-up drive connected to my iMac. I use Carbon Copy Cloner set up to replicate my computer everyday at 2AM. I mostly never access anything on this drive, and it sits behind my iMac, unseen. The only time I may open it is if I accidentally saved over something I’m working on. Then I open it up, retrieve the “older” file, and copy it to my iMac.

Just a note on CCC—it’s a Mac only app. I can’t recommend a specific PC app, if you’re on that platform. The important thing is to backup.

Having an always available backup is helpful if something messes up with your computers HD. You can reboot using the back-up drive, or restore your computer’s HD from the backup (assuming there isn’t a mechanical problem with your computer). Granted, it may be difficult to back-up the back-up, but at least you can continue to do work until you’ve sorted things out.

IMPORTANT: Having a back-up that lives next to your computer is only part of the solution. What if there was a fire, or a meterorite hit your office? All your work is gone. ALWAYS have multiple back-ups (see below).

I did use Apple’s Time Machine for awhile, but never got comfortable with the set-up. Plus, I rarely, if ever, have to jump back days, or weeks, to retrieve something. That’s just me.

I also back-up to two portable HDs that go off-site. I’ve labelled them “BACKUP A” and “BACKUP B”. These drives are set-up to automatically back-up my iMac when I plug them in, which I normally do just before I go to bed. The next morning, my GF takes the HD with her to work and stores it away. When she leaves work, she grabs the other drive. These two off-site drives tag-team through the week. At any time, one drive will be off-site.

If you have a day-job, then you could bring your back-up drive to work. You could also leave it with a family member or friend, as long as it’s convenient. As a last resort, you could try storing it in another location in your home. I would only do that as a last resort.

I don’t do any off-site backup over the weekend, but this isn’t a problem. I’m not usually doing any work over the weekend. If anything ever happened, at most my iMac would be a few days out of date. A lot better than losing everything.

I haven’t talked about cloud back-up. That’s not because I think it isn’t a viable strategy. It’s just not a viable strategy for me. There’s a few reasons for that:

  • Time. My files can get pretty large, and despite my having unlimited internet, this just isn’t an option. Plus, if you need your entire HD restored, it could take a very long time.
  • Hacking. It happens.
  • How secure is the company? Will they be around years from now?
  • No offline access. If my internet is down, I can still back-up and get access to my backed-up files.

My “low-tech” solution has worked for me for many years. YMMV.

But no matter what system you use, back up your stuff.

Don’t roll the dice.