As we head into the new year, it’s natural to be thinking about resolutions and goals. Two years ago, I resolved to back up my computer regularly, and fortunately I’ve found it to be an easy resolution to keep. For just a small initial outlay of money and a little bit of time, it yields tremendous peace of mind. I’m here to suggest that, if you’re not already in the habit of backing up your hard drive, you should make it one of your priorities in 2013. Let me tell you why.
In 2010, my MacBook Pro had been humming along flawlessly for nearly three years, and I never gave much thought to backing up. But warnings from multiple writers to create a back-up system finally took root. Even though I thought I’d never need it, I decided I couldn’t risk losing everything. Little did I know I was constructing a lifeboat that would save me just a short time later.
A week before Christmas, my hard drive died. I started getting the spinning beach ball that every Mac user dreads more and more often, and time and again it ground my system to a halt. I thought maybe I had contracted some sort of virus or malicious spyware. Frustrated, I made an appointment with the Genius Bar at my local Apple store. The technician did a diagnostic check and gave me the bad news: my hard drive was going down. The only option was to replace it. Was I backed up?
I swallowed hard and said yes. Fortunately, there was some good news as well. The part was in stock, and a kind soul in the back had offered to do the replacement overnight. I left the store with an empty case and a worried mind. Would the backup really work?
Here’s what I had in place:
- Reunion for iPhone: my genealogy files on Reunion were synced to my iPhone. Reverse syncing, from the mobile device to the computer, is also possible, so I knew my data was safe. Many programs are available for syncing genealogy files to smartphones, iPads, tablets, and other mobile devices. Some software companies, including RootsMagic, enable you to download your database onto an inexpensive flash drive. Lesson: if your genealogy program of choice offers a mobile version, get it and use it.
- Mozy: I had recently subscribed to the cloud backup service, Mozy. <http://mozy.com> Although the initial transfer of data was a lengthy process, after that it worked quietly in the background to keep my content current. So I knew if worse came to worse, I could retrieve all my documents, photos, music, genealogy, and other files by requesting a restore disk. Though I didn’t end up needing it, this is added insurance, especially in the event of a disaster that could destroy both the computer and a physical backup drive. Several other cloud backup services, such as Carbonite <http://www.carbonite.com> and Backblaze, <http://www.backblaze.com> are available. Lesson: a cloud backup gives great peace of mind for a reasonable price tag.
- Time Machine and a backup hard drive: the Mac operating system comes with the backup program Time Machine pre-installed. For $70, I purchased a 500 GB portable hard drive formatted for Mac. Time Machine transferred an exact copy of my entire system to the portable drive quickly and effortlessly. Since then, I’ve backed up every night before going to bed (you can also set it to run automatically). Prices on these drives have come way down, and capacity has gone up. You literally can’t afford not to have one. Lesson: a portable hard drive combined with good backup software is an unbeatable combination.
When I picked up my computer, the technician walked me through the steps I’d be taking. Turn the computer on. Select my country and language. When prompted whether I want to transfer from another source, select to transfer from Time Machine. Plug my portable hard drive into the computer. Select the drive, click continue, and wait for Time Machine to do its magic. Simple enough.
AND IT WORKED! In just about an hour’s time, my familiar desktop picture appeared onscreen, with all the little icons in their right places. Hallelujah! Nothing was missing, and nothing was changed. All my bookmarks, all my settings, and all my applications worked perfectly. After doing a little happy dance through the kitchen, I went out to eat with my family, celebrating my son’s return from a semester abroad (he was in transit at the same time my computer failed, and I have the extra gray hairs to show for it).
The moral of the story is: it can happen. Chances are, it WILL happen, and probably at a most inconvenient time. Backing up your computer is one of those things you know you should do, but it’s easy to put off until another day. Why take that chance? In the scheme of things, my experience with hard drive failure was relatively painless. My wish is for you to have the peace of mind that, should something similar happen to you, your experience will be as painless as possible, too.
photo credit: www.pavelmatousek.cz