Backup your data – January 5, 2013

Have you backed up your computer files recently? While chewing glass sometimes seems preferable to sitting through a data backup, it can be an invaluable thing to do for your computer.

I try to do a big backup at the start of a new calendar year. However, this year I recently noticed that backup on my portable hard drive was several months out of date, and (gasp!) I last added a backup DVD three years ago!

Ironically enough, my portable hard drive died as I was running a backup. So what do you do when your main backup fails?

My backup situation

My laptop is my primary storage space for digital files. However, having regard to my nearly-vintage 2006 laptop, it’s worth some effort to ensure that if something were to happen to my computer, I can get back all or very nearly all of my important files quickly and with the least amount of pain. (If you’re running your law office from home, this is even more critical!)

I make two back-ups: The first is on a portable hard drive which (in theory) gets updated about every 6 weeks, and the second consists of DVDs that I add to incrementally (usually about once each year).

Why a second copy backup? While the portable HDD is fast and easy, it’s relatively expensive to have two of them. Also, I want something that is even more portable that I keep away from home, and what is on a different same type of storage media from the first backup (not all devices can read all types of storage – my laptop has a CD/DVD drive but not an SD card slot; also, storage technology changes over time).

Committing to backing up your files regularly is not a New Year’s resolution. When it comes to your resume, vacation photos, email or client files, “out with the old” doesn’t work.

“In with the new”

I could have purchased a similar replacement drive for less than $100, but where’s the fun in that? Plus, I didn’t get any toys for Christmas. I thought this might be a good opportunity to upgrade to a network-based storage solution that would offer shared access to files (and backups!) for multiple computers, phones or a tablet, video streaming and more. With some helpful guidance from my friend Damage, and $463 later, I now have a network attached storage (NAS) box that stores our files and photos, streams video to the TV, and more.

Geeky, sure. Cool, yes way!

My QNAP TS-212 NAS up and running
My QNAP TS-212 NAS up and running

Tech wise, the solution is a QNAP TS-212 Home/SOHO network attached storage (NAS) server outfitted with two 2TB Western Digital “Red” NAS hard drives. It took all of 5 minutes to install the drives into the TS-212 and attach the cables. Then I plugged the TS-212 into my router, and used the QNAP “Finder” app to detect the drive. It was pretty easy to setup the TS-212 via Windows using the wizard-based setup interface, and the longest time to wait was while the TS-212 formatted the new hard drives.

I did need to mess around with the TS-212’s configuration settings to get the Twonky Media Server streamer working and for our Samsung Smart TV to recognise it. While it took some tinkering, I think the key things were to update the TV’s firmware and to assign a static IP to the TS-212 (which is a good idea, in any case). Once that was done, the TV simply “found” the media server as a new input source, and happily started receiving the wireless video stream. Hurray for “big screen” viewing!

At this stage, my only complaint in relation to video streaming is that Twonky Media Server does not support fast-forward or rewind during video playback, meaning we can’t skip forward or backward during the show. In time, I may look for another DLNA media server to replace Twonky Media Server on the TS-212.

Some tips

  • It could pay to backup your files more frequently, but consider running a backup whenever you flip the calendar (monthly?), adjust the clocks for daylight saving time (twice yearly?) or when you replace your smoke alarm batteries (yearly?). It could help to put a reminder for this in your calendar.
  • While there are plenty of ways to backup your files, none of them are a single bullet. Consider using two backup solutions, at least one of which involves storing the backup off-site, ie away from home. Other locations to store your backup could include a safe deposit box at the bank, a friend’s house, locked cupboard or desk at the office, or “in the cloud” such as in a free Dropbox folder.
  • Keep in mind that cloud-based services may not (whether by design, choice or otherwise) protect the privacy of your files, so you may want to consider encrypting them before uploading to services such as Dropbox or Google Drive. See 5 Ways To Securely Encrypt Your Files In The Cloud and How To Add a Second Layer of Encryption to Dropbox.