In a perfect world, where we all have incredible, high speed, never-capped bandwidth, we’d all sign up for at least two online backup services that instantly slurp up everything on every bit of storage we own, and keep it incrementally up to date, forever, with versioning and near-instant restore.
But few of us, maybe none of us, live in that world. We live in a world where large amounts of data trickle in both directions, where caps may or may not allow us to upload even a fragment of our photos, videos, documents, and other important files, and where restoration can be just as painful.
So what? Suck it up. Do it. Subscribe to an online service, two if you can afford it, and upload all the things. If your stockpile is too big, buy a hard drive, load it, and mail it to the provider and start incremental backups from there.
Backing up on the go
When it comes to backing up your mobile device to the cloud, it’s possible that numerous vendors come in to play. Your email, contacts, and calendar might be backing up to Google, your documents and photos to Dropbox, and your app data to iCloud. Thankfully, every mobile operating system builder has integrated at least basic online backup functionality.
With the exception of backing up media like photos and music, there’s surprisingly little data that actually has to be backed up. Take the iPhone as an example: If you live in the iCloud ecosystem, you can restore your music, photos, email, calendar, contacts, apps, preferences, and more, all from the cloud.
But your email, calendar, and contacts are stored on the server anyway, your preferences files and app caches are typically on the order of megabytes at best, and your apps, well, those aren’t ‘backed up’ – they just have a list of the apps you have on the device and download the latest version of that from the App Store. Same goes for any music you’ve purchased through iTunes – all you ever had was a copy, and you’ll be sent a fresh new one from iTunes servers. It’s the content you produce yourself – photos and videos – that are large, numerous, and take up space.
It may sound like an expensive pain in the ass, but when a calamity like a fire or flood comes and wipes out both your computer and your local backup drive along with every memory, credential, and legal scrap stored on them, when you’d pay any price in the world to get those moments and those files back, it’ll seem cheap by comparison. It would take a cataclysmic act of god to wipe out both your house and a remote server.
It may sound expensive, but when calamity strikes, it’ll seem cheap by comparison
If you don’t have a ton of media to keep backed up, you can also use file syncing services to keep a copy on the cloud and on all your other machines. My entire Documents directory is on a file syncing service – Dropbox – and that means it’s on their servers (technically Amazon S3’s servers), as well as all my Macs, and they’re accessible via the DropBox apps on every platform and their web interface.
Because they’re free, built-in services like iCloud are no-brainers on as well. They’ll only back up your local device, but they make restoring incredibly easy. Modern smartphone platforms have built-in backups for at least the basics, and it’s smart not to turn that off.
Last year my iPhone was destroyed by fireworks (don’t ask). I got a replacement iPhone, logged in to my iCloud account, and 15 minutes later I walked out with an exact copy of my old phone, right down to the apps and my data.
How do you backup your data?