Friday, October 31, 2014

Is Your Data Ready for Winter?

My backyard after Massachusetts' 2008 Ice Storm! 

With today being Halloween, many of us think of scary things such as goblins, ghosts and witches.

Not me: what truly scares me is losing my data!

October is the anniversary of two major weather events in the Northeast: The October nor'easter of 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012Additionally, October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month.

How does this tie into my fear of losing my data?

While most of us generally plan for what we will do in the event of a storm or natural disaster - buy extra food, buy a generator, keep the car's gas task full, etc. - most people don't think about their computers and all the important information and memories that are in these pieces of technology.

With winter approaching and power loss / power surges almost guaranteed, is your data properly protected? And this is important for everyone: home owners, small businesses and even large organizations.

I can't count the number of times either a hard drive crash, a power surge, or even a fire has destroyed valuable data. Sometimes you can get it back, but the cost may be in the thousands of dollars.

You Need a Data Emergency Plan

Think about the information that is on your computers and other devices in your home or office. What would you do if all those family pictures or business records & projects were gone?

Step 1: Backup and then Backup Again

Local backup: We use Western Digital "My Passport" 1TB external USB drives to backup our home office laptops, but any external HD will do if it has these features:

  • Automatic backup - don't rely on you remembering to back things up - schedule a backup nightly - better yet, buy a HD that automatically mirrors your data immediately after every save. 
  • Encryption - make sure your data is safe from theft. Very important for businesses, but also vital for home owners who store bank or tax info on their systems.
  • Enough capacity - buy a backup HD with 50% to 100% more space than your current system's HD. 
  • Portability - get a portable HD that's easy to carry and simple to set up.

Important: Local backup is great until you lose that portable HD or it's damaged in an accident. Then Cloud Storage looks much more attractive...

Cloud backup: As a backup to the backup, you should also consider cloud backup services, not just for business data, but your home files as well.

Cloud backup plans start at around $50 / year and go up as you add storage space and features. The #1 benefit of Cloud backup is your data is protected from theft, fire, etc. If there's a natural disaster, there's nothing to carry out the door because your data is safely stored in a data center offsite.

A Google search for "cloud backup" yields a host of companies that can keep your data safe.

The way I personally use these 2 technologies:

  • I backup all my data locally using external USB drives.
  • I backup my "greatest hits" - favorite family pictures/videos plus important financial files to the Cloud. (I may start relying less on my external USB drives as the cost of Cloud storage continues to decrease. Right now it doesn't make sense to back up 3 TBs of data from multiple computers to the Cloud.)

Step 2: Work in the Cloud

Another way to keep all your important files safe is to make the Cloud the place where you work.

  • You can use Google Drive or Dropbox to automatically store and share your important data across multiple platforms.
  • If you have Microsoft Office, use the free online document storage for your most important work.
  • You can also store and share important pictures and videos on image storage sites like FlickrPhotobucketSnapfishShutterfly, or Picasa Web Albums.
  • And of course if your company hosts it's own wiki or IBM Connections site, posting your work and files there will protect them from data loss as well.

Step 3: Plan on what you will do with your computer assets in an emergency 

When a winter storm hits, don't forget your computers and other electronics.
  • Protect: Make sure you have all your sensitive electronics connected to high-quality power strips with surge protection.
  • Unplug: If you lose power, remember to unplug all your sensitive electronics - TVs, DVRs, stereos, and computers - so when the power does return, your equipment isn't damaged by a possible power surge. (I unplug my power strips - even the ones with surge protection - I don't want to take any chances.)
  • Remove: If you have to evacuate due to a winter emergency, plan on which electronics you will take.
      -  If we can drive away from the emergency - I plan to take all my phones, tablets, laptops, and backup HDs plus all needed cables. I also plan to take my desktop computers - only the cases, leaving behind monitors, keyboards, etc.
      -  If we can't drive away due to the roads being blocked, then we'll take all the portable electronics and place the desktops in the attic to protect them from flooding, etc.

I know this is a long list of items to digest - just make sure you add "protecting your data" to your family's emergency action plan today!

Happy Halloween!

For more information on how to prepare in advance for a power outage, visit the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency's site.