Updated August 2016
I have received many questions about backing up and storing files and have noticed that people get confused about what backup and storage actually means. Mostly, it seems they are simply using the wrong terminology and receive the wrong advice because of it. In this article I’m going to explain both systems and get you on track to understanding them correctly.
'Backup' means exactly that; backing up your files so you don’t lose them. You never touch your backup files unless you need to recover them.
'Storage' means storing your files so you have somewhere to put them… Obviously. Don’t rely on your storage as your backup.
Know the difference between backup and storage because when you’re asking for advice in help groups on Facebook for example (stay away from forums), you may receive wrong information if you’ve accidentally used the wrong terminology.
There’s two common types of local storage, and no doubt you already know them. They are Internal (inside the computer) and External (outside the computer). The more common office-use external storage options are 2TB and 4TB Seagate or Western Digital hard drives. Most people go with these because they're cheap and easy to set up. If you want a more professional setup, you can go for the LaCie or G-Technology desktop drives. This is known as local storage, as it’s typically with you on your desk.
NETWORK ATTACHED STORAGE
Network Attached Storage is a fantastic–albeit expensive–way to store your files. A NAS is a bay of hard drives that isn’t connected to your computer at all. Instead, it enables you to access the drives through the Ethernet cable or your WiFi connection. You could store your NAS bay in the basement or closet and be able to access your files from your phone, tablet or computers without the need for plugging in.
The most common options for NAS bays are Drobo and Synology. Many consumers use these as media streaming devices for storing all their movies, TV shows and music, so they can access them on any device. Professionals and offices use them so anyone can access files from anywhere in the building.
ONLINE / CLOUD
Online cloud storage enables you to store your data on servers all around the world, allowing you to access your files from various devices as well as preventing you from having physical hard drives on your desk. The most common cloud storage services are Dropbox, Google Drive, Creative Cloud, iCloud and OneDrive. They all offer free storage plans, with paid tiers going into the terabytes. Some of these even double as a 'file sharing' service, enabling you to share files with other people. I recommend signing up for all of these for free then decide which ones you want to pay for. To gain more Dropbox storage space for free click here.
Backing up your data is VERY important. It ensures that you don’t lose any of your data should a hard drive fail. You do not touch these files. The one thing people get confused about is thinking that your backup is a storage option… It’s not.
You should always have a minimum of two backups. There’s a saying “Two is one, one is none”. This tells you that two backups equal one. If one option fails, you still have a hard drive left. But if you have one backup, if that fails, you’ve lost everything. The easiest way to do this is to backup your computer to one hard drive, then back it up again on another drive. The first hard drive can be kept on your desk, but the second one is taken off site; this could be to a family member’s house or to a safety deposit box.
This way if your house burns down or someone breaks in and steals your drives, you’ve got a backup somewhere safe. To be extra safe, use an online backup service like BackBlaze or CrashPlan, this adds an extra layer of backup and will help you sleep at night. I discuss online options below.
Local backup is very similar to local storage; you just don’t touch the files you’re backing up. The common options for hard drives are once again 2TB and 4TB Seagate or WD drives. If you’re an Apple Mac user, plug your unused hard drive into your Mac and use Time Machine to backup your computer to that drive. If you’re a Windows user, you can use File History built in to Windows 10.
The easiest way to backup your data is through Cloud Backup. My personal favourite and the system I use is BackBlaze (click here to sign up and get a free month). For $5 a month you get unlimited online backup of your computer and any drives attached to it. I have over 5TB of data backed up online through BackBlaze. Crash Plan is another option you can look in to as well. I treat my online backup as my second backup. I have my computers backed up to a hard drive on my desk, and I have BackBlaze continuously backing up my computers online. If I need to recover a couple of files I can download them from the online interface, but If I need to restore all my files from BackBlaze, they’ll ship me a hard drive with all the files on it. This costs money of course, but it’s a lot cheaper than losing everything and having to start over. If you return their hard drive within 30 days, they'll actually give you a full refund.