Do Your Files Exist?

I can’t remember when I first heard someone say “A file doesn’t exist until it’s in three places”, but it did a good job of summing up my own philosophy. In the days of floppy disks and tape backups I always had three copies, although I thought of it as redundant backups. I would frequently lose a tape of disk so I made sure I always had two sets. But even then, these weren’t really in different places since they were in my home. Eventually one of those sets moved offsite to provide more protection against catastrophic failure.

Technology, along with everything else, has evolved since then. But even today’s technology can fail, and let’s not forget human error. Three local copies aren’t enough, I really do want my files in at least two geographic places these days. So what are the places?

  1. The active file. The one you use during the day
  2. A local backup of the file on another hard drive or storage device (such as an external drive or a NAS)
  3. An offsite copy of the file that’s geographically separate from the other two copies.

For desktops and laptops it’s pretty easy to setup the three copies. The first one is on the main drive (or data drive) of the computer and it’s the one you use all the time.

The second copy can be an external drive, or even a second internal drive if your computer has one. (Although an internal drive can complicate things if it’s the computer itself that fails so isn’t recommended.) It could also be a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device on your network. This should be the destination for some automated backup program, such a Time Machine on a Mac or a schedule ChronoSync copy. This is the backup you’ll use when you need to restore the data quickly.

The third copy is the offsite location. For important files this should be done as soon as possible. After all, the file won’t exist until this third copy is made. This is the copy you’ll use when disaster strikes and both the original copy and onsite backup are destroyed. There are multiple ways of accomplishing this and the solution can depend on your needs, and especially on your network bandwidth. I’ll be covering options in future articles.

For many people, their most precious data may be the digital photos they take using their phone. These same people usually only have one copy of their photo – the one on their phone. They may have sent the photo to someone, but that’s not a backup.

While they may not be the best choice to manage photos, services such as Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox and Google Drive can automatically upload all your photos to their storage and provide a backup. You can also setup these services to automatically download the photos to your computer so that they can be part of your regular backup strategy.

So, do your files exist?