Your computer is not invulnerable. Hard-drive failures happen, as do floods, fires, earthquakes, thefts, and other calamities. The hardware in your computer is replaceable, but the data inside—whether critical business documents or precious family photos—might not be. If you don’t want to face the gut-wrenching realization that you’ve lost something important, you need to have a backup plan. Here’s how you can protect yourself, right now.
First, you need backup software. A number of perfectly fine options—such as Carbonite and Mozy—are available, but for our purposes here I’ll recommend CrashPlan, which provides all of the functionality you need for local and offsite backup absolutely free. To get started, just download and install the CrashPlan software. When the program runs, you’ll see the straightforward CrashPlan backup procedure: Select drives or folders to back up, choose a location to back them up to, and click the Start Backup button
The simplest form of protection is to back up your files to another location in your computer, to an external drive, or to other computers you own. This approach allows for fast and easy transfers, but poses some risks—if your house burns down or a robber breaks in, for instance, you could lose your backup alongside the original data. That’s why it’s smart to use offsite storage, as well.
Fortunately, CrashPlan makes offsite backup easy. You can back up your data—encrypted, no less—to a friend’s computer for free, as long as that person is also running CrashPlan on their computer and can spare the storage space. If you don’t have a friend with enough disk space (and you don’t want to buy them a new external hard drive for the purpose), you can sign up for CrashPlan’s online backup service, which runs $33 per year for 10GB of storage or $60 per year for unlimited space.
Whether you’re stashing your data online or offline, CrashPlan’s automatic-backup feature takes a lot of the headache out of backup management. Even if you don’t want to bother with software utilities, however, you owe it to yourself to back up your most critical files. Manually slapping data onto a DVD or an external hard drive is a lot better than doing nothing.