BACK UP YOUR DATA AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE
Your hard drive will fail – it is just a matter of time. If you don’t back up your data, you will lose it. To bad no one ever listens to me. The people who agree with this notion already backup their data quite diligently or simply choose not to. But that’s their conscious decision and their gamble. The people I try to reach usually shrug and claim they don’t have anything that important on their drive. Only after it fails they come back crying about their vacation pictures, their mp3 collection, their unfinished screenplay and all the other stuff. Btw, when people say “and all the other stuff” 90% of the time they mean their pr0n folder – just so you know.
What’s worse – these people never learn. It’s like tilting at windmills. You keep telling them, and they shrug it off and say they will take their chances. Then every time the hard drive fails, they go through a genuine nervous breakdown because all of the irreplaceable stuff they have lost.
In the past I often wondered how to fix this issue. How to force reluctant users to back their data up in a non-obtrusive and non-annoying way. There are many ways to do it (from incremental backups running in the background to periodical scheduled disk imaging and etc) but all of them require some setup, support and at least some degree of user cooperation. Which as I mentioned is often hard to obtain. For example, I’d love to set up some sort of backup plan for my frequent offenders but they simply thing it is a waste of time and wont let me. And so the cycle repeats itself every few years.
Recently however I saw a light at the end of this tunnel: Cloud Computing.
I noticed this trend a while ago, but I didn’t really realize it’s scope until recently. Regular users are slowly but surely moving their data off their hard drives and onto the cloud where it could be shared and/or accessed from more than one location. I’ve been commenting on this for a while now but I have failed to call it by name up until now.
For example, a while ago I remarked how many users at my workplace completely bypass the file system most of the time. They use their email both as remote file storage, backup and a version control system. It made no sense to me at the time since we used POP based email and Outlook, but this is a trained behavior. Out there in the wild, POP is being slowly phased out and replaced with a rich, AJAX driven webmail clients such as Zimbra, Gmail and etc. Email these days is almost always remote, so when people email their files to themselves they are actually pushing their data onto the cloud.
Your average user keeps their important files such as homeworks, term papers and resumes in their Webmail. Their pictures are safely stored in their Facebook and/or Flickr account with various privacy and access options applied to them. Same goes for just about any other type of file they produce. If it is to be shared, it ends up on some sort of social sharing service. If it is private, it goes into the email. Their applications are hosted online. They pirate movies by steaming them from less often patrolled YouTube clone sites. The local drive is just a temporary staging area which carries no importance.
Quite a few people already migrated all their irreplaceable data to the cloud. Among them are some of my students and co-workers. They already live in a world where hard drive failure is just a temporary setback. To these people my insistence on regular backups may seem silly and/or old fashioned. After all, their data is already sitting on some nebulous cluster in the sky and chances of losing it are astronomically low. I’m just a silly little man, tied to a local hard drive and obsessed with data redundancy, when their data is redundant by the virtue of being stored on the cloud.
As this trend continues to grow and expand, backups may indeed become a thing of the past. The art of making backups will become an exclusive domain of geeks with large local collections of software/multimedia and corporate IT professionals. In the future most regular people will happily live off the cloud and never worry about backups.
Naturally storing your data on remote clusters owned by 3rd party companies have their own downsides and trade offs. Privacy is a big concern. So is access speed and offline availability in case of a network outage. However, many people are willing to pay this price just so that they don’t have to listen to me drone about backups. Which is not that bad actually. It is one less thing for us to worry about.