Readers would be aware of the significance of backing up their data. Personal finance is as much about saving and investing as it is about keeping proper records of progress or regress. Maintaining an excellent budget and/or net worth spreadsheet is only useful if it is available when needed. There are several files that may be of interest to readers such as spreadsheets, text documents, photos, audio files, videos, etc. The ways described below can be used for backing up any file that is deemed important enough to be preserved.
Important Note: a backup is valuable only when the same data is stored in more than one location. If one copies the data onto the backup medium and deletes the data from the original location, then it does not constitute a backup.
This post is about cloud storage but I’ll include some basic offline backup ideas too.
If the data to be backed up is minimal, one could store the files on a flash drive (also known as USB, jump or thumb drive). It should be a matter of copying and pasting (or dragging and dropping) the necessary files onto the flash drive medium. For users with larger volumes of data, external hard drives (going upto 1 TB or more) would serve the same purpose. As you would have noted, the above solution involves significant user intervention. The user would have to remember to backup their files periodically and I do not think that many people would have the time for such a task. To avoid this hassle, one could use the powerful rsync command to automatically synchronize data to a web server but detailing the process is beyond the scope of this article. Check out this Engadget tutorial if you are interested.
Online (Cloud) Storage
For the uninitiated, cloud storage refers to saving your files on central servers maintained by a third party in a remote location. Such services are offered by many companies; generally, the free option will give you limited storage space, say 2GB, but if you need more, then there are paid plans offered to satisfy data-heavy users.
How Does Dropbox Work?
When installed, the Dropbox folder will reside on your computer. Any file(s) and/or folder(s) placed inside the Dropbox folder will be synced to the Dropbox servers through a secure connection. You can access the files on your computer as usual but the same files will be synced to Dropbox to offer you backup. During installation, you will be asked to create an account. After entering the required info (it is straightforward), you will be asked to choose a Dropbox size based on your need (2GB – Free, 50GB – $9.99/month or 100GB – $19.99/month). There is a short tour before completion of the installation but you can skip it if you so wish. By default, the Dropbox folder is located in My Documents for Windows users and Home folder for Linux users (if any Mac users utilize Dropbox, please leave a comment about the default location, so that the post can be updated). There is also an option to change your default location during the final stage of the installation process.
After installation, when you navigate to the Dropbox folder [Dropbox sits on your taskbar (Windows) or Gnome Panel (Linux) for quick access; double click to open the Dropbox folder from there or right click on the icon for more options], you will see a “Getting Started” file and two folders named Photos and Public (this is for a Windows installation; folder names may vary on other platforms).
You can create your own folders inside the Dropbox folder for easier reference. Any file in the Public folder can be shared with others. Right-click on the file in the Public folder that you want to share and choose Dropbox -> Copy Public Link; this copies the Internet link for your file, so that you can paste it somewhere else. This file can now be shared with others by just pasting the link into e-mails, instant message conversations, blog posts, etc.
Other Features of Dropbox
One can also install Dropbox on multiple computers at home and work and by using the same Dropbox account, all files will be available for access both at home and work. In addition, if you are at a friend’s house or at a public terminal where you cannot install the Dropbox client or need it for a one-time use, then you can go to https://www.dropbox.com, log into your account and view files from all the computers linked to your account. You can download the file(s) needed from there and also upload files through the web browser but it is a slow process if you have multiple files.
Files deleted from the Dropbox folder will be gone from your computer’s My Dropbox folder but be available on their servers for 30 days. You can access and retrieve the file if you change your mind by going to the website and logging into your account. However, the file will be deleted from the Dropbox servers after 30 days.
A drawback of Dropbox is that your files to be backed up must be in the My Dropbox folder; the developers are currently working to address this missing feature. In the meantime, you can create a symbolic link to sync any random folder (outside the My Dropbox folder) on your computer to the Dropbox servers. Please refer to this handy guide to learn more about creating symbolic links.
Editors (FrugalTrader’s) Note: As I have multiple PC’s at home, I use Microsoft Live Sync to synchronize folders across computers automatically. I then use MozyBackup free – 2GB (similar to dropbox) to automatically backup files online.