After our overview on protecting your data/information/photos from certain loss, understand that protecting your data is complex — there's always something more you can do.
It's important to know what you have on your computers and what data will be backed up on a regular basis, and how long can you wait until you have your data back and your computer working. But keep in mind that disasters happen, so where you keep your backed up data is just as essential.
There is a simple, inexpensive way to take the first step in backing up your data, but it's not a long term solution to rely on. A basic USB external hard drive, much like the drives that are inside your computer, saves your data easily. I like the Seagate Backup Plus Portable — it also offers some free Internet-based cloud storage. You go from computer to computer and manually back up your files either "dragging and dropping" the files you want to keep onto an external hard drive or use the built-in software that's included with many models. You can store data from multiple computers on the same external hard drive. Storing data on an external hard drive is best done weekly — in addition to important other important files as they come up. Occasionally, go back and delete the redundant/old duplicate files to make the most of of your storage space. The, on a monthly basis, take the most recent files on the external hard drive and save it to either DVDs or Blu-ray disks using your computer's DVD writers. You may want to give the DVDs to a friend you trust, or keep them in a fireproof safe or safe deposit box.
If your internal PC/notebook hard drive dies, it's not a simple fix. You'll be calling warranty support or using an included DVD/service that sets up your machine to it's original configuration. You will need to re-install your software you use then load that data back.
Drive imaging software can lessen the pain of restoring your computer. The process is much like taking a photo of your hard drive, saving it, and putting it back on either the hard drive after you clean it up or replace it with a new one. Acronis Imaging is an industry standard imaging software and time tested. It's a great option to use to make sure you're back to where you were before your computer problems.
You can always take your data storage to another level with Cloud services like Carbonite or iDrive. The former, an automated system keeping your data safe during natural disasters, starts at $60 per home computer, the latter operates via your Internet connection, holding your data off site and sending it back when needed — make sure you don't go over any data limits you may have if using iDrive.
There are online storage options for your photos, too, like Google Photos, with automatic backups and a nice bit of storage. If you are a pro, this may not be your best, however, look into SOS, which handles RAW photos and more. There are a ton of reviews on similar options.
Lastly, look into your own storage center, aka Network Attached Storage (NAS). My NAS is set up with Synology — about $300 and up with storage — with some additions like Blue-ray M-Disc and I wouldn't have it any other way but also have my additions like Blu-ray M-Disc, which last 1000 years and are rated by the Department of Defense. NAS, in layman's terms, is a centralized, simple computer that's main purpose is to store your important data. It automates backups, system/hard drive images, and restores lost data. Setting up your NAS will require some help from an IT buddy, unless you know what you're doing, or you'll have to pay for a professional.
NAS usually come standard with something called RAID for an extra layer of security. RAID, a PC term for hard drives, copy the data between hard drives instantly as you use your computer or work among multiple drives. If you have a standard home PC (not a notebook, tablet, etc.), you may have this option on your computer, especially on a high-end offerings — you may just need to configure it when you start up. If one hard drive fails, you have the other one with all your data all set and ready to use. You then just replace the dead hard drive in time.
These are basic approaches to storing your data safely — not the be-all-end-all, but feasible for everyday users. If you've never lost a hard drive or you data, know that it will happen over time. All hard drives fail. Most of us have dealt with the pain of losing personal data and trying to restore important files — it's a painful process. It's essential to know different ways of backing up our information to avoid that horror.
Brian Koch is an avid techie who's worked in the tech field for dozens of years with Compaq/HP, his own pc business Techpertise, outdoor photography, and more. He has lived with his wife Stacy in Colorado for over 16 years. E-mail questions, comments, suggestions to Brian: email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Techpertise.