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Computer Care: Cloud storage an easy way to back up your data
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Hard drives fail. It's not a question of if, but rather when. I've had them last eight years; one failed in less than eight months. If you place value on your data, you should find a secondary storage device for it.

Everybody has photos, spreadsheets, documents and other forms of digital matter that they would prefer not to lose. I back up my images to DVDs, my programs to an external hard drives and ghost my operating systems. There are various ways to back things up using different types of media.

Programs exist that will help, from Acronis True Image to Norton Ghost. Even within the programs you have choices. Do you want to make copies of your documents or only your system files? Would you prefer to clone your entire hard drive?

After you make these decisions, you need to have a place to keep them. For obvious reasons, you don't want your backup on the same drive as the source.

There are optical discs such as CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray. Then there are secondary internal hard drives. Most desktops have sufficient room for at least one additional drive, sometimes more. These would show up under My Computer (or Computer) next to the "C" drive, as the "D" drive, moving your CD drive down one, to perhaps the "E" drive.

Next are the external devices, whether portable or not. These include the small keychain-sized thumb drives to the pocket flash drives and the desk drives.

The price of these devices has dropped incredibly in the past year or so. You can get a 500 GB drive for just over $100 now. That's a lot of pictures of the grandkids. Why stop there? Terabyte drives are now all the rage. That is 1,000 gigabytes.

The next wave of storage (and computing) though, is not in your pocket or on your desk. It's on the Internet and is called cloud storage (and cloud computing). This comes from the cloud image that represents the Internet on flow charts.

You may have seen ads for Internet-based products like Mozi or Carbonite in magazines or on TV. This is the new wave. Most offer a gigabyte or two of free storage space in their cloud. For additional fees you can get more storage.

I have a free Mozi account and for less than $5 they offer unlimited storage. Both Mozi and Carbonite offer pricing for home and business accounts.

There are some advantages to cloud storage. You don't have to purchase and maintain a physical device, so there is nothing to wear down, break or lose. It is generally less expensive; it grows with your needs; it is more efficient and more secure than the way you are storing your data now.

Just as with the Acronis or Norton products, the off-site storage arena offers scheduled uploads to their clouds. All data is also encrypted so nobody can see what you are storing.

What I like is the fact that you are not tethered to a box and a cable. Wherever you are, you have access, 24/7 to you data. All you need is a computer and your password.

In a case as this, I suggest a strong password. This is a prime example why you shouldn't use the same term for all of your accounts. If someone hacks your e-mail account, then now they can enter your storage area as well. Choose an eight-character, alpha-numeric password, not your dog's name.

But just as with any product or service, caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware. Research the cloud service that you are about to send your valuable information up to. I would stick with one of the better known, big guys. Should you go for say, Carl's Cloud, it may turn out to be Carl's Con and you‘ve lost everything.

You might inquire if they have redundant servers. Do they have more than one copy of your data, should disaster strike them?

Remember, hard drives fail. It's a fact of computing. Generally, they last anywhere from three to five years. Even new ones can stop working. Sure, you'll get a replacement, but your data will still be gone.

I extract data from crashed drives on a regular basis. Often, though, it's not possible. Some drives are too far gone to get anything out of them. I can tell by the look on clients' faces that they have no other copies of what is on the drive.

Backing up data is not difficult, time-consuming, nor does it have to be expensive. Simply choose a method and a device and as they say, just do it!

Next time you decide to back up your data, consider the cloud. The sky is the limit.

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly. Arthur welcomes your computer questions and ideas for future columns.

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