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Where to store your important data?

Where to store your important data?

By James H. Choi
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During the Industrial Revolution, factories were required to own private generators because they could not trust utility companies to provide them with enough or reliable electricity to operate.  The same sentiment was true in the early days of Internet: Everybody wanted to hold his or her own documents in private computers.  Companies wanted to hold mail servers inside their systems.  It was unthinkable anyone would upload financial data to the Internet so that tax-reporting companies to carry out tax services online.  In fact, it was unthinkable to use credit cards online.

The sentiment has changed.  We don’t think twice about outsourcing our email servers online, paying with credit cards, and uploading personal and high-security information.  I don’t know what the long-term repercussions of this trend will be.

But if you have important documents today, such as college-application essays, you must store these online — not just on your local hard drive because there are only two types of hard drives: One that failed, and one that will fail.

Your hard drive will lose all data at the most inconvenient time.  For example, it will breakdown minutes before you submit your college-application essays.  Would you like to rewrite the whole thing again?   No, so don’t trust your hard drive.  Trust the hard drives online.  These backed up your data in more than one drive, so even if one hard drive fails, you won’t even notice.  Even if online storage company suffers a catastrophic failure, such as the whole building being destroyed, your data will come back soon because they store it on several locations.
http://dl.dropbox.com/u/6378458/Column/Info/English/SpecialEvents.gifYou can upload all your important data to online hard drives several ways.  First, try Dropbox.  It’s easy and free for up to 2GB.  What’s best about Dropbox is that you don’t have to change any of your habits.  Once you install this software, any file you save into a specified folder is saved online in the Dropbox hard drive automatically.  You can access the same file from several computers, or even access them from your smartphone and from other computers at anywhere.

A second option is to work online, such as on Google Docs.  It is also free.   The downside is that they have less features, and they tend to slow down when the data/files get too big.

Some of these services are not free.  For example, Dropbox charges $9.99/month for 50GB of online storage.  Here’s a way to decide a fair price: Suppose you lost all your data today.  How much would you pay to bring back the data you lost?  You should be willing to pay 1/100 this amount every month to have your data backed up online.

Some large data, such as photo or video files, are too expensive to store online.  For these, buy two external hard drives.  The inconvenient part is that it’s hard to synchronize (automatically have an exact copy) small changes you make every minute while editing or working on the document.  So put any files you’re working on into your Dropbox folder.  And when you’re done working on the project and ready to archive it, just pull it out of Dropbox and put it onto your external hard drives.  Two drives with identical contents, one at home and one at another location to guard against a catastrophic loss — such as fire or flood — at one location.  This frees up your Dropbox space for more changing files.

External hard drives cost a lot, but think about what it would feel like to lose every document, video, photo, and audio file you have ever created.  What would you pay to get these back?  Considering this, the price of external storage is pretty cheap.   By the way, it may make you feel better to know that these drives used to cost ten times as much only a few years back.

Managing your information is a critically important skill in this information age.  And designing your life in such a way that you will never have to waste time looking for, or recovering lost files would automatically boost your productivity far ahead of your accident-prone, fate-blaming peers.


  1. May 9, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    For large data like pictures and videos, Amazon S3 (http://aws.amazon.com/s3/) works amazingly well. It’s only $0.13/month/gigabyte and has a 99.999999999% guarantee against loss due to its insane redundancy. Not as convenient as two external hard drives, but much more durable and less expensive.

    • May 9, 2012 at 10:58 pm

      Hello Charles, good to see you here!

      I also use S3 to host all my e-Learning video files. But it is rather involved for my 6th graders to use. That’s why I didn’t mention it in this article.

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