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Save Your Work

happy boy working at computer smiling

Imagine a dozen computers in a row with many eager learners happily typing, clicking, testing, watching and waiting. One excited camper kicks her legs in anticipation – this is going to be the best 3D render iD Tech has ever seen. Her right toe gets closer and closer to a critical part of the power infrastructure – close enough to graze an outlet, slightly loosening the grip of a plug. Each contact weakens the bond and right when her screen displays a beautiful 99%, the entire row goes dark.

I have seen this happen. I have also had a rolling brown-out shut off power to a computer lab just long enough to restart every computer. On a Thursday. The day before the end of camp.

There is one strong message that everyone shares at iD Tech, “Save Your Work!” This saying graces posters across the computer labs and is oft repeated in lecture, monologue, rhyme, song, haiku – even in different languages! Some instructors have the campers save their work twice, just to make sure, and then go around a third time to doubly make sure!

I was reminded of this fact on Tuesday night when my computer started acted funny. An inDesign project I was doing for iD started lagging… then Chrome started too. Everything, in fact, was a mess – almost instantly. Using this almost new laptop was walking through feet of molasses.

I popped into a disk recovery mode and got some dreaded news – “Sorry, looks like I can’t repair this disk. You should try to salvage what you can and then bury it deep below the ground!” This was to be my second major disk failure within a year and a half.

Let me sidestep a moment and give you a very high overview about storage media. There are various types of storage media – we used to use floppy disks, which were magnetic disks. Most modern hard disks are also magnetic. DVDs and Blurays are optical. Flash is some sort of wizard magic. Each of these has a certain reliability and lifetime. Magnetic media uses moving parts, and therefore has inevitable wear and tear. While your hard drive can be written and erased (theoretically) an unlimited number of times, it will fail mechanically at some point. Optical media is a little more reliable, but the material that stores the data can wear out or get discolored. Flash media has no moving parts, but has a limited number of writes and erases – and also, the wizard magic can suddenly stop working.

All of this is important for any computer user (ie: human) to realize, because there is a simple message: all storage media fails eventually – nothing is safe! There are solutions and best practices, however, that can provide piece of mind without breaking the bank…

So my drive failed, which was a bummer. The good thing was that I had everything backed up using Time Machine, an automated backup system that comes with Mac OSX. Windows has similar solutions, but you have to seek them out (Crashplan is one). Time Machine will copy everything from your computer to an external disk every day (sometimes several times a day) so you can copy everything back and have an identical drive made in a matter of hours. Backing up in that fashion was only one way that I saved my work.

External hard drives, like the one I use for Time Machine, are great because they are huge, convenient and cheaper every day. The problem is that they have a higher failure rate than internal drives (at least for me). An external drive is ok for automated daily backups, but my precious goods – particularly the pictures of my six-month-old daughter – need a higher level of security. The kind of security I like is called “redundancy,” which is the duplication of files across multiple places. I have a special type of network drive at home that automates redundancy using a system called RAID. The drive is actually made up of two drives, which each have copies of my files. If either of these drives fails, I can replace it with a clean drive without losing any data – and that clean drive will automatically be written.

This sounds extreme, but I’m not done. That’s one backup with an external and another two backups over my network. These drives are fairly local. What if there is a fire? What will happen to my data then? That’s when I get involved with the Cloud. The idea of the Cloud is to take your data and let someone else worry about keeping it safe. This can sound shady, but actually it’s win-win. Data centers have more redundancy than you can imagine and keep tabs on hardware in ways that you cannot. This off-site storage can be pricy, but is worth it depending on what you’re saving. For instance, I pay a very low fee for Flickr Pro, which allows unlimited storage of my photos. YouTube (for free!) allows unlimited storage of my videos. And Google Docs has most of my documents, which really don’t take up that much space at all. By diversifying the storage solutions you use, you can avoid paying tons for space, as long as you don’t mind your data being spread out.

The words you are reading are from my new hard drive, in one way or another. The hard drive was blank and now all of this data that was mine has found a way a onto the device, making my laptop feel like home – and all because I saved my work. And you should too.