Modern academic work is centered on our computers; data storage and analysis, writing, research, reference libraries, and often collaboration with our peers all require working computers.

It is for this reason that keeping good backups is paramount to success as an academic.

There are a number of techniques for keeping good backups as an academic.  I want to not have to think about them at all,  and my history in the IT world makes me want redundancy for the most important items.  Since I got to spend this weekend restoring due to a fried power supply killing a motherboard, I wanted to share some of the variety of things I do to make sure my work is safe.

Secondary/External hard drives:  Just because your machine only came with one does not mean you can’t install more.  And they aren’t expensive or hard to install either; if you can plug something into a USB port, you can add 1 Terabyte of external storage for $87.00.

Once the secondary drive is in, you can use a free piece of software such as Syncback and configure it to back up all of your documents to your external drive on a regular basis.  Lifehacker has an excellent explanation of how to backup your hard drive using Syncback.

A secondary drive accomplishes two things; first, it provides a backup of your drive and second, it is easy to move to a new system when the old one breathes its last breath (as mine did this weekend).

However, I’m paranoid.  What happens if my house burns down?  Or my computer is physically stolen?  Or I take multiple power spikes and both drives get fried?  These things are less likely, but not impossible.  For that reason, I also use off-site backups.

I use  Jungledisk for my off-site backup software.  Jungledisk makes use of Amazon’s S3 or other network storage solutions to back up my drives automatically.  The result is an invisible background backup solution for all your data to a remote location.  A few clicks and it has begun its restore.

I picked Jungledisk because Amazon S3 is very reasonably priced and I wanted to back up, well, everything.  Moreover Jungledisk gives me web access to every file I have backed up, so that I can get items when I’m not at home.  If, however, you only want to back up some key stuff (your writing, lecture notes, but NOT data or downloaded PDFs of research articles) there are a couple of free ways to do that.

  • Mozy is an online backup service that gives you 2G of space at no cost.  You can, of course, buy more.  To my knowledge you can’t get to the files except through the Mozy backup tool.
  • Dropbox is actually more of a file syncing tool; you can put your key items into your drop box and it will sync them to as many computers as you want.  I am currently doing this for my OneNote notebooks and my lectures in process.  Dropbox also provides web access to those files, so that I can get to them from anywhere.

I use Dropbox because I like it’s immediacy and web access for my most crucial files.  However pre-Jungledisk I used Mozy’s free service for my key files and was very happy with it.

One last important thing; if you are using Zotero for reference management, be sure to check out the version 2.0 beta.  I have had no problems with it, and love it’s ability to sync my files and library.  I use it with my Jungledisk account to keep copies of attached PDFs.

In the end the least productive thing you can do is re-do all your work because of a technology glitch.  Making sure you have extra copies of everything is one of the most important, productive things you can do.