Beware the break-in. Photo by Tim Samoff
When I was an undergraduate, data was fragile. We used floppy disks. They weren't floppy; they weren't disk-shaped. What they were was unreliable. We'd keep backups of our backups.
Data is less fragile now, but it is vulnerable. Laptops are still breakable and their best quality, their portability, makes them an easy target for theft. If that's where you keep your papers, your thesis, your photos, your life, think about how to safeguard it so that if your laptop's lost to theft or natural disaster, at least you still have the data. Think about the worse case scenario and think beyond that.
Jessica Osuna, a doctoral student lost six years of work when someone smashed in the door of her home to steal her laptop. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:
"Ms. Osuna was not naive about safeguarding her work. She ran automatic backups of her 15-inch MacBook Pro onto a small external drive. Then every other day or so, she copied her work onto a one-terabyte hard drive that she kept locked in a safe, in case of fire. But whoever burglarized her home busted open the safe and took that drive, too."A very solid back-up plan might include an external drive, but Ms. Osuna's situation points to the need for an off-site backup plan.
A low-cost option is to post regular copies to CD or USB drive that live off premises. If you're a grad student with an office and multi-year dissertation, you might do that, but for most students, that degree of care is just not practical. It's time to look at other options.
Off-site back up options:
1. Email. The simplest and cheapest backup is to use email. Every time you complete a draft of an important document email a copy to yourself.
- Pro: It's available everywhere email is.
- Con: Files can get lost in mountains of email. The longer time has passed, the less easy it is to access your information.
2. Campus vaults. Many universities make data storage available to students. This is the best option if you can get it.
- Pros: Convenient for on-campus computing, your campus data storage is probably included in the cost of your tuition and technology fees.
- Cons: May or may not be easily accessible off campus. Beware of upgrades and make sure you copy the goods before you move on. My grad school papers were stored in a vault that was phased out. Data never really dies, but resurrection can be a major hassle.
- Pros: Available anywhere you can access to an internet connection. Large amounts of space available. Easy to organize and access.
- Cons: You're looking at $50-$150 a year in fees.