Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Backup Your Stuff... Please?

I'm interrupting the regularly scheduled blog post, which would have been Part 2 of my Smashwords: All Function and No Form series, for this brief public service announcement about backing up your data.

First thing yesterday morning I discovered my web site was not behaving well. Long story short, my web hosting provider had somehow switched the version of .NET out from underneath my site. If that makes no sense, suffice to say they rendered the site unreachable. We only discovered this and got the site back up and running after speaking to three different customer support reps and wasting an hour and a half of my morning. I then spent a couple more hours throughout the day and last night fixing the last lingering problems. But the site was up and, most importantly, I didn't lose any data.

This little episode reminded me that it's been a while since I'd copied over the data folder off my server onto my local hard drive. I use GoDaddy to host this and other sites, and I've no idea if they perform backups of my content. I know they have something called Managed Backups, but that's an extra service you have to pay for. Besides, I don't want to have to rely on them. I need to know where my backup is and that I can do a restore at a moment's notice.

Here's how I do backups and restores of my web content. Restoring is so important a lot of IT people call it a "Restore Plan" rather than a backup plan. It makes sense. If you can't restore, what's the point of having the backup in the first place?

Backup Plan

  1. FTP files from web service down to local disk. This doesn't happen as often as it should and really is the weak link in my plan.
  2. Each blog post is emailed to me at the end of the day. This email goes in a special folder.
  3. Windows Backup runs weekly on my laptop, rolling up a backup to my home server.
  4. On my home server I have Carbonite running. Carbonite is a great, cheap service that allows you to have continuous backups running to their cloud storage with no limit on the amount of data. This means that as any file changes on the server, including my Windows backup files, those changes are uploaded to the cloud.

Restore Plan

I have two options: restore from my Windows backup files or restore from Carbonite. I've tested both approaches, so I know they work.


This is by no means a sophisticated backup/restore plan. My worst fear is I lose the hard drive on my laptop before Windows backup has had a chance to run. That's a distinct possibility. But then at least I already have everything on the web server. If that were to then go down, I'd lose a week of posts. That's not really that big of a deal.

As for my novels, works-in-progress, etc., I store those in my Dropbox folder. Dropbox provides continuous backup to the cloud and even keeps a version history. Their versioning actually bailed me out about a month ago when I accidentally deleted the draft for a post which for some reason I thought I'd already posted.

So, there you have it. Hopefully this will serve as a reminder to all to make sure your data is backed up. You just never know what's going to happen.

It's a New Year: Time to Review Your Backup Strategy

I've talked about backing up your data before. In that discussion, I outlined some of the methods I was using at the time to insure my data was always safe. Chief amongst those were:

  1. Make a new copy of the file in question at regular intervals.
  2. If your application supports a "make backup copy" feature (like Microsoft Word), use it.
  3. Periodically copy your data files to a secondary hard drive or other device.
  4. Make backups to removable media, like a DVD, and take that media to an off-site location.
  5. Use cloud storage.

That was 2008, and here we are in 2012. Fours years might not seem like a lot of time, and, in truth, the methods outlined above still work just fine. I still use most of them, actually. But in my constant quest to become more efficient while not compromising the safety of my data, I've evolved the steps above into a process that is both automatic and most definitely centered around "the cloud" (fun fact: apparently The Cloud is, in fact, a company unto itself, despite the ubiquitous phrase we use in the computing field to denote the collection of data centers a company may have at their disposal).

My new backup strategy looks something like this:

1. Make a new copy of the file in question at regular intervals.

This step hasn't changed. Once a day or, for things not frequently updated, each time I'm about to make changes, I take my current WIP—whether it's my novel-in-progress, one of my already published novels, or even a book cover—make a copy, and prepend the current date to the filename or add the next version number to the end. This way, I've got the previous file, untouched, to fall back on if necessary.

2. If your application supports a "make backup copy" feature (like Microsoft Word), use it.

This should be automatic. Disk space is cheap, so keeping a few backup copies hanging around shouldn't be a big deal.

3. Periodically copy your data files to a secondary hard drive or other device.

4. Make backups to removable media, like a DVD, and take that media to an off-site location.

This is so 2000's. I don't do this anymore.

5. Use cloud storage.

This is where I've made the most changes. I use a combination of Dropbox and Carbonite to keep my files backed up in near real-time. Current WIP's go into Dropbox where I can access them from anywhere, across any of my devices (laptop, desktop, smartphone, tablet). I'm still on the free program, so space is somewhat limited (I have 2.5GB; if you want to try the service out—you start with 2GB—and give me an additional 250MB from the referral, click here). 50GB on Dropbox runs $99/year. Not too bad and something I'm considering upgrading to.

Carbonite, for which I pay a very reasonable $59/year, picks up the slack with respect to storage space: I have roughly 140GB worth of docs, photos, and other data stored in the Carbonite cloud. That's because $59 buys you unlimited storage space. Automatic backups, no limit on space, the ability to access files anywhere from any device (similar to Dropbox, though Dropbox has much better ease-of-access and integration; it appears as just another folder in your system). Carbonite at that price is a steal, IMO.

I like the 1-2 backup and productivity punch Dropbox and Carbonite give me.

With Dropbox, I get tight integration with my devices and the ability to access files seamlessly just like any other file on my system. Also, when I make a change to a file on, say, my personal laptop, it's then auto-sync'ed to the Dropbox folders on my other devices. Since I switch back and forth between a personal and a work laptop, this is very handy.

With Carbonite, I get all of my data—not just my writing—seamlessly backed up off-site, where a house fire isn't going to steal years (decades?) of work and memories from me.

It's a New Year. If you're already got a backup strategy, maybe it's time to give it a quick review. If not, maybe some of the above ideas will give you a jumpstart.

Backing up is (not) hard to do


Computer crashes and lost data are all the rage these days. So many people are beholden to their computers and other electronic devices, backing up your data at regular intervals is more important than ever. Of course, and unfortunately, it's a process too many people fail to integrate into their daily process.

As writers, we all know the consequences of not doing regular back-up's can be catastrophic. We labor for weeks, months, even years on a story or feature, only to lose it in a nanosecond because of a hard drive failure.

Not good.

There are many options available for making backup copies of our work:

  1. Make a new copy of the file in question at regular intervals. For my current work-in-progress, I like to prepend the date to the document filename each and every day. This way not only do I have more than one copy (in the case of file corruption) but it also gives me a sort of poor man's version control.
  2. If your application supports a "make backup copy" feature (like Microsoft Word), use it.
  3. Periodically copy your data files to a secondary hard drive or, if possible, another computer. Other options might include an external hard drive, USB key, or CD or DVD. They all work, and mostly just come down to convenience as to the choice. An alternative to copying the files is to use a backup solution. I just started using Windows Backup. It comes with most versions of Windows and, so far at least, seems to work.
  4. Make backups to removable media, like a DVD, and take that media to an off-site location. This might be a bank safe deposit box or your workplace. Just make sure it's secure if you're storing sensitive data. Having multiple copies on different mediums inside your house or apartment is great, but what if there's a fire?
  5. Use cloud storage. Amazon S3 is a relatively inexpensive option. If you use Firefox, there's even an add-on available that eases its use. (see Amazon S3 Simple Storage Service - Everything You Wanted to Know for more information on S3 and the utilities that make it a breeze to use)

The above is more or less my backup strategy, minus #4 which I have not yet utilized.You can take it even further if you so desire.

Perhaps I'm a bit paranoid, but I've not lost a file in longer than I can remember. I know one thing: I'd rather jump through hoops making sure my precious data is safe than take the chance I lose years of work.