How safe are your work files?  Safe on your computer hard disc? There is a saying that if your data is not in 3 places then it isn’t anywhere.  But where should these 3 places be?

The first is obviously the hard disc on your computer.  The easy place to find your files, but computer hard discs are, more often than not, mechanical items that can, without warning decide to crash. Bang, data gone.  So, where else to hold a copy?

If you have a network storage device, such as a Buffalo linkstation, you can store a copy of your important data and use a programme like sync toy or the manufacturer’s own software to synchronise folders and files between your computer hard disc and the network drive. The easy way of doing this is store all the files on the network drive and ‘make them always available’ on your PC.

Available Offline

Available Offline is a feature that is provided for free in Windows 7. Create a folder on your network drive and fill it up with documents and folders, then Right click on the folder and select ‘Always available offline’.  The folder and its contents will then synchronise with your PC and you will be able to use them when you are away from the office, add to them edit them, and more importantly, you have a second copy of everything.

So now we have your data in two places, but remembering the rule, we ideally need to have a third copy.  This could be a regular backup onto a DVD or USB hard disc, but if you want greater protection against loss, you really should consider having the third copy under a different roof.  For this we can use the internet.  There has been a great deal in the media over the past few months about cloud computing, how innovative it is and how it is going to change everything, but to be honest, it’s been around for years. What’s more, you’ve been using it for years.  The simplest way to use ‘the cloud’ to protect your most important data is to email it to someone, or even yourself.  Assuming you use a hosted mail server, the data will remain on that mail server until you remove it.

Extending this idea you can make use of services such as Google Workspace.  Using your Google mail account you can select folders or files that you want to store online.

Google docs

You can use the upload option to select files or folders and then upload them into your personal web based data store.

Using the Google settings you can chose whether to leave the documents in their natural format (i.e. .doc or .xls) or you can convert them to Google Docs format or PDF.  It would probably be best to leave them as they are so that you can continue to use them and edit them should you need them.

Other web services are also available that not only allow you to store documents and photos online, but also easily share them with colleagues and friends.  One such service is dropbox,  You need to download some software and set up an account which is pretty simple, and then dropbox will appear as a folder in your file explorer.  Within the drop box folder you have 2 preconfigured folders, public and photos.  All files that you put in the public folder can be individually shared with anyone simply by sending them a link.

Dropbox public link

To get the link you need to right click on the file, select Dropbox and then click on Copy public link.  You can then paste that link into an email or skype window and the recipient can click on the link to download the file through their web browser.  One word of caution though.  The link can be passed around and anyone who has the link can download your file until such time as you delete it.

Alternatively you can set up shared folders between you and your colleagues.  To do this you need to create a folder within the Dropbox folder. Then you right click on the new folder, select dropbox and click on Share this folder.

dropbox Share Folder

This will open your Dropbox account in your browser. You can select the folder you want to share and then click on Sharing.  A window will open and you can add in the email addresses of the colleagues or friends you wish to share that folder with.

dropbox adding users

You can have multiple shared folders and decide on a per folder basis who you want to grant access to. This means that if you need to share different sets of files with different groups you can, without them being able to see one anothers’ files.  Dropbox gives you 2GB of free data and will also give you an extra 250MB for every person you invite to join the service. If you need more that 2GB you can pay for more.  Dropbox is simple to use and maintain.  When you have finished sharing a file, just delete it and it’s gone. It’s also possible to purchase a “packrat” service by which you can reinstate any files or folders deleted accidentally or otherwise, forever.

So, by using the hard disc on your computer, a network or USB hard disc and a service such as dropbox or Google Documents you can ensure that your data is protected from loss and with web based services you can access your data from anywhere.

Richard Sparkes