Are You Backing Up Your Files?

I have never had a major computer fail, that is before today. This morning I go into the office, looking to have a productive day and complete a couple of assignments. Instead, my computer screen says

"Reboot and Select proper Boot device, or insert Boot Media in selected boot device"

So after an Oh Sh*t or two, I start some diagnostics, the few that will run. Turns out the hard drive was no longer recognized and appears to be toast. I tried unplugging, but no that did not help.  The computer has some age, but is not real old, running Windows 7, and I had recently noticed a slow down when using the file manager. Time for a new computer.

The good news, if you can call it that is that my files are all backed up in the cloud through Carbonite. Many other files are stored on Dropbox as well. So, from a professional standpoint, I am covered and have all of my appraisal reports, files and images.

It appears it will take several days for all of my files to be restored on the new computer by Carbonite, but progress is being made.  While the files are populating the new hard drive, I have been re-installing software. Some are easy and others not so much if you are missing activation keys etc. Some programs I purchased through Amazon, and product info appears to be stored. Tomorrow I hope to get my financial program running and hope the back up restores as it should.

I use the Chrome browser and what was real a time saver, all I did was download the program, clicked sync from my Chrome account, and all of my settings, favorites and bookmarks were all back and active. Looked exactly like it was on my old machine.

When buying the new desktop machine I also purchased a docking station to see if I can pull anything off of the old hard drive. Have not yet taken the old hard drive out of the bus, but will do so in the next day or so.

The moral of the story is, make sure you are backing up your data files.  As professional appraisers, there is no excuse not doing it.

Fellow appraiser Darlene A. Bialowski, an accredited member of AAA wrote a very timely article for the Journal of Advanced Appraisal Studies - 2016 called Saving Critical Data. An excerpt is below in the block quote.

If you do not fully understand the need to back up or the various options, order a copy of the Journal and read Darlene's excellent article on the topic. Keep in mind, properly saving, protecting and storing client data is part of USPAP and most professional appraisal organizations code of ethics.

To order a copy of the Journal, click HERE.

Darlene Bialowski on Saving Critical Data from the Journal of Advanced Appraisal Studies - 2016
We all strive for a level of organization to simplify our professional lives and to make
access to the data we generate as personal property appraisers easily available when needed.  The work appraisers do is time consuming and with every assignment there’s even more information amassed and gets stored in electronic files on your computer. That data you are saving to your organized electronic folders gets automatically backed up on your computer system. You might think you have fully safeguarded your work product. But at this point you might want to seriously consider additional levels of protection of those assets because a computer’s hard drive can fail.  If you have not printed off absolutely everything you’ve electronically generated and you experience a hard drive failure, you would be without a certain amount of information (if not at a total loss) making reconstruction potentially impossible.

Back up, back up and back up

This essential aspect of today’s business world is one not everyone looks forward to doing, because it is additional work to take your information safety to the next level. Because we are such an electronic-digital world today, and the internet is such a wide open field for hackers, you need to take every precaution available to you.

Note: If you experience your data being hijacked, immediately disconnect from the Internet and seek technical help from a service shop, unless you are comfortable with following your system’s factory reset.

Let’s look at what options are available and a few pros and cons for each.  But then it is up to you to make the decision as to what method you are comfortable with and do your due diligence researching in depth the pros and cons, costs incurred, and variety of plans for the products etc.

The industry standard for the number of back up methods one should engage to protect his or her electronic files is at least three, counting the system’s automatic back up as one.  You can back up by mirror imaging your computer hard drive (which duplicates what is on your system) or you can selectively back up.

Note: If you mirror image your computer hard drive and you are unaware of a virus within your system, you could also be backing up that same virus.  The topic will not be covered in this article, but you want to make sure that your anti-virus software is current, is a recognized program and that you (or anyone else using that computer) does not open attachments (or emails) from unknown sources. Even with known sources you have to be careful that the email wasn’t sent from a hijacked account.

As with any device employed for safeguarding your materials, there is the question of longevity, a critical factor.  It was some time ago that if you wanted to save a special file, or even back up your data a floppy disk was what you reached for.  That device is now totally obsolete as it was a form of magnetic storage media. If you still have floppy disks around you will want to see if it is at all possible to migrate the information to an accessible format.

 A Compact Disc (or CD) came next and was an optical storage media which consisted of a polycarbonate disk formulated by laminate structures.  The CD had a limited capacity and it became obsolete when the Digital Video Disc (or DVD) became available.  It too was an optical storage media format similar to the CD but with a larger capacity.  Though larger in capacity, both the DVD and the CD were problematic in design and therefore unstable for a long duration. Many manufacturers are no longer including a DVD drive in new machines because so much today can be downloaded from the web rather than received in disk format.

There is newer technology now available that has prolonged the longevity of a device, but that does not mean you should not stay abreast of the changes in technology as they affect your ability to protect your data. It is important to understand how systems you are using are structured and understand what you are backing up to because each device is fluid.  Just as you keep an eye on the market for the area of your expertise, research for a new smart phone or upgrade of a digital camera, researching and understanding of back up systems is crucial in saving your data.

One of the manual options available to you today which allows you to control how your data is saved and can be used to transfer data to another device is a Flash Drive (aka thumb/jump/pen drive or memory stick), a compact file storage device. Flash drives are available in various sizes of gigabytes (gb). Prices will depend on the storage capability and the brand. You will want to consider what you plan to store on the device in order to determine how much storage capacity you need.  Some big box office supply stores have charts explaining how much of what you want to save on a flash drive can be stored on any particular size.  For example, a 16 gb flash drive will hold approximately 900 photos (10 megapixel) + 40 minutes of video (1080 resolution in video avchd (format)) + 1,000 songs (MP3 songs) + 4gb of office files. Not bad!  Buy as an expensive a drive as you can afford manufactured by one of the more recognized brands. As for longevity-a flash drive’s life span isn’t measured in days or years, but in writes to the drive. Memory chips store the data on flash drives and how often data is read or written to the drive can contribute to the wear of the chip.

 Another option is the external hard drive, offered as a portable or as a desktop. While the portable hard drive is compact, reasonably priced, and designed for you to travel with your files, the desktop version is larger, more expensive but comes with greater storage capacity. Choice of capacity again depends on what type of data you plan to store on the device.  Price will be reflected by the version, capacity size, and manufacturer.  There is also the decision between two types of technology: hard-disk drives (HDD) which are mechanical and write to and read from spinning disks or solid-state drives (SSD) which use flash memory.  Each type offers different advantages which will require research for you to make the best decision. Any of these options connect to an individual machine. The external (portable or desktop) hard drives, when manually moved, will back up additional computers onto the one drive.  Some models back up all information and some you manually select what you want backed up.  In simple terms, an external hard drive acts like a super large flash drive.  Some manufacturers available today are Imoega, Seagate, Western Digital (WD) or ioSafe.

Note: If you use a Mac you can purchase a modem with added storage capacity which does an automatic back up for you as well.

Once you have made your decision and purchase your device, be sure to set a schedule to perform the back up and be diligent about it.

No matter whether you are going to use a flash drive, a portable or desktop external hard drive care of the device itself is of importance.  Keep any device away from food or beverage; do not leave the device near your computer to prevent loss from a fire or theft; do not leave the device in too warm a location (i.e. in your car in the summer); and do not keep the device near any sources of electromagnetic radiation (i.e. speakers, tv, wireless phones or power strips, etc.).    One final consideration is to be sure to disconnect the device when not in use and disconnect it properly.

Note:  If you have family photographs scanned to your computer, have amassed a library of digital images as well as vital documents in electronic format, consider saving these to a separate device that you store outside of your home or at the very least in a fire proof safe within your home.

Cloud storage is simply off-site storage of your data to a server managed by a company to whom you subscribe by way of a fee for rental of space. Some providers in existence today are Carbonite, Google, Dropbox and iCloud (for Apple products).  Each provider offers different services so be sure you understand exactly what you are purchasing.

Overall, the process is fairly simple, you decide on the company, you subscribe, pay your fee (monthly or annually) and with their instruction you send your data over the internet and it is stored for you on servers in various locations.
Pros to consider, it allows for:

freeing up of space on your own hard drive(s)
access to your data from anywhere you have an internet connection
file sharing with others with greater ease
access of data across all of your devices

Cons to consider as well:

You are renting storage space with no control over who manages the space.
You have no control over your own information.

If the particular storage company you are using goes out of business, your information is lost forever.

There is no 100% security, servers can be hacked and information stolen, no matter what the company advertises.

If the company upgrades its servers and your data is corrupted (depending on what software format it is in) it might not be compatible to migrate to the new server.

If your data is corrupt and doesn’t migrate to the new server, it is essentially lost. The company storing the data will not know that the data did not migrate (not their job); you’d only discover such when you went to access it.

The cloud changes with updates in technology and software thus limiting you in backward compatibility after a certain point.
Source: Journal of Advanced Appraisal Studies - 2016 

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