Sunday, April 7, 2013

What to back up, when and where

If you think backing up your files once a month is enough, you are mistaken. As luck would have it, my old laptop crashed almost a month to the day after doing my last semi-complete backup (which was mainly client files and photos). Potentially losing a full month's work is horrifying. My last full backup of everything was a good few month's before that so I am still in a mild state of panic trying to figure out what I have and haven't lost.

Thankfully I am able to find most of the most important stuff in various places - my web project files are all uploaded to their remote servers so they are easy enough to download, my most recent illustration project files are all in my Dropbox folder in vector format (luckily the client had requested editable AI files or all would be lost!), my accounting document can be re-updated by going through my bank statements again, recent invoices and quotes can be salvaged from my gmail messages to clients, and of course, since I use gmail, I have not lost any mails. I used to keep an "ideas" folder which I would have been really sad to lose especially after some of the brilliant brainstorming I have been doing in the last few weeks... But recently I started pinning visual ideas to a hidden folder in Pinterest, some of the more wordy stuff has been saved to Evernote, and I've added lists of to-do ideas to Workflowy.

So on the whole, apart from the schlep of it all, I am ok on the most important stuff.

Except for two or three things I overlooked....

1. My fonts!! I can't believe I made this mistake again! The last time I backed up my fonts folder was months ago! And just the other day I spent a good few hours scouring the net for some fabulous free fonts, downloading and installing them; and even made a little note on my to do list to back them up. I'm very upset about losing these and having to start over. And I'm pretty sure I'm going to run into a bunch of design files down the line with the dreaded "Missing Font" message popping up all over the place. Losing fonts is a huge issue for designers. If you don't back them up, you will deeply regret it.

2. My schedule. I use a simple excel spreadsheet, saved to my desktop, and make changes to it daily, so losing a month's worth of planning is really not great. Actually it turns out I didn't back up my desktop. So it is all gone.

3. All the programs I downloaded/installed from the internet eg Filezilla, WAMP, Skype, and so on. These, of course, can be downloaded again but this means paying for the (slow and expansive) bandwidth again, and wasting a huge amount of time.

A few things that saved me:

1. - I am in love with this little list maker. If you haven't tried it yet, you should. It is great for organising to-do lists and managing projects and ideas so you don't forget anything, also good for shopping lists! And it's all on-line so you can access it anywhere and more importantly, never lose it! The design is simple, uncluttered and to the point. I have Workflowy saved as my Chrome home-page.

2. Dropbox - Recent Illustrator files I sent to clients for proofing are still there... yay!

3. My Google Account - somewhere,somehow, with always logging in to Google, my browser history / Chrome preferences have been saved and all is as it should be after installing Chrome on my new laptop. I actually didn't know about this, so it was a pleasant surprise.

4. Pinterest - my visual inspiration board, ideas, and recipes are all in tact!

5. - I save a bunch of random stuff to Evernote. Articles that I think I will need to refer back to at some point, ideas, photos of business cards that get handed to me (so I can throw them away), stuff like that...

6. I haven't deleted images off my camera in a while so the latest pics are all still there. Phew.

In addition to making use of our friends above, here is a little list of what to remember to back up and some tips:

1. My documents folder (assuming this is where everyone keeps all their stuff)

2. Windows/fonts (This is important for designers because we install custom fonts - if you are not a designer you probably don't need to worry about this)

3. Program Files/WAMP/www
If you use WAMP or similar for web development, bear in mind that backing up the www files is not enough, you will have to do database dumps of all your project databases as well. I would say, do this and save the .sql file in the relevant project folder in www, immediately after making any significant changes to a database or table. I only really use WAMP at the beginning of some projects as a testing server, but I don't like the idea of losing entire database structures, so I think I will try steer clear of using WAMP in future and rather test directly on the remote server.

4. Program files/installed_programs
Create a folder called installed_programs in your Program Files folder and save all the .exe files / programs you download from the internet there, then you have one easy file for future use. It will save time and mega megabytes. Wishing I had done that.

5. Documents and Settings/Desktop
Don't forget to back up the desktop. Sometimes the files there are not saved anywhere else.

6. Favourites (if you use this)

7. Mail, contacts, calendar (if you're not using something like Gmail where everything will still be available when your computer goes down)

8. Pictures
Don't delete pictures off your camera until after they have been backed up off your computer. Always keep photos in at least two places eg. camera and laptop, laptop and external drive, laptop and flickr, etc. Preferable three.

9. Save and sync all important documents that you work with daily 
For me these will be things like accounting spreadsheets, quotes, invoices; and my schedule spreadsheet. Save these to "the cloud". In other words, to a remote server, using something like Windows Skydrive, Google docs, Dropbox; and make sure it is set up to sync automatically after you make any changes. This is great for Word and Excel docs which are relatively small in size but not so great for large design files and photos if you live somewhre like South Africa where bandwidth is ridiculously expensive and slow at times. Large files will need to be backed up on an external hard drive on a regular and weekly basis. Or at the end of a hugely productive design day.

10. Dreamweaver Site Definitions
A big mission for me is having to set up all my clients' site definiteions (remote access/ftp details) in Dreamweaver again. As it turns out, this stuff can be exported! Like this. I wish I had known that before, but alas. In future, every time I add a new site, I will export and save the site definition. If you save them all into the same folder, they can be easily imported back in, in just one click.

11. Serial numbers and passwords
Although I am not entirely comfortable with saving passwords on a remote server, it is handy to have them all in one place where you can access them from anywhere. A little file saved to Dropbox, Google Docs, Skydrive or Evernote is not a bad idea; but don't go labeling it "passwords" or anything obvious, and be as cryptic as possible i.e. try to avoid typing the actual password or username but rather give yourself some sort of clue or reminder. Serial numbers for software you have bought are important to keep as well. Put them all on one page. Also a good idea, is to save a photo/scan of your ID book and Passport, medical aid details, and other very important docs, to a secure location. If you save them to a remote server you will be thankful that you can access them when your passport goes missing during your trip to Istanbul.

So in summary:

1. At the end of each week, back up all the folders in the list above to an external drive.
Set your computer/backup software to remind you when it is time, and set it to back up all the specific folders above (not just the default ones). So then it's just a case of plugging in your external drive every Friday morning, and clicking start while you have your cup of coffee.

2. Set up syncing of important documents and docs you update daily, to a remote server/app like Dropbox, Google Docs, Windows Skydrive.

3. It is not unreasonable to back up your projects at the end of every, very productive day; especially if your computer is behaving badly and being held together by duct tape (note to self).

And if you are a web developer:
4. Do a database dump as soon as you make any changes to a WAMP database.

5. Export Dreamweaver site definitions every time you add a new site.

Finally, always keep your external drive in a safe place, preferably not next to your PC! If you have a house robbery, all this is pointless if they take your computer AND your backups!!

And if you have any better or more streamlined suggestions, or if I've forgotten something important that also needs backing up, please feel free to point it out in the comments or drop me a mail. :-)

1 comment:

Jim Adams said...

“As luck would have it, my old laptop crashed almost a month to the day after doing my last semi-complete backup (which was mainly client files and photos).” – What rotten luck. At least you’ve found something to save you. In your line work where you hold a lot of important files for your clients, you need to backup at least every once a month or every other week so you won’t lose anything necessary to your work progress. Jim @ EMSImaging