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Issue #405: Apr 26 – May 2, 2015

Q: In your column that published on Feb 21 (I.G.T.M. Issue #395, Feb 15, 2015) you comment on the 4Tb Seagate Central drive for file back-up.  I have an external drive for backing up my files – Clickfree.  Is this device also prone to failure?

– Denise T.
Destin, Florida

A:  I’m afraid so, Denise, although I’d be careful with your definition of “prone to failure”.  This is not a statement on the quality of your choice of backup device.  The simple truth is that no Geek has yet managed to invent a form of mass data storage that is 100% impervious to the ravages of time.  Any device that uses a spinning magnetic platter to store data is going to be prone to friction wear on both the motor bearings and the head stepper servo, as well as the gradual decay of the tiny magnetic traces that store the actual data.  Optical media (CDs, DVDs, Blu-Ray) are prone to a type of decay known as disk rot where the chemicals in the materials from which the media is made lose their cohesion.  Solid state media such as flash memory and SSDs can lose their data as the electrical charge that stores the data patterns slowly leaks away.

These processes can take anywhere from months to decades to occur, but occur they will.  You can count on it.  Every single type of storage medium currently in use will fail – eventually.  The trick is to get a copy of your data onto fresh media before that occurs.  For more information on this topic, visit, and enter “Data degradation” in the search box.


 Q: I am confused about the best way to back up several home systems wirelessly and automatically. Backup manually to an external drive is usually not done by multiple users often enough. Cloud backup with several commercial products is easy and not very expensive, but now all your data is subject to the next hack job on that company. Automatic backup device at home is good, but now subject to fire or hurricane damage to your home. Is there a system that backs up wirelessly, off site, automatically, and personal at another location that you own so that it is not subject to a professional hack to get data.

– Rod Powell.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A:  Wow, Rod – you did a pretty good job of describing several catch-22s of various forms of data backup.  Each of the various backup methods is vulnerable in some way just as each of the afore-mentioned media types is vulnerable in its own way.  However, one of the backup methods stands out, and that’s Cloud Services.  Using the cloud instantly solves a number of problems that exist with every other backup solution.  You no longer need to worry about hardware obsolescence, or even breakdown for that matter.  That’s part of what you’re paying them to worry about.  Using cloud services adds a level of professional IT maintenance to your data solution that you can’t achieve on your home system without either spending a lot of money, or spending a lot of time.  I think you’re giving too much weight to the “next hack job” of these companies.  Have you ever heard of one of them being breached?  I’m not saying that it’s not possible, but the risk and effort vs. reward of trying to break into one of them vs. breaking into, say, Target, JP Morgan Chase, or Home Depot makes the data backup companies a poor target for cyber criminals.

As for your actual question, I’m sure with a little creativity, one could cobble together some kind of Rube Goldbergesque back-up system that uses a virtual private network and shared network drives to perform semi-automated offsite backups.  However, this is not without risk either.  The remote location is every bit as prone to fire or other natural disaster as your home, and there is also physical security to worry about.  Here’s a scenario for you to consider: imagine that the system stops working one day, so you drive over to the remote location to find out what’s wrong, only to find someone broke in and stole your hardware.  There goes your data security, not to mention all your data.  In this Geek’s opinion, the cloud-based solution is the way to go.  Do your diligence, and pick the one that’s right for you.

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