Student backup solutions: which is most effective?

Student backup solutions: which is most effective?

Summary: We see many computing disasters and IT failures over here at ZDNet, clearly those which fellow blogger Michael Krigsman writes about, as well as my own; throwing my laptop out of the window, blowing my desktop up and generally causing havoc.Along my travels, I have learned the importance of backing up my data, sometimes multiple times over.


We see many computing disasters and IT failures over here at ZDNet, clearly those which fellow blogger Michael Krigsman writes about, as well as my own; throwing my laptop out of the window, blowing my desktop up and generally causing havoc.

Along my travels, I have learned the importance of backing up my data, sometimes multiple times over. But with so many choices available, which is the most effective? I'll take you through a long and laborious journey and probably not come with any answers; as let's face it, personal preference always dictate our actions.

USB drives

On the eighth day, God created a magical talking flash drive, but forgot all about it. Since the creation of the flash drive, we have used them extensively to transport work from one place to another with ease. With 1GB of storage twenty years ago amounting to the size of a house in Middlesex to the size of your big toenail nowadays, that's a fairly big improvement.

Pros: they're tiny for their capacity, they can fit into your pocket neatly - you can even get novelty ones - and often the case with solid state drives, they are fairly water resistant. I say that with a pinch of salt, however.

Cons: because they're so small they can be easy to lose, and because of worms such as Conficker, are often being rejected from networks because of the security risk they pose.

Internal/external hard drive

Having an extra storage drive in your machine isn't too uncommon, especially if it is a single drive with multiple partitions. With most operating systems nowadays you can easily backup to another hard drive, such as in Windows 7, and the backup process almost always automates itself.

Pros: having two hard drives are an easy, viable backup solution. If one is a solid-state drive, sure they're more expensive but they are much more reliable.

Cons: if you're on a partition setup, one drive goes then the whole lot goes, rendering your backup entirely useless.

The cloud

The cloud is all around us; we breathe it, we smell it, we use and abuse it. The thing is, it is not here, nor there, nor anywhere, but everywhere. Utilising the cloud is nothing new to a student, where most applications for research and repositories of data and information are all stored in the cloud - a friendly, gentle plethora of sweet zero's and one's, floating around in space.

Pros: you can have almost unlimited, or rather endless amounts of storage with certain providers, and have the ability to upload large quantities of files. The nature of the cloud also means you can access your backup from anywhere.

Cons: if you upload something, even accidentally, deemed inappropriate for storage, your entire backup could be removed as well as your account. Also, you may not be able to upload large files over a certain limit, and keeping your file structure may be difficult.

University network

Your local university network will offer you some storage in form of a home drive. This will be meant for your university work and local storage files; but the beauty is it should be available for access from anywhere.

Pros: with the backend infrastructure, you'll find most if not all networks backup at least once a day, giving you 100% assurance that your work will be backed up somewhere, even if it's on a disk lying around the administrator's office.

Cons: often the space you are given is tiny and don't be too surprised if it is shared with your email. If you use email a lot, this will cut down on your storage space; equally if you use your storage to the maximum, you may not get your important emails through.

Which backup to use?

Personally, I would, have done and continue to use good old fashioned DVD's, at least once a month. It may cost you a bit of money, depending on how much storage you have, but as long as you keep them safe you should be fine.

Topics: Storage, Data Management, Hardware

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  • How Much Money do You want to Spend?

    If you are using mostly text files. The college network works well. If you have large files then you have to look elsewhere.

    In college my dorm/shared house/where ever I lived always had several people interested in computer networks. We pooled our money built a small LAN with a file server and ran Raid plus a monthly tape back up. Equipment costs were shared and a small fund was set up for the person stuck doing the IT management.

    I had a room mate that bought three USB hard drives. He imaged his main machine and stored the same back up on all three of the drives. He kept one off site, just in case.
  • RE: Student backup solutions: which is most effective?

    For serious students making investments of years and tens of thousands of dollar on an education, spending a few bucks for an automated online backup would make sense. There are several that are affordable and reliable. They are also safer and more predictable than 95% of busy students with hectic schedules.

    For advanced students with reports, thesis, and valuable research, there is no question that their data should be automatically encrypted and backed up.
  • RE: Student backup solutions: which is most effective?

    Duh....Skype it to a different computer with Cucku...

    All free.

  • Dropbox works great for me

    So, it may not be the most secure or allow the most space but for the last year or so I have been using Dropbox to store all my files...

    I have several machines that I work on and sometimes I forget (or lose) my flash drive. With dropbox I just put all my documents in a certain folder and dropbox does the sync in the background (using ssl and only diffs if possible)...i am amazed at how fast it will update all the machines i use

    Best part is that it works across linux/mac/windows and its free (at least for 2gb)

    I agree, if you have some bigger files then get an external hd but this works for all my papers, and notes, and whatever else I need

    I also use Evernote to sync up my notes and have them accessible anywhere (and it works really well under wine on linux)

    so my vote is for the cloud
  • RE: Student backup solutions: which is most effective?

    Yes... But what do you back up?
    All your profile?
    Ot all your "My Documents" (which stupid, illiterate, idiotic, inept Microsoft employee decided that the file to place all data in wopuld be called "My <space character> documents" and then hidden deep within a profile?)
  • RE: Student backup solutions: which is most effective?

    Were I to backup to the cloud, I would probably zip and encrypt anyway to reduce size and keep it from prying eyes. The big problem with the cloud is it takes too long, typically.

    USB is the best bet if you can do it.

    Any backup that can't be moved off site is of limited value so backing up to internal drives is fairly useless.

    The University network would be ok if it's in a different building and your needs are small, but again I would zip and encrypt. It may also suffer from a time issue since this essentially a closer cloud.
  • Add to the List...

    Personally I like what Windows Homes Server does for me. Backing up files, while important, is not enough for me. I want my complete system backed up so when (not if) a HDD goes bad I can install a new drive and be about my business in an hour or two. Nightly image backup no muss no fuss. Add in the ability to log-in remotely and up/download files is just a plus. The shares and backups can be backed up on external drive for off site backups. Plus may other things I don?t have time to get into.

    Cons: Doesn?t work with Mac?s (well sort of) or Linux. While a WHS can be built pretty cheap cost may be a factor for a poor student. Possible remote limitations through school/home networks.

  • RE: Student backup solutions: which is most effective?

    Good advice. At this point I assume that everyone at least back ups their main computer/hard drive. I have started backing up my mobile device as well since I have accumulated some fairly hard to replace lists/data on there. provides a pretty painless summary of your options in that department.
    Steve KTG