Backing up a hard drive is one of those things we all intend to do, eventually, right after we lose 10 pounds, write that novel, and apply to grad school. Let's be honest: If you've never had a hard drive failure, keeping up-to-date on your archives seems like a waste of time. But it's nothing compared to how much time you'll lose when your music, pictures, and documents vanish in an instant.
Trust me, this is not a lesson you want to learn the hard way. Hard drive failures can happen at any time, without warning. Often, your data is unrecoverable. There are some services that can attempt to retrieve some or all of the lost data, but these are pricey and time-consuming, and no substitute for having instant access to your archived files.
So how can you go about making sure that your backups are current?
Set a schedule. You should be backing up your files monthly, at least. Mark it on your calendar, along with other mandatory chores like sending in your mortgage payment. Even better, programs like Apple's "Time Machine" allow you to automate the backup progress as long as you're hooked up to an external storage medium. Speaking of which:
Get an external hard drive. Well-regarded brands like Seagate and Western Digital sell external hard drives with a capacity of up to one terabyte (that's 1,000 gigabytes). These companies have a reputation for reliability, but since their hard drives are still mechanical devices, they can also fail. New solid-state drives may be more reliable than today's models. Even so:
Online archives can be even better for some things. For example, if all your photos are on Flickr, that's all the backup you'll ever need. Email documents to yourself, and they'll live on the email server from now until the end of time. Although it's still best to keep sensitive information on your local drives, these days the Web offers a quick and dirty way to archive almost anything.
Do you back up your hard drive? What tips can you share?