In this post I want to talk a little about our data. By our data I mean any information that is unique to us: files we’ve created that can contain personal or important information that we may want to keep private and/or that we want to have backed up. Examples include your email files, your photos, tax files, resume, letters, school papers, even your MP3 files.
One of the challenges of managing all of this data is backing it up. If your hard drive dies for whatever reason, the data on that hard drive may be unrecoverable and all of that information (some of it priceless to us) may be forever lost. There are many options for backing up data and I highly recommend checking out this IT Business article for more information on some free online services as well as inexpensive external hard drive solutions. I personally use and recommend free Mozy for home and we resell Mozy Pro for business.
Another challenge with our data is access to it. If you store your data on a desktop PC or a server, how do you access it when you are not physically located near your PC or server? There are several free online services available that help individuals and companies store their data in the cloud and access it from anywhere. Three of them are Dropbox, Microsoft Office Live and Google Docs.
- Dropbox syncs a folder (up to 2 GB free) on one or more computers to their secure web site and if you run their software on more than one PC, all PCs will automatically keep copies of the same data in the sync folder. If you don’t run the software on your PC, you can access your data through their web interface.
- Microsoft Office Live, among other things, allows you to store copies of any files (up to 5 GB free) on Microsoft’s servers for retrieval from any location. Additionally, you can view Office files through a web browser, but you have to download a copy to your local PC if you want to make edits. Starting with the release of Office 10, coming soon, Microsoft promises to have scaled down versions of all of their Office apps that can be run in a browser.
- Google Docs allows you to upload, create and edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations online. There is a limit of a combined total of 5000 documents and presentations and there are confusing formula limits on spreadsheets. The advantage of Google Docs is that you can create and edit documents online without needing access to a local PC application. This is the main driver behind Google’s Chrome OS where a user could truly be Livin’ in the Cloud and this puts Google out front in terms of providing true cloud services. The disadvantage is that you can only work with documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Additionally, it will convert your files to Google format, so you can’t really use this service for strictly file storage.
The downside of any of the above online file access solutions (and cloud computing in general) is your dependence on a third party. When I first started investigating Microsoft’s Office Live service a few weeks ago, it gave me a message saying the service was unavailable and to try again later. This, along with Google’s well publicized gmail outage last week, leads one to think that maybe cloud computing isn’t yet ready for prime time.
Other options for remote access to your data is through a PC remote access solution. Three of the ones we’ve used include Microsoft’s RDP (remote desktop protocol), VNC (virtual network computing) , or LogMeIn. Of the three, we prefer LogMeIn, since it doesn’t require reconfiguring a firewall like the other two and allows the host and remote to view the same screen; it can be used for remote support as well as remote access.
A third challenge with our data is control and security. Do you know where all the backups (copies) of your data are located? If you lost your laptop or a USB flash drive, (assuming you have a good backup), would you be worried about your data getting into the wrong hands? Do you worry about Google Docs or any other online data storage provider doing the right things to protect your data? I pick on Google because they tend to be the poster child for online privacy issues.
Again, there are services and products that can help with data security, particularly in the area of encryption. We recommend a free product called TrueCrypt, because it is secure, flexible, easy to use, and cross-platform. Unfortunately, TrueCrypt cannot be used with online apps such as Office Live and Google Docs. There is, however, a good blog post about combining TrueCrypt with Dropbox for secure online storage.
In summary, there are many issues to consider when managing your data. Hopefully some of the ideas in this post can be used to assist you with backing up, accessing, and securing your data. If you’d like assistance or more information on any of the above, please feel free to contact us!