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Backing up your stuff to the cloud January 5, 2011

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Tech tips.

To quote Paul Appleyard, who inspired this post, “As translators, our professional life is on our computers and we should do everything we can to protect it.” This tweet was part of a Twitter discussion on backing up data and backing up to the cloud.

For those of you who are unaware what “the cloud” is, as Wikipedia explains, “the term ‘cloud’ is used as a metaphor for the Internet, based on the cloud drawing used in the past to represent the telephone network, and later to depict the Internet in computer network diagrams as an abstraction of the underlying infrastructure it represents. … The fundamental concept of cloud computing is that the computing is “in the cloud” i.e. that the processing (and the related data) is not in a specified, known or static place(s).” So when you back up your data to the cloud you are basically uploading your data to Internet servers and can access the data from anywhere.

For example, I use Google Calendar to keep track of my appointments and social events. I can access this calendar from my computer, my new Android phone or any other computer such as one at a friend’s or my parents’ house, because the data is stored in the cloud. It is a good idea to regularly back up this information, so I semi-regularly sync the calendar to my PalmPilot, which I hook up to my computer.

Computers crash – usually at the most inopportune moment – so backing up your data is a very good idea in and of itself. Backing up to the cloud is a good idea in case of a fire, flood or theft, which would affect your external hard drives or computers and therefore your data.

When you back up your data to the cloud it is a good idea to use a fee-based service such as Carbonite or Mozy that uses secure services. If you are unsure which one to use, PC Mag published an overview of what they consider to be The Best Online Backup Services. Don’t forget that these fees are a business expense and should be noted as such when you do your taxes. This is not the place to be cheap or frugal. Choose the service that best suits your needs and cough up the money, because your business and livelihood depend on it.

However, there are other factors you need to take into consideration when deciding which service to use. Michael Wahlster posted an interested take on backing up to the cloud in his recent post entitled Vulnerable to the Whims of Big Companies. He stresses that it is important to also back up to a tangible external hard drive or other medium, because by backing up your data to the cloud you are vulnerable to the whims of big companies: they go bankrupt, they disappear, they merge with other companies, etc. Michael discusses this issue in great depth, and it is well-worth reading his post as well as the articles he has linked to about the perils and risks involved with backing up to the cloud.

So in summary, it is very important to use a two-pronged approach when backing up your data. Backing up to the cloud is a great idea and allows you to access your files and information from anywhere, but backing up to an external hard drive, server or other physical medium is also important. In my case, I have an external hard drive and also use Carbonite to back up my computer. Paul suggests an online data backup service called CrashPlan. Whatever service you decide to use, start using it today.

I use a free service called Dropbox to move files from my computer to my laptop (no more burning CDs or using USB drives with multiple copy and paste sessions because I ran out of storage space on the CD or USB drive!), but I never considered keeping my important files on Dropbox too. Thanks to Paul and the discussion on Twitter, that has changed.

Last but not least, here is one thing I bet you have never thought about backing up — your bookmarks! I have spent years compiling my bookmarks, and I would be lost trying to recreate them if something were to happen. Plus, it is nice to have the same bookmarks on all my computers. A tool like Xmarks is a lifesaver in this case. I first learned about it as a FireFox add-on, but it is compatible with IE, FireFox, Chrome and Safari. The company was recently bought by LastPass and is now offering a Premium service to back up your bookmarks to the cloud as well as sync with smartphones like iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc. You can bet I was one of the first ones to buy it when it was announced a couple weeks ago.

If you can recommend a service I’m sure everyone would love to hear about it in the comments.



1. Paul Appleyard - January 5, 2011

If this post spares just one translator (or mere mortal) the agony experienced when they realise they have “lost all my files”, then it will all be worthwhile.

2. Jaume - January 6, 2011

It is no longer wise to keep a list of bookmarks in your local browser. You may collect them in the cloud with services such as Blinklist (http://blinklist.com/), or in your iGoogle or Netvibes homepage. This way they will always be available for you wherever you are, and no concerns about a disk failure or data loss.

3. Michael - January 6, 2011


the necessity of backing up data cannot be overstated. In discussions with colleagues, I am always shocked when I hear how few of them have a strict back-up regimen.

What needs to be backed up are not only work files. As you pointed out, bookmarks are a considerable investment of time and effort. Templates you created are another group of files. Any customization file; just think how much time it took to create and fine-tune those parameters.

An often overlooked group of files are the database and style sheet files of blogs (like this one). It is well worth the effort to create regular backups of your blog files and blog content.

4. Marco - January 7, 2011

I’ve been using CrashPlan+ for quite a while and I am very satisfied with it.
Another online backup service I’m using in parallel is Memopal (http://memopal.com/en/), and I am extremely satisfied wityh it either.
In the past I have used Syncplicty, Carbonite and Mozy, but none ot them satisfied me for one reason or another.

5. Alexis - January 9, 2011

AMEN. And it’s worth the peace of mind even if nothing ever happens…

Alexis - January 9, 2011

p.s. It’s also a good idea to test your back-up once in a while to make sure you could access files in a pinch. I like to think of my hardest recent translation and make sure it’s right where I think it should be…

6. Oliver Lawrence - January 18, 2011

The importance of backing up cannot be overstated. However I am yet to be convinced of the value of cloud backups for those who do not have a regular need to work from multiple locations or in teams, especially given the non-disclosure and confidentiality commitments translators are often required to enter into regarding client data.

7. Jill (@bonnjill) - January 18, 2011

I think there is a huge difference between backing up to a free site and backing up to a paid service. I think it is very important to back up your data off-site. Just ask our colleagues in places like New Orleans who lost everything when Katrina hit. You never know when disaster is going to strike. Jost used to talk about keeping an external hard drive in his car in case his house caught fire. I would hazard a guess that he backs up to a reliable backup service in the cloud too now.

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