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Monday, September 13, 2010

Backup Vs. File Sync

Data Backup Versus File Synchronization
Most people have heard about data backups, but not sure how to do them. Many people are not sure exactly what file synchronization is or even heard of it.

What is a data backup?
Backing-up your data is to simply copy what you want to keep, such as documents, financial records, music, pictures, spreadsheets, videos, etc. to another medium (such as a blank CD, DVD, flash drive, or another hard disk drive) so that in the event of a HDD (hard disk drive) failure, you don't lose anything.  Automated data backups that happen occasionally, such as weekly or monthly, help guarantee your backed-up files are kept up-to-date.

What is file/folder syncronization?
This is when files/folders on two or more computers are synchronized, meaning that if one file changes on one computer, it's automatically updated on the other computer(s).  So if "MyDocument.txt" on Computer A has changed, then the changes are automatically updated on Computer B fairly quickly.

Which one should I use?
If you have more than one computer on your home or small office computer network and you are not running a centralized file server, then I recommend doing file/folder synchronization.  Why?  For a few reasons...
  • The most obvious reason is convenience, so that when a file has changed, it is automatically updated on the other computer(s).  Everyone has access to the latest and newest files.
  • Files and folders are stored on more than one computer, so that if one computer crashes, you still have access to your files from the other computer(s).  More than one copy of the files and folders exist on another computer.
  • After the initial setup, file/folder synchronization is usually much faster, and occurs much more frequently versus a monthly or a weekly data backup.
  • It is usually less expensive than having to buy additional hardware, such as a flash drive or an external hard drive, since all you need is two or more computers and the file synchronization software to set it up.
What are the cons of file/folder synchronization?
  • Depending upon how many files you have and how big they are, the initial setup could take many hours for these files and folders to travel across your computer network to each computer, thus causing a huge bottleneck for all computers on the network until all of the files have been synchronized.  The same amount of data could be backed-up to an external hard drive much faster.
  • Some files you may not want to be synchronized to another computer, such as your diary or your personal finances.
  • If two or more people are working on the same synchronized file at the same time, which version do you keep?  Such instances can cause "file collisions" and possibly file corruption.  Whereas data backups are usually just a one-way street.
Where do I get these free softare programs?
The best of both worlds, but with limitations...
There is a way to have the best of both worlds, but with limitations, without having to run both data backup and file/folder synchronization software programs at the same time.  A free service, called Dropbox at http://www.dropbox.com/, offers 2GB of both online backup and file synchronization.  Any file you save into the Dropbox folder is immediately copied into your online data backup storage where you have access to with any web browser from any computer connected to the internet.  It is then synchronized to other computers you have Dropbox installed on and has internet connectivity.  However, the biggest drawback is the 2GB of limited storage, but if you pay, you can add more storage, of course.  I personally use Dropbox for only my absolutely most important documents and spreadsheets that I want both backed-up and synchronized across computers, and it works very quickly and very well.

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