There is a saying among IT pros: If it doesn’t exist in more than one independent place, it doesn’t exist.

Set up your computers to automatically back up important data to an external drive or to a cloud-based service. The advantage of using a cloud is that you eliminate the danger of a fire or robbery dooming both your computer and its backup device; and as you continue to accumulate snapshots of your precious Sally and Stan, you’ll never run out of storage space.

Use portable drives or subscribe to a cloud service to periodically back up important files, focusing especially on saving irreplaceable pics and videos.

When shopping for a backup hard drive or cloud service, keep in mind:

  • Many companies (Dropbox, Apple, Google, Amazon, MediaFire, FlipDrive) offer free cloud backup, usually capped at 2 to 5GB, which is plenty for most of us. If you need more, sign up with two or three services, or buy a large-capacity plan. For example, with Amazon you can get 100GB of space for $20 a year and 1TB for $60 a year. Apple offers its users 5GB for free, 50GB for $1/month, 200GB for $3/month, and 2TB for $10/month. FlipDrive provides 10GB free, 100GB for $5/month, 1TB for $10/month, and 2TB for $20/month.
  • If you mostly have photos and home videos to store, Google+ offers users unlimited free cloud storage of them, with the caveat that you’ll need to cap your video resolution at 1080p and your photo resolution at 16 megapixels (not a problem for most of us). Amazon Prime members can back up unlimited pics and video to its cloud for free.
  • A big advantage cloud services have over physical drives is that you can log on from anywhere. Take a pic with your phone, save it to the cloud, then use your computer (or a friend’s) to log on to the cloud and download it. If you go to work and leave your laptop at home, you can access the laptop’s backed-up files from your cubicle.
  • Get a hard drive or cloud storage service that offers a syncing feature. When you plug in a backup drive or log on to a cloud service’s website, these devices or sites automatically scan the folders you want backed up, examine them for changes, and save new or altered files. As long as you correctly designate the folders where you’ve saved stuff you want to keep, you don’t have to do anything else.
  • But if you enable syncing features, don’t treat cloud backup as a secondary storage device if your computer runs low on space. If you upload a file onto your cloud account, and then delete the copy from your hard drive, the service will notice the deletion while syncing, assume you deleted it because you no longer wanted it, and delete the uploaded copy.
  • Replace old backup drives with new ones. If one or more older external hard drives have piled up around your house, offload their contents to new drives with terabytes of capacity, since photos eat up lots of disc space. Write the purchase date on the new drive with a permanent marker, so you know when to plan for that drive’s ultimate demise several years from now.
  • Before signing on for terabytes of backup space to stow your music and movies, check with the vendors who sold them to you. Most digital music and movie sellers allow you to re-download content you own, so backing up these files is unnecessary.
  • If you don’t have a backup and your precious files disappear in a digital disaster, don’t panic. Lost data probably can be recovered.