Cloud Backup: A Brief Primer for the Practicing Writer

Part 1: Why Should I Use Cloud Backup?

OK, raise your hand if you’ve ever lost a digital copy of something you’ve written. That could mean that the file became corrupt, your computer itself crashed, you lost a thumb drive or disk, or maybe you just forgot where you saved the file. Looks like just about everyone’s hand is up. A bit sad, but to be expected, I suppose.

For writers—that is, people who identify themselves as writers, engaged in the craft of creative writing in whatever form—losing your work can be particularly devastating. Which is why it’s important that you have good backup procedures in place and keep your writing works in multiple locations. Using a cloud backup provider usually lets you set up an automated backup procedure, and the saved files are offsite, so loss or damage of your local computer won’t affect the backup.

With current technologies and the variety of cloud storage options now available, setting up reliable backup has never been easier. But, because I know many writers and other creative people can be somewhat technologically phobic, I’d like the take some time to demonstrate, step by step, the process of setting up a cloud backup strategy that runs automatically to protect your most precious documents. In follow-up posts, I’ll show how you can use Dropbox and SkyDrive to get great protection. First, however, let’s look at what cloud storage actually is and how you can use it safely. 

Cloud Storage Is Safe

I know many people resist putting their personal documents into the cloud because of fears about security. In the past year, we’ve seen enough headlines about stolen data and hacktivist activity to make anyone afraid to send their data outside their home network. However, I would argue that using cloud storage is not only safe but much safer than your own local storage would be alone. Here’s why.

First, understand what cloud storage actually is. Basically “the cloud” just means you’re using someone else’s computers via the Internet. So, for cloud storage, you’re sending your files through the Internet to another location where they’ll be saved on your cloud provider’s hardware in their data centers. These data centers are typically huge warehouses with rows and rows of industrial-grade computing devices, and the buildings feature redundant power supplies and cooling systems to protect the equipment from failure.

Data centers are also highly secure; both their physical (location) security and computer (data) security systems are typically top-notch. Of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t be hacked—pretty much any system can be. But I’d suggest they’re probably about a hundred times more secure than your personal home network. The reputations of these companies depend on keeping your data safe, so they’re very serious about their security protocols. (I had the benefit of touring such a facility once, and believe me it was quite eye-opening.)

Using a cloud backup solution means you have a copy of all your backed-up work in a location other than your home or personal computer. So if your computer crashes, your laptop is stolen, or your house burns down or is swept away by a tornado, your data is still safe and accessible from any other computing device. I know writers who try to get this multiple-location protection by using thumb drives (flash drives) or by emailing their work to themselves, but those methods have their limitations.

A Word About Passwords

You might hesitate to use cloud storage for your writing because you worry that someone will steal your work. If the cloud provider is hacked, yes, it’s possible they could view your stored data. However, it’s not your data they’re looking for (unless you happen to keep all your financial data and password information in a document that syncs to the cloud—don’t do that!).

Hackers are looking for financial gain, and they want it to be quick and easy. They’re not going to take your work in progress and try to sell it; that would be hard and time-consuming—as all writers know. What the hackers are looking for are password and username combinations so that they can use them to access your data on other sites, assuming you’re using those same combinations elsewhere.

Most people use those same passwords and usernames all over the place because they’re easy to remember. If you use the same combination (or even words that are similar) on a site that gets hacked as you do on your banking site or on a shopping site that you let store your credit card information, that’s where you could end up in trouble. So, what can we learn from this?

  • Don’t use the same password or username on multiple sites. I’d recommend a different password for your main computer log in as well. If you use a smartphone—particularly if you access any of your data on your phone, do shopping through the mobile browser, or have any passwords stored in apps—you should use a password on your lock screen. Yes, it takes a little extra effort, but the security is worth it.
  • Use strong passwords. If you don’t know what a strong password is or how to create one, do some research! We’re living in the age of the data breach; you owe it to yourself to make yourself and your data as secure as possible. Many sites now have a strength indicator when you select a new password, which is helpful.
  • Use a password management system. If remembering different passwords and usernames for all the websites you use seems complicated, well, it is. But there are online services such as LastPass that will not only generate unique strong passwords anytime you need one but also will remember and log you in to stored sites automatically. It’s a much more secure system than letting your browser remember passwords, for instance, or writing down passwords and username combinations.

Choosing Your Cloud Storage

There are precautions you should take when choosing a company to host your data. Pick a company that has a good reputation and offers the features you need. Be careful about using some start-up or a company that has hosting as an add-on to their primary services (which are something else) because they might decide later to cancel the storage piece, and you’ll be looking for a new host.

When it comes to judging a company’s reputation, don’t automatically exclude a company that has had a data breach in the past; rather, look at how they handled the breach and the disclosure to customers. Also, how did the breach occur, and what changes did the company make as a result? The company that’s been hit previously might be much more secure than a company that has had no (reported) incidents.

Keep in mind that for personal use, you can get cloud storage for free, and the amount of storage is typically in the multiple gigabytes (GB). If you need more space than the provider gives you for free, you can always purchase a larger amount. A Microsoft Word document for, say, a short story or a chapter of a novel will probably be in a range between 100 and 200 kilobytes (KB). Sorry for the math here, but a brief comparison might help:

Gigabytes (GB) compared to megabytes (MB) and Kilobytes (KB)

So, if the files you’re backing up to a cloud host are individually sized up to 200 KB, you have room for about 5000 files per GB. Basically, what this means is that if the files you’re backing up are measured in KB, or even in MB, you’ll have a hard time filling even 1 GB of storage. However, if you mix in media files—pictures, music, video—which are much larger, you will have need of many GBs of storage.

Backup Should Be Redundant

I hope this gives you a good background on using the cloud to save your writing. There are many services you might choose for cloud backup; I’ll do a walkthrough of setting up two in follow-up posts: Dropbox and SkyDrive. I choose these two because I think they are both well-known and offer some excellent features for writers.

However, while I advocate for setting up a cloud backup solution, I believe in redundant systems. That is, why not save to a thumb drive or an external hard drive in addition to your local and cloud backups? Marianne Knowles over at Writers’ Rumpus posted a nice article running down a variety of storage methods for writers to consider, “Resolve to BACK IT UP!” The key is always setting up regular procedures that you can stick to—and keeping track of where your current files are!

UPDATE: As a result of a trademark infringement issue, Microsoft announced on Monday, January 27, that SkyDrive is being renamed to OneDrive. Same service; different name. Find out more here: OneDrive for Everything in Your Life.

Related:

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins

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8 thoughts on “Cloud Backup: A Brief Primer for the Practicing Writer

  1. c2london

    Will you be doing a blog on the password saver systems, too? Looking forward to the specific info on cloud storage systems even though I’ve been using Dropbox for years.

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    1. bkwins Post author

      Ha! No, I’m not planning anything more on passwords or password services. I’m not a security expert, nor do I intend to play one on the Internet. If you want to use LastPass (and I only bring that one up because it’s the one I’m familiar with; there are other services), you can find info on their website about what protections they offer and how it works. Also, here’s an independent article on setting up an account: The How-To Geek Guide to Getting Started with LastPass.

      If you’ve been using Dropbox for years, it might be that the information I can provide will be old news. On the other hand, you just might find a new trick or two to make your life easier.

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  2. Pingback: Cloud Backup for Writers, Part 2: Using Dropbox | The Weird World of B. K. Winstead

  3. Pingback: Resolve to BACK IT UP! | Writers' Rumpus

  4. Pingback: Cloud Backup for Writers, Part 3: Using OneDrive | The Weird World of B. K. Winstead

  5. Pingback: Backup Day, and a Plea to Solve Your Tech Problems | The Weird World of B. K. Winstead

  6. camping

    Hey there are using WordPress for your blog platform?
    I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and set up my own.
    Do you require any coding expertise to make your own blog?
    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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    1. bkwins Post author

      By using WordPress, you don’t need to know any code to publish a blog. You set up the site by choosing a template, then choose which modules, if any, you want to add (for instance, I have my Twitter stream on the right). It’s pretty much drag & drop design, although it’s not always as intuitive as I think it should be. Of course, there are a lot of helpful resources on the WordPress site that can get you going.

      When you post a blog, there are formatting controls like you would have in Word or another writing program, or you can write in another program and copy and paste into WordPress. That part is all pretty simple. However, if you’re finicky about formatting, I would recommend learning the basics of HTML tags because that can save you some headaches when things don’t look like you think they should–the answer will be in the code. And when I say “basics,” there really are just a two or three tags you should know–again, very simple stuff. But, as I said, that’s not necessary to get started, certainly. Good luck!

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