I'm currently working on a new book that has to be turned around in six weeks. This isn't your typical small business problem, but in thinking about how I do what I do with data on my computer—and on how I use computers these days in general—I realized it was time to talk through why pretty much everything I do has a home up in the clouds, and yet, how I keep myself safe from some future apocalypse at the same time.
All my stuff in the clouds
I use Google Docs to store most of my important office documents—like spreadsheets and word documents. Because I'm afraid (paranoid!) that I'll some day need them on the day that Google has decided to knock the servers offline for maintenance—the really important ones—I also export onto my local computer, plus save to a removable flash drive (thumb drive, as some folks call them).
I also use Google Calendar and Google Mail. Why? So that I can access my stuff from pretty much any Web browser. But I also sync copies of mail and my calendar to my phone so that even if I'm offline, I can see what's what. This saves me when I'm off traveling, and/or when I'm rushing between meetings.
For non-office documents, like movies I've made, etc., I use Flickr to store my photos and YouTube to host my videos, but I also keep copies up in DropBox, and another copy on a portable hard drive that I fill up every few months, and then ship offsite, in case I suffer some kind of physical damage to my office.
My tasks are managed by an app called Wunderlist that syncs to my desktop, my iPad and my Android phone, so that I can't possibly lose the data there. And if I do, it's tasks and I'm sure I'll get the chance to recreate that list.
As you can see, a lot of what I do on any given day is stored in the clouds so that I can't risk losing it by having my laptop stolen or having my desktop grind to a halt.
A little extra sanity
I use a portable hard drive, like the iOmega eGo portable hard drive, fill them up with backup information every three months or so, and then move them offsite. I do this because I never ever want all my photos to vanish from Flickr, or my videos to be locked away from me on YouTube, and that is a possibility. Never fully trust an online service to keep your media forever. Never. So, with that in mind, use some kind of portable drive under your own control to store anything.
You'll note that I pointed you towards a 500 GB drive. You can buy up to 2 terabytes of storage now without much effort, but my thinking is that if you have multiple smaller drives, and you consider cloning the contents of those every now and again, just to be even more sure, it means you'll have fewer potentials for hardware failure, too. Yes, a 500 GB drive can fail, but it's less likely that two drives would fail, and if you store them in two different places—like maybe one in the garage at your house and one at the inlaws' house—you'll get even more simple diversity.
The trick is being diligent
The day you realize how crappy your backup and online file management systems really are is the day you lose something to a catastrophic failure. Even though I've just given you a great reminder, it's highly unlikely that you'll do this until after you crash pretty hard. But after that, it's up to you to be diligent. You're allowed one severe data dump in your life. After that, it's your fault.
With that in mind, set calendar alerts and don't ignore them. I update certain files daily, other files twice a month, and I swap out hard drives every three months. Maybe there are even more rigorous people out there, but that's all I can muster.
What do you think? Will you give it a try?