I’d always thought I was pretty good at keeping my personal data safe, but I was wrong.
My personal files were backed up onto two HDD external hard drives, and in the space of 24 hours in July, both drives failed.
Windows 10 told me that one drive wasn’t working properly and kept offering to repair it, to no avail, while the other made a suspicious clicking noise and couldn’t be detected by the computer at all.
All of this got me thinking – as a consumer, what is the right way to back up your data, and what do you do if it goes wrong?
External hard drives are portable storage devices that plug into PCs. There are two types – hard disk drives (HDD) that use spinning magnetic discs to store data, and newer, solid state drives (SSD) that use a chip-based flash storage technology.
I started using 1TB Western Digital HDD drives in 2015. Prior to that, I had backed up my data on my laptop and on writeable DVDs.
If my computer died, I would buy a new one, get the data recovered from the old laptop and transferred straight onto the new PC.
Yet once I started using an external hard drive, it was so easy to use that I began to depend on the technology entirely, and when I got a second drive I thought my solution was infallible.
When I got a new laptop a couple years ago with a much smaller but exponentially faster SSD hard drive in it, I wasn’t fazed – all I had to do was keep most files on the hard drives, leaving just a few frequently used files on the laptop.
So when the drives failed I was shocked. I turned to the internet but the how-to software tutorials online were of no help.
So what is the right way to back up your data?
I asked various data experts this question, as well as retailer Currys PC World and consumer device makers Western Digital and Seagate. Their advice was unanimous – have three back ups of your data and try to store at least one copy outside your home.
“My solution would be to get three drives – one should be an SSD and two should be HDD drives – from two or three different manufacturers,” says Joseph Nagdhi, chief data recovery specialist at London-based tech firm Data Recovery Lab.
“It’s very unlikely that three different hard drives from three different manufacturers would all fail at the same time.”
He also advises that people take a copy of data they really don’t want to lose, such as precious family photos, and store it at a relative’s home.
Michael Cade, senior global technologist at data management firm Veeam, agrees.
“I have two large hard drives that I rotate around to my parents’ house 30 miles away. I take a full copy of all the important data, put it onto the drive and bring it over.
“Then I have another hard drive that is always next to me at home. I do incremental back ups and potentially about once a month, I take the drive with me and swap it with the one at my parents’ home.”
Seagate told me that its drives come with an included data recovery service that covers logic failures. It charges for mechanical failures, but declined to give me a price.
Seagate’s customer technical engineer Gavin Martin suggests using rugged drives for extreme sports, or an SSD, which doesn’t break as easily if dropped.
“It’s a delicate bit of machinery and parts will eventually wear out given time, depending on the environment it’s being used in – high or low humidity, extreme temperatures.
“You need to use the right drive for the right application. No brand in the world can guarantee your data for life.”
Dean Kramer, director of services at Dixon Carphone, which owns Currys PC World, says HDDs are still worth having as you get four times more storage than with an SSD.
However, the retailer is now moving its range of products more towards SSDs, “because the technology is much more stable”.