Save Your Vacation with Additional Storage Capacity

OK, I’m as the frugal as the next guy – maybe even more frugal than most. But not spending a buck or three per month to store all your vacation images in the cloud can be penny wise and pound foolish.

Let’s begin this discussion with one certainty: No matter how much your vacation costs, you’ll never be able to replicate the exact conditions or scene that you photographed or videoed. That makes your photo or video priceless.

Automatically sending your photos and videos to a cloud-based storage facility is the best insurance you can have, and for most people, spending $0.99 to $2.99 per month will take care of all your needs. We’ll talk mostly about Apple’s storage plans because more and more of you are using your iPhones (and sometimes iPads) as your primary camera and video recorder.

iPhone users typically get 5 GB of storage space in the cloud for free. That’s for a lot of photos and videos for many. For the most part, nobody pays attention to storage until you get that nasty little notice on your phone that your storage is full. The notice usually refers to your available iCloud storage, and when it’s all full, the camera basically stops recording new photos or videos until you have sufficient space. However, you can remedy that by buying extra storage space on the spot, as long as you have internet access. If you don’t know your Apple password, you can always reset it.

Your least expensive option is get 50 GB (10 times the free storage) for $0.99 per month. Two other plans are 200 GB for $2.99 per month or 2 TB for $9.99 per month. That last one may be overkill but put it in perspective. If you can travel the world and want to keep your memories safe – or share them with anyone at any time – a little less than $120 per year is a cost-effective option.

Apple and iPhones are not the only options. Android users can tap into Google Photos with Google Drive, which gives you 15 GB of free storage to use across Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos. You can also use Google Photos with a computer or iPhone/iPad. You can get 100 GB for $1.99 per month or $19.99 per year or 1 TB for $9.99 per month or $99 per year. Amazon offers all its customers 5 GB of photo storage free and unlimited storage to it Prime customers.

There are also numerous websites that offer storage and the ability to share with family and friends. In addition to storage and sharing, they offer you and registered family members and friends the ability to buy photos, photo books, coffee mugs, etc. Some also will sell your photos online. Some of the better-known websites include Flickr, Shutterfly and Photobucket.

Camera technology is also keeping pace with the online world. Whether you have a compact point-and-shoot camera or a professional DSLR, manufacturers are adding wireless capabilities, so you can upload photos and videos directly to the cloud or store copies on your mobile device, though they can cut those file sizes to 2 MB. Also, be aware that when you delete photo and video files from your devices, you may also be deleting them, too, from your cloud storage. Check for settings that keep the files in the cloud, and if you can’t set that up, be careful about what you delete – though many of the servers keep your files for 30 days.

Every year, we get calls to try to recover photos and videos. Sometimes, recovery is not possible. But it is possible to prevent the problem. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to help you select the best available storage program for your needs or to help set up your storage. It could save your vacation.

Google Drive Drives into the Sunset

Here we go – again. Another staple of our applications is being replaced. This time, it’s Google Drive, which Google will stop supporting as of this coming Dec. 11 and will shut down next March 12. Taking its place: Backup and Sync, which will be more powerful.

Backup and Sync replaces both the company’s Drive and Photos desktop apps for Windows PCs and Macs. It allows you to store any photos, videos and documents in the same format on Google’s cloud for safekeeping from crashes and unfortunate accidents. You can use the app to back up the contents of your entire computer – or just selected folders.

Once you download the app and launch it, sign into your Google account and select which folders you’d like to continuously back up to Google Drive. For photos, you have two options: High Quality or Original Quality. High Quality will compress photos larger than 16 megapixels and videos with a resolution higher than 1080p, but these compressed files will not count against your data cap.

Oh, yes, there is a data cap. Are you surprised? The new and improved Google Drive gives you 15GB of file storage for free. Then, the rates go up to $19.99 a year for 100GB or $100 a year for 1TB. That’s not excessive. You get additional flexibility by being able to download files to work offline, and you can download the app for your mobile device, too. Plans for even greater storage capacity are available.

The new app is available now from the Google Drive or Google Photos page. The only downside is that you can’t use Backup and Sync as a restore tool if your computer crashes. But we have options available for that.

We can also help you set up Backup and Sync so it works as you want and coordinate how it works on your computer and mobile device. Storing your data files and photos and videos offsite is the way to go for safety and flexibility. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to answer your questions or provide assistance.

Two Essentials to Take Care of Business

Backing up your data files and keeping them from prying electronic eyes are essential. We have the tools and tips you need to take care of business at the office and at home. Here are some things to keep in mind.

The first tip is: Backup your data offsite. We never like to consider the “unthinkable,” but bad things do happen. A story from a recent sales call, a non-profit organization, drives home the point.

Non-profits can get a lot of software free or at a greatly discounted price. So, our client wondered why they needed to spend money to back up software on the cloud. As we were talking, the client mentioned that they had considered buying the house across the street from their office and converting it into their own space. They didn’t do it, and at some time after they made their decision, that house burned down.

We never talked about the cause of the fire. If the house was old, some failure of its electrical wiring, for example, could have played a role, and all of our client’s “free” stuff would have been gone. The cost of replacing and reinstalling all of their hardware and software – especially when you add the value of their time and the cost of lost service to their clients – would have been huge.

We’re happy this is a “could-have-happened” story, and we can’t emphasize backing up data offsite enough, but we have a tool to keep your data safe.

Our managed backup program includes automatic backup to the cloud through local data centers and daily monitoring. It is far less costly than post-disaster recovery and much more reliable than putting all of your data and pictures on an external drive that can fail or be lost in a fire or flood. It’s a proactive form of insurance.

Our second tip is: Never sacrifice protection for performance. In today’s hack-happy world, you can’t protect your data and yourself too much, but you must understand one thing: Any system can be hacked by any hacker willing to spend the time and effort to do it.

Just as you need doors and windows to enjoy the world outside of your home, you need pathways from your computer to the Internet. And, just as you have locks on your windows and doors to keep out most bad people and just as you take safe routes on trips, you need to use firewalls and passwords to lock your computer and data access, and you need antivirus software, malware protection and common sense to travel safely on the Internet.

At a recent security seminar, a presenter pointed out that people are agreeing to take on more bandwidth from providers for a free or a small fee. (You know our feelings about free stuff.) You can face problems if your firewall or Wi-Fi devices can’t handle the increased performance, and that can leave your security vulnerable.

We get questions from time to time, for example about the safety of storing data on Dropbox. Our question back to that is: Who hasn’t been hacked? Yes, Dropbox is as safe as you can make it as long as you and Dropbox take all the precautions and safeguards you can.

So, in this day and age of hyperactive hackers, how are you protecting yourself? Are you reading emails carefully before clicking on any links or attachments? Are you careful about signing up for online offers that are almost too good to be true? What kind of antivirus are you using?

We’ll address that last question. We have our partners, but no matter whose system you use, make sure they give you regular updates and act with blinding speed to fix a problem as soon as it’s discovered. Subscription services generally offer you better protection and faster fixes, and they are more likely to automatically update your virus and malware definitions.

If you accidentally click on a site or open an attachment, our recommendation is to push the power button on your computer or device IMMEDIATELY. This will stop any activity right away, and hopefully limit any damage. Then, call us without delay to find and fix any problems.

We can help you with all of your backup and antivirus needs, including installation of valid software and setting up automated functions. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your needs and put a solution into action.

Shortcuts Can Take You the Long Way

Just like there’s no free lunch, there’s no easy solution when you use a shortcut that cuts corners. Whatever time and money you think you are saving can easily be wiped out – at the cost of more time and money – when a failure occurs without warning. You can protect valuable data by taking the time to set up your system properly.

That advice was brought home to a client who received some bad advice from a bargain-basement IT support provider. The provider had moved away but still provided support. When our client – before we took over the account – contacted the provider to help with a database problem, things went from bad to worse very quickly.

In a nutshell, our client’s system had some built-in redundancies, all designed to prevent data-loss problems, but their failure had never been detected. As result, our client was walking a tightrope without a safety net. When called in, the former IT provider instructed our client to reboot the server, but the server never came back online. That was one problem.

Another problem was the failure of the hard drive, and we found a problem there that we consider totally avoidable. It began when the client started running out of space on the server’s hard drive. Instead of taking the time – and money – to back up the data and install a new hard drive, the IT provider repartitioned the drive using a compression program.

That step is something we never even suggest to our clients. In all the literature we’ve come across and in our many years of IT experience, it’s not a stable program. It’s just a bad shortcut to try to pick up extra space.

So, when the hard drive failed, it lost some data that the client had thought was saved. We tried several restore points, but we never could get the data that had been lost. That’s because the database had been corrupted at some point, and the client was backing up corrupted data.

Going forward, the client now understands that imaging a hard drive or partitioning the drive or using any other questionable technique to create more space on a hard drive will only expose them to more risk. It’s a lesson everyone should learn and heed. You can only stuff so much data onto a hard drive before you get distortions (corrupted data) and an outright failure.

If you need more data storage capacity, we can explore a number of options and find the one that best fits your office’s needs and protects the safety of your data. Contact us at 973-433-6676 or email us to set up an appointment.

Diversify Your Data Backup

Two new clients came to us after experiencing data backup failures. While no single backup solution is guaranteed to work all the time, the odds are highly against every backup system failing at the same time. The best solution, in a word, is “diversification.” If you choose carefully, you can get the right backup systems for what you need to store and save yourself some money, too.

You have many options to backup and restore pictures, videos and other types of data files, but let’s look at three broad categories: the cloud, external drives and media such as DVDs and thumb drives. If you are highly concerned about the safety and recovery of your data, you can pick a system in each category and feel confident you can always get your data. If all systems fail, chances are your data will be a minor worry.

The cloud, otherwise known as a system of large, remote and redundant servers and storage facilities, is the foundation of most data backup and recovery systems. We now work with multiple cloud-based storage and recovery providers, giving you the ability to implement a system that meets your volume, data-sensitivity and pricing parameters. Despite the iCloud invasions, cloud-based systems remain safe places for your data, and for a relatively low cost, you can rest assured you can protect your data and get files whenever and wherever you need them.

External hard drives come in a variety of sizes and speeds. Home and SOHO users can buy them in sizes from 500 GB to 3 TB and connect them through USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports for up to a few hundred dollars. You can cross the $1,000 mark and get 12-to-20 TB units, but for most of you, that’s probably overkill. If you really want to protect your data, you should consider having multiple external hard drives to cover a unit failure, and you could keep external drives at another location and swap them on a regular basis. It all depends on what’s right for you.

External hard drives are essential add-ons for data-intensive applications. A client with a video editing business found this out soon after buying a new computer and running out of space shortly thereafter. In this case, the external drive provides easily accessible storage for files of work in progress, and it gives the computer’s hard drive room to do all the manipulation required for video editng.

Mac users have access to Time Machine, the built-in backup feature of OS X that works with your Mac and an external drive (sold separately) or AirPort Time Capsule. Time Machine automatically backs up your entire Mac and remembers how your system looked on any given day. It keeps hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups until your backup drive is full.

Saving files to DVDs and thumb drives is inexpensive and relatively quick and easy to do. You can easily make multiple copies, and you can easily store them in multiple locations. We generally advise relying on them as a supplemental backup for important files.

Selecting your backup system or combination of systems is like buying insurance. The more you value your data, the more you’ll want to increase and diversify your backup capacity. And just as there is an insurance program that meets your economics and tolerance for risk, there’s a backup system that will work for you. Talk to us about your needs, and we’ll find the solution that best matches them. Call – 973-433-6676 – or email to start the process.

Avoiding the Virtual-Drive Hiding Place

One of our clients knew – without a doubt – she hit “save” for a downloaded file. But, she couldn’t find it where it was supposed to be. There’s a place where those files go, and it takes some detailed knowledge to find them.

The problem usually results when you download a file from an email or a website. Unless you specify a path – a specific folder in your Documents or Pictures libraries, for example – the file is stored in a protected temporary location. It’s located in another Documents file that’s accessed through your C:\Users series of directories and files. It’s a protected area designed to protect your computer against malware invasions, and it’s not well documented.

The location leads to an additional problem. When you run any automatic or manual backup program, files in that location are not backed up. If your hard drive fails or you change computers and don’t know where to find them, you could lose them.

When our client told us of the problem, we knew where to look, and we found lots of files. She was very happy, to say the least.

But it’s easier to avoid the problem.

If you’re downloading files from an email, make sure you file them in the appropriate folder when you save them. Sometimes, it just takes that extra second thought when you’re really busy, but if you make it a habit, you’ll save a lot of time and probably a lot more aggravation.

If you’re downloading from the Internet, do the same thing. Store it in an appropriate file folder right away, and make it a habit. If you regularly download files from specific websites, you can add them to your Trusted Files, and that will help you download them to your designated directories.

You can browse the protected temporary location, and we can show you how to do it without losing files that are critical to your computer’s operation. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to set up an appointment. We’ll be able to guide you through the process and provide you with instructions for finding files in the future.

We’ll Back Up Your Everything to the Cloud

Did you know that not all data back-up services back up all of your data? While you may not be surprised to read that, you could have an unwelcome surprise if you need to restore files lost from your hard drive.

When we do audits for new and existing customers, we’re always amazed – and dismayed – that few business owners and home users know how their files are backed up. Of course, that assumes that the files are, indeed, backed up.

Even with a back-up program in use, you still may come up short.

One of the limitations many computer users – business and home – ignore or don’t regard is the limit on data storage. Free services, as most you know, have a cap, and paid services have them as well, depending on how much you want to pay.

Carbonite, for example, won’t back up a file larger than 4 GB. What kinds of files can be larger than 4 GB? One is a .pst file, which can hold your Outlook contact and email files. What would happen if you couldn’t retrieve your contact list after a hard-drive or server crash? What would happen if you couldn’t retrieve a customized dictionary or some other file with data you’ve collected over a long time?

How many videos do you save? Many of them can exceed 4 GB, and let’s face it, a family video can be as valuable as some of your business files. One of our clients was very lucky with videos. He had sent them to someone, so he was able to retrieve them after his computer crashed.

One other problem with many back-up services is that they don’t care which files are important to you. They allot you space, and when you run out, that’s it. You can’t set up any rules to determine which files or types of files get backed up.

We can help in a number of ways. We can set up rules to make sure that certain types of files are backed up. We also monitor your backup activity, and if we don’t see any activity for 72 hours, we contact you to make sure everything is OK – unless you’ve told us you’ll be away and not online. That’s how we put service into your backup.

Contact us by email or phone – 973-422-6676 – to discuss your needs. We’ll meet your storage and budget needs and – most important – meet your retrieval needs.

Back-ups Beat Outage Woes

We typically associate outages with power outages, but communications lines – whether coaxial, copper or fiber optic – can go out, too. Do you have a back-up plan ready to go?

Power outages are relatively easy to overcome – or keep problems on a small scale. You can locate battery back-up systems strategically around your office to cover computers, servers, routers and other networking equipment and peripherals. These systems are not designed to provide long-term power to keep on working. Instead, they should give you and your workers enough time to finish a task, save your data files and then shut down systems in an orderly fashion. This will help everyone resume work more quickly when power is restored. You should augment your battery back-up systems with surge protectors to prevent sensitive electronics from getting fried when power comes back.

If your back-up plan includes storing apps and data files to the cloud, you can respond more effectively when power goes down. Within your office or home, make sure your work is regularly saved to an offsite storage server. That will make it easier to save work manually and help people get restarted from another location.

Depending on whatever else is happening, you may have the option to send your workers home, where they can reconnect – assuming they have power – and continue working through an Internet connection. Another option, depending on your location and size of workforce, would be to go to a coffee shop or some other place that has Wi-Fi – and power – available. The cost of coffee and lunch or a snack may be a good investment if it helps everyone tie up some loose ends or respond to customers’ immediate needs. And if the outage is short, everyone can get back to the office quickly.

If your business is in an office building, check with your landlord or property manager to see who supplies telecom connection services. You may be able to split your connections among multiple providers, and they may have contingency plans that keep at least part of your office running if communications go down. While we all love our feature-rich VOIP telephones, it’s important to note that the old copper telephone lines still function in a power outage or when coaxial and fiber-optic lines go down. You can generally use cellular connections for phones and devices when all else fails.

Once you know all of your available connection and networking options, we can work with you to design and deploy a system that will help you weather a storm or work through an outage. Call us (973-433-6676) or email us for a consultation. We can help make sure you ask your landlord or property manager the right questions and then install a system that best meets your needs.


The Cloud and Reverse Back-Up

More and more of our programs and data are moving to the cloud. In some cases, we’re accessing the cloud for the applications and files we use for business and personal computing. In other cases, we’re using the cloud for backing up our hard drives. We don’t give it a second thought – but we should.

Backing up your programs and files is like having insurance. Backing up in more than one place is like having better insurance coverage. In this case, you want to insure that you protect the economic value of programs and data – so that you have immediate access when something goes wrong with your system.

Just as insurance policies have fine print to detail what they cover – and don’t – you need to look closely at the user agreements for every cloud-based server that houses your valuable data.

The first thing you should know is what happens if the company storing your data goes out of business? This could be the worst case scenario. Is there a provision for somebody to notify you of a pending problem or actual problem? Will you have time to download your data and move everything to another site? If you rely on this server – cloud – to store the programs and files you access every day for your business or to store valuable personal data such as photographs and home videos, you must know how to protect them and your access. If you can’t get a satisfactory answer, don’t put your data there.

The next thing you should know is who owns your data? If you access programs through a subscription, the ownership is likely to be straightforward; the publishers own them. However, you must be able to have access to your specific data files – all of your business records, correspondence (business and personal) and files.

How reputable is the company that stores your programs and data? If feel like you can’t get a straight answer from them about any of the points we just raised, you’d certainly have to wonder about them.

Again, to continue the insurance analogy, any of these issues only become problems when something goes wrong and you lose valuable data and time. While there are very few iron-clad guarantees in life, you can buy insurance with “reverse backup” and with multiple backups.

Let’s start with the premise that storage – as a raw cost – is cheap. You can buy one or two (or more) external storage devices for less than $200 apiece and back up data files. Online backups to the cloud can cost less than $25 per month, depending on the service and your volume. Your options are limited only by what you want to spend to ensure you have access to all of your data. You can:

  • Back up all of your files multiple times using different devices, which can cover you if your cloud vaporizes and one external device crashes.
  • Back up selected files to specified devices.
  • Physically move backup devices offsite periodically to cover yourself if a disaster strikes your home or office.
  • Use automated programs to back up your data files onsite and offsite.

Along these lines, clients often ask about when they should delete files. Our answer is never. Again, because storage is so inexpensive, it can actually cost you more to delete files than to simply file them away in archives. Our archived files take up much more space than our active files, for example, but we have an electronic filing system that enables us to find any information going back more years than we care to remember. If longtime clients have questions about something we performed or proposed, the answers are at our fingertips.

In addition to backing up data files, you should have copies of your program and applications disks safely stored. As we noted earlier this year, it’s nearly impossible to restore program files without the originals. We’re often called to restore program files as part of a disaster recovery or when we begin working for a new client, and we always ask for the original disks if they were used to load the programs requiring restoration. (See our article on Unlicensed Software.)

We can help you design and implement a backup system using the cloud and external storage devices to meet your specific needs. Just send us an email or give us a call (973-433-6676). It’s something you’ll want when you can’t get what you need.

This article was published in Technology Update, the monthly newsletter from Sterling Rose LLC.