For several years, now, we have been hearing the drumbeat about backing up our precious data. It is a mantra that has reached an almost fever pitch. It has been elevated to the status of “conventional wisdom”. As a rule, information in that category should be treated with a fair degree of skepticism.

Another buzzword de jour is “cloud computing”. Again, it is a very good idea. But when something as technical as “cloud computing” makes the leap to conventional wisdom, you can be sure that there are a lot of misconceptions about it. One of those misconceptions is that cloud computing is synonymous with cloud backup. It’s not.

All cloud computing services talk about data security. Indeed, computer security is a top priority for the major cloud computing providers. But even the most secured files are useless if deleted by user error, or corrupted by hardware glitches. You still need a backup plan. Data security is not the only kind of data protection you need.

Clearly, backing up important data is necessary. But there is desperation in the cries to back up often and redundantly. It is as if we believe that every stray thought we have ever had needs to be carefully preserved for posterity. Guess what, it doesn’t. If the high-pitched screeching of the backup chorus is giving you a headache, here is some practical backup advice that will hopefully cut through the noise:

data backup

Only backup what’s important

Not every stray neuron that fires in your head is worth repeating or saving for posterity. Backup is like security. It is an industry worth a lot of money. Security companies do not make that money if they cannot frighten you into believing that there are dire threats at every turn. And backup companies do not prosper if they cannot convince you to backup literally every keystroke you ever type.

For some perspective, here is a small list of data items that are worth saving:

  • Photos
  • Documents
  • Music and movies you imported
  • Creative projects

Really, that’s not as much data as you think.

Only back up what is not already backed up

How many backups do you need? Some suggest that if it is not backed up three times, then it is not backed up at all. They would further suggest that at least one of those backups has to be off-site, and another needs to be in the cloud.

This is just not necessary for the vast majority of people most of the time. Some files may warrant two backups, while others don’t need any. If you do your taxes online or through an app, you will want a hard copy along with some type of backup.

If your music library is already backed up to a cloud service like those from Apple, Microsoft, Google, or Amazon, you’re covered. There is no need to waste 100 GB of drive space making a worse backup than what you already get from those services. That backup is a big reason why you pay them in the first place.

Stop worrying about the doomsday scenario

While it is true that some types of backups are better than others, any backup is better than none. Here is an example of why some people feel it is imperative to have multiple backups scattered all around the world:

  • What if my hard drive fails? 1st backup is an external drive
  • What if my house burns down? 2nd backup on a drive at a friend’s house
  • What if both drives fail, and the friend is abducted by aliens? 3rd backup with an online service
  • What if I can’t pay the monthly fee? …And so it goes

Doomsday backup scenarios never end.

Businesses should back up websites, documents and official communications. As an individual, it is not necessary to hang onto every email and text message you ever sent or received. Those can be treated as ephemeral communications.

Onsite or online doesn’t really matter. Pick one and maintain it. If you’ve got the money, time, and paranoia level, pick two. But don’t let the fear-mongers press you into making 17 expensive and hard to manage backups of stuff you don’t even want.