Hurricane Sandy, which led to so much damage in New York City and New Jersey in late October, was only one of innumerous natural and manmade disasters that along with destroying life and property also destroyed data.
Whether you work for a large company, run a small business, or use a computing device in your home, whether it's corporate trade secrets or family photos, data can be irreplaceable.
The key to disaster recovery is disaster preparation, and the key to disaster preparation is redundancy. In a nutshell, backups.
If you have backup power such as a generator, you can continue to compute if the electricity goes out. If you have one or more backup computers, you can still get things done if equipment is damaged. And if you have backup data, you can pick up any project where you left off.
For several years now a big buzzword in the computer world has been the "cloud," which is just a whimsical way of saying the Internet. Instead of storing data or using programs on computers at your location, with cloud computing you use data or programs stored on other computers you connect to over the Internet.
One of the most effective uses for cloud computing is making remote backups of data. That way, even if your computer equipment is totally destroyed in a flood or fire, you won't lose your data. The same can't be said for a backup stored at your location that you've made onto an external hard drive, USB drive, optical disc, or tape, though these media can still be useful among other ways as a backup for your backup.
A host of free and fee-based remote backup services have popped up in recent years. The free services typically provide a limited but often appreciable amount of storage space, with additional storage costing.
Along with using such services for backing up, you can often use them for other purposes as well, such as sending others large files in ways that are more convenient than email or other older technologies, syncing files you're working on from different computers, and collaborating with others on the same project.
Here's a rundown of seven of the more useful or otherwise notable file hosting services that primarily are for backing up files or can be used for this purpose. Each of the services below is free for a given amount of storage space. Big names are important, since you don't want such a service to go away, but the smaller guys listed below appear stable.
Dropbox (www.dropbox.com). This may be the most talked about and recommended file hosting service. It's fairly skimpy on the free storage, offering only 2 gigabytes, but it's easy to use and versatile. You use it by either copying files you want automatically backed up into a Dropbox folder or subfolders on your computer, or you ensure that the files you want automatically backed up are stored in one of these folders.
SugarSync (www.sugarsync.com). With 5 gigabytes of storage before you have to pay, SugarSync is more generous than Dropbox. It also doesn't require you to create special folders but instead lets you designate which of your folders you want automatically backed up with its own interface.
IDrive (www.idrive.com). This is the most generous of the services listed here, giving you 10 gigabytes of free storage. Unlike some other services, IDrive lets you choose between continuous backup and scheduled backup, which is the default.
Google Drive (www.drive.google.com). If you already use Google Docs, a free cloud suite of word processing, presentation, spreadsheet, and other programs, this is where your files are stored. But you can also use Google Drive with data created using programs on your own computer. It offers 5 gigabytes of free storage.
Amazon Cloud Drive (www.amazon.com/clouddrive). This is Amazon's cloud storage service, but it's clunkier than the other services here. Amazon Cloud Drive offers 5 gigabytes of free storage. It helpfully makes copies of previously backed up or deleted files in case you need to retrieve them.
iCloud (www.apple.com/icloud). From Apple, this service is tailored to Apple products. It can work with an iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, or Mac, and it works with Windows PCs as well. iCloud gives you 5 gigabytes of free storage.
Skydrive (www.skydrive.live.com). This is Microsoft's offering, with 7 gigabytes of free storage. Along with Windows PCs and Windows Phone, Skydrive also works with Macs, Apple devices, and Android devices.
Ultimately, more important than choosing among these services is choosing, and using, one.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.