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Back it up! But what’s the best way to protect your data?

What’s the worst thing that could happen to you today, technology wise? A computer crash occurs and ruins your hard drive. Or worse, it could be stolen. But it’s only a major catastrophe if you didn’t back up all of your data. Except, when was the last time you backed up all your data?

Agents and brokers are typically extraordinarily busy during this time of year, driven by a surge in market activity and deal-driven deadlines. If backing up your hard drive keeps getting pushed down your “To Do” list, it’s time to make sure you automate this process completely.

The good news is you don’t have to back up the data on your hard drive manually. That’s the least efficient way to save data. And the best news: the options to back it all up are now easier to set up, faster to accomplish, and less expensive than they have ever been.


Backing up to a Portable Hard Drive

This may be the most popular way to store your data safely in case something happens to your computer. It’s also one of the most cost-effective means, and there’s a plethora of automated software programs – many that are free or already installed on the portable hard drive you purchase.


The price to store to a tethered hard drive has dropped dramatically. The best-selling 2 Terabyte portable hard drive that’s small enough to fit in your jean pocket or your purse is under $60 on Amazon. It’s estimated that a two terabytes hard drive can hold over 170 million pages of Word documents or 620,000 photos or 400,000 songs or over 1,000 hours of video.


For PC users, the most recent versions of Windows come with a built-in software system to back up your data. On Windows 8 and 10, it’s called File History; on Windows 7, it’s called Windows Backup. For File History, you need to set up how often you want to back up your files. It can be found from the Start menu if you go to Update & Security, then select Backup.


Once you add a hard drive to File History, you can set how often you want automated backups, from once every 10 minutes to once a day. You can even set File History to delete your very old backups if you need more space.


For Mac users, the simplest way to back it all up is with its built-in backup system, Time Machine, available on every Mac. It keeps a copy of everything on your Mac, and if you leave your hard drive connected, it automatically can make hourly backups for the last 24 hours, daily backups for the previous month, and weekly backups for each month.


The way Time Machine works, like most back up programs, is that it doesn’t copy your entire Mac each time, just what has changed. The reason why it is called Time Machine is that it will keep a copy of every document you change that day. If you deleted or modified a Word document on Monday and needed to get back that exact version on Friday, you can go back in time to retrieve it.


But is using an external hard drive the best way to back up all your data? It depends because there is a downside to portable backups. The biggest negative is you are likely to keep your computer and your portable hard drive in the same location.


If there is theft and you lose both, you lose your data. The same thing happens if there’s a fire. If you regularly store your hard drive elsewhere – like a weather-and-fire-resistant safe, it would be more secure, but how many people do that every day? And you have to remember to keep your hard drive plugged into your computer, or it can’t back up your files.


Backing up to the Cloud

Like the cost of portable hard drives, storage space online has fallen rapidly. When you use a Cloud Storage Service such as Google Drive, Dropbox, or Microsoft One Drive, realize that all of these services use bank-level security and encryption. Let’s say that unless you leave your password lying around, you should not have to worry about anyone gaining access to your data.


Google Drive offers a 2TB storage plan for just $99.99 a year, which is more than enough for almost any agent or broker to back up their PC or Mac. Dropbox Plus offers a 1TB storage plan for $99 a year. Microsoft OneDrive offers 6TB bundled with Office 365 Home for 6 users or 1TB for each user for $99 a year. OneDrive’s biggest appeal is your backup protection comes with online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and One Note for a PC or Mac computer, tablet or phone.


Backing up to the Cloud with any of these services is relatively straightforward: you have to go through a menu-drive setup process, and then your device can be set to sync with these services automatically. If you are (almost) always connected to the Internet, you also could use your Cloud Storage service to act as your primary hard drive, freeing up storage space on your computer. If you do this, you gain access to all your main files from any computer, not just your own.


Like backing up to a portable hard drive, backing up to the Cloud has its pros and cons. In addition to being secure, data backed up to the Cloud is stored offsite and redundantly, so you don’t have to worry about the impact of a theft or fire. And the backup process is getting easier, faster and again, less expensive.


The key downside to Cloud storage is you must be online. That isn’t always possible when an agent is hosting an empty Open House without internet access. Hotspots help solve this problem, unless an agent can’t get a reliable cell signal from the Open House, and that renders access to the Cloud impossible during that time.


Speed is the other big issue when recovering a backup up from the Cloud. If you have to restore a computer backup that contains a large amount of data from the Cloud, it will take a lot longer than a portable hard drive — and require more patience. If you have data limitations from your internet provider, this could also impact your real costs, or speed or both. Some internet providers limit your total monthly data use, ratcheting down your speed when you exceed certain limitations. Cloud storage could add significantly to your data use.


One more option: Online backup services

While you can use Google Drive, Dropbox, and Microsoft OneDrive to back up your devices, there are specialized backup services online. Their only function is to back up your data online.


The most well-known services are Carbonite and Backblaze. For $60 a year to use Backblaze, all of your data is backed up by default, so the setup process is automated. The service runs in the background with an internet connection. There’s no storage limit, and that means unlimited backs. Backblaze also can be used with a portable hard drive to back up your data if you want to do both. It even saves copies of your deleted files so you can retrieve them later.


Carbonite also offers automatic, unlimited online backup through a series of tiered plans based on how long you subscribe (discounted pricing with a 2- or 3-year plan) and how much protection you desire. Carbonite’s basic plan is $72 a year with unlimited Cloud back up. If you want to add the ability to also do an external hard drive backup for your redundancy protection, that price is $112 a year, and its Prime service combines a Courier recovery service for $150 a year.


The biggest downside for these online services remains speed if you only backup online.


Bottom line

Your client data is too important not to automate backing up your computer at least daily. If you also want to protect the priceless photos and videos you took on your favorite vacation that’s on the same computer, your investment and time are minimal when you consider it protects you from a lot of potential pain and suffering, as when you lose your data, it is chaos.


And before your backup, consider some spring tech cleaning to clear your hard drive of clutter and unneeded files.


Finally, you may be one of the 600,000 fortunate agents and brokers with access to the number-one tech support service – Tech Helpline – through your MLS or Association. That means you are a call or click away from getting expert help in setting up your new backup system at no charge, as you are covered.


If you MLS or Association hasn’t added Tech Helpline as a member benefit, let them know you want access to one of the most popular benefits MLSs and Associations can offer. More information is available at