Yes, you should.
Get that external hard drive.
Everything can fail, including the online service. Backing up isn’t as much about which backup technology you choose as it is about having multiple copies of your data.
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Should I bother with an external hard drive?
The Golden Rule of backups states that data in only one place isn’t backed up. Multiple backups prevent data loss even if one fails. External drives and online services can fail, but having additional copies means you won’t lose anything. The Rule of Three says three copies on two different media types with one stored offsite maximizes practical protection.
The Golden Rule
The golden rule of backups is this:
If it’s in only one place, it’s not backed up.
When you have data backed up (meaning you have made multiple copies on any media: cloud, external drive, etc.) then data loss will only happen if all copies are destroyed at the same time.
You’re quite correct in that things can go wrong with external drives. They are hard drives, after all. They can and probably will fail eventually. But if you still have your original files, you just replace the external hard drive and resume backing up.
Online services can fail too. Your account could get hacked; your data could be destroyed. The service could suffer a failure of some sort or even go out of business. But again, you still have your originals; you move to a different backup service and resume backing up.
When it comes to backups, it’s a numbers game, and more is always better. However, if I could get everyone to back up to an external hard drive, 99% of the disasters that I hear about would stop happening.
The rule of three
So what about that 1% of disasters that wouldn’t be prevented with an external drive? Well, one rule of thumb is to have:
- Three copies
- On (at least) two different media types
- With one stored elsewhere
That reduces the probability of disaster even more.
For example, if you add an online backup service for your data in addition to backing up your entire machine to an external hard drive, then your data is protected from things that could take out both the computer and the external hard drive, like fire or theft.
I personally would not use an online backup as a replacement for backing up to a hard drive. But I do see it (and use it myself) as an additional part of an overall backup strategy to reduce the possibility of disastrous data loss further.
Above all, back up.
I recommend using an external drive, but regardless of the technique you choose, it’s critical that your important data be backed up and protected from disaster.
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