If your computing environment, business or personal, runs entirely in the cloud, you may not need today’s tips, and good luck to your bold decision, really!  Like it or not cloud computing is trending upward, and one day the internet might be sufficiently robust, always available and even reduce the planet's resource depletion. 

In tomorrow’s cloud-centric world many users won't require WiFi (at least not the 2012 version of it), internal hard drives or local, heavy lifting. But today many of us have jobs and/or responsibility that require real, old school computers, whether clunky old desktops or sleek Thin and Lights, and we take them for granted until they go belly up.    Several of the last blog posts were concerned with the best practice of computer backup and suggested that an external hard drive is satisfactory for the task. Remember that backups can be (should be) iterative and so, over time, can consume a lot of disk space. What's more, we hope all that backup stuff is just going to sit there and provide peace of mind, like a spare tire.   An external hard drive should be reliable and provide practical storage size. Click here to see a laundry list of devices from Amazon. I'm partial to Western Digital as a brand, but Seagate, Toshiba Hitachi others can be considered. Customer reviews can help, but I advise you don’t consider any device with only a few glowing reviews. Most manufacturers are thought to have shills writing paid, favorable comments (shocking!) and although some 5 star reviews may be legitimate their text should reveal some hint of real world use. All theses devices will work with Mac or Windows.   It's probably not necessary to purchase a cigar box sized device that requires an external power brick, instead I recommend a portable device that plugs into your computer via USB; plug it in, use it, unplug it.  For this use scenario speed is not an issue, a 5400 rpm, USB 2.0 drive will work just fine. Some of these manufacturers ship backup software on the drive, so far I can't recommend any that I’ve seen, so just delete it from the drive. Many Windows computers will try to install that software automatically, just say no to automatic anything.   Free Backup Software for Windows 7 and Apple   Windows 7 has an excellent backup program built in, completely free, works great, simple to use. Backup type (system or files) must be specified and it’s finicky about moving your backups from original locations. But it's a versatile, solid performer and did I say free? I recommend a full, system backup after major software changes and/or important revisions to your unique user stuff. Either way backups are iterative, that is, the first one might be a whopper, but after that only the changes will be backed up, sensible and easy. If you're still using XP (or Vista, 7) and similarly cursed with a parsimonious nature, at least two brands offer free, if limited features: Click here for Easus or here for Comodo.     My favorite Windows backup software (not to be confused with perfect) is Acronis, about 50 bucks. The downside to Acronis is that you need to get into the weeds to make it efficient, otherwise the default settings can create a repetitious and bloated data monster. If you're not threatened by a little trial and error, I will testify that Acronis restores files and even whole computers, facilitates migration from a dead or dying computer, even to a different brand or type. Highly reliable and recommended.   Mac users can use Time Machine, also free. I've retrieved whole systems, files and use it for regular, iterative backups. Notwithstanding the hype, Time Machine isn't without it's own confusing geekiness, but a little perseverance will go a long way. Another product, Carbon Copy for Macs, has a similar (some say better) feature set than Time Machine and you may find the interface friendlier. Carbon Copy is contributionware, that is, they don’t sell it exactly, but donations are welcome, and if you don’t contribute you’ll get see a nag screen.    There are more complicated, really geeky drive solutions, like NAS (Network Attached Storage), that can (but doesn't always) stream movies, audio, store your backups in any format, even provide content access from the outside world to your files and media. NAS devices are a great solution for small business, although not the only one. A NAS device usually works in concert with an independent software solution like the ones mentioned here.  They can be costly, plus performance and feature set often vary with brand and price, so, again, your mileage can vary. The NAS in my home office is manufactured by Synology, it handles anything I throw at it, plus its drives are duplicated, so if one fails the other usually doesn’t (aka RAID 1).   It should be axiomatic in the IT world that backup strategy be three deep; the original (your computer), a backup device kept on premises and used regularly, even daily. Then the toughest piece, and an off-site backup, also updated regularly. Some persons keep two external drives and/or NAS devices and regularly rotate one of them off-premises.   Alternatively, for off-premises storage there is the cloud storage solution. I use a combination Dropbox, Carbonite (very secure), Skydrive (Microsoft), iCloud, and Google Drive. Pieces of my backup puzzle are kept in all because I'm a cheapskate and I don’t consider any one of them completely reliable or secure. Except for Cabonite, most of these examples have a data capped, if free, solution. There is also a new kid on the block, or new to me (Bitcasa).  I've not tested nor seen reviews, but it looks promising and affordable.   None of the cloud solutions above should be used to restore an entire operating system. Whole computer cloud storage is rendered almost impossible by ISP data monopolies that force us to purchase slow connections, usually with data caps. A whole computer might take a day, a week or even more to push into the cloud, much less keep up with big changes. And recovery would be a time disaster, even if it worked.     However cloud solutions, particularly Carbonite, are appropriate for keeping iterative copies of your unique stuff (documents, music, pictures, even movies). It will operate in the background and you might never notice, except when notified that your subscription is due. Whether in need of a single file or the whole gaggle (for recovery from catastrophe) a solution like Carbonite might save your business and/or peace of mind. Cloud backup varies in security too, with Carbonite being quite secure. I have doubts about the rest even though I use them.   Bells, whistles and price are entirely your choice. But don't pick none of the above, protecting your computer assets can be a big deal: It’s your computer's spare tire.     Feel free to offer topic suggestions.  Commenting on the blog would be great, let’s get some discussions going.  Or, if you don’t want to comment and have a topic suggestion, please email: kdegeneralist@gmail.com   My Web Site:  www.thegeneralistweb.com   PS:  Please support Wikipedia.