house on fire

Backups are critical. But, if you’re just performing regular backups to a nearby external hard drive or USB drive, you’re missing an important part of your backup strategy. You need your files stored in separate physical locations.

So-called “offsite backups” will protect your important files from catastrophic events like fires, floods, and robberies of your home or office. Files stored in just one physical location are vulnerable.

Why Offsite Backups Are Critical

RELATED: 8 Backup Tools Explained for Windows 7 and 8

If you’re just backing up to an external hard drive and leaving that hard drive near your computer, your files aren’t completely safe. Yes, that backup protects you if your computer dies, or if your external hard drive dies. It’s definitely better to use two separate hardware devices than just one.

But those backups won’t prevent you if your home or office catches fire, floods, or is damaged in another disaster. Or, perhaps someone breaks in and steals or damages your hardware — computer, external drive, and all. This is also why it’s a bad idea to just carry an external backup drive around in your laptop bag — if your laptop bag is stolen or lost, there goes your computer with your files and its backups.

Whether you’re backing up to an external hard drive, putting copies of your important files in USB flash drives, burning them to discs, or even backing up to a file server located in your home or office, there’s still a single point of failure. Any damage or theft that occurs at your home or office could destroy all copies of your important files.

External hard drive

Offsite Backup Strategies

RELATED: Don't Just Move Photos to an External Drive: That's NOT a Backup

An offsite backup is literally backup that’s stored “off site” — in a different physical location from where your main files are. Rather than just having copies of your files on two separate physical hardware devices, you have them stored in two far apart physical locations. Even if your home or office burns down and everything is destroyed, there will be a copy of those important files somewhere else.

To have an offsite backup, a backup just has to be stored in another physical location. There are multiple ways you can go about doing this, depending on what you’re comfortable with.

Over the Internet: You could use an Internet backup service like CrashPlan, Carbonite, BackBlaze, or Mozy that automatically uploads backup copies of your important data to a remote server. You could also set up your own remote file server and do this the old fashioned way, having backup software automatically back up to a remote server you control over the Internet.

With Physical Media: This doesn’t have to require moving your data over the Internet. For example, you could perform normal backups to an external hard drive located near your computer most of the time. You could store a second external hard drive somewhere else — at your office, for example, or at a family member or friend’s house. Once a month (or every few weeks), you could grab that external drive, bring it home, and back up to it before taking it back and storing it in a different physical location. For really critical data files — especially ones that don’t change too often — you could even consider storing a USB flash drive or external hard drive in a safe deposit box at a bank.

Safe deposit box to store your valuables

It’s up to you which is the best option. Automatically backing up data to a remote server is a smart solution because everything happens automatically — you don’t have to worry about doing this on your own. You can set it and forget it, so it won’t take any additional thought or effort in the future. This also means that your data will be backed up fairly quickly after you change or add to it, so you’ll always have a recent backup. When you’re moving a drive around on your own, you may be stuck with a backup a few weeks old if you lose your primary, onsite backup.

Much data is irreplaceable. If you have collections of photos and other important personal data, financial documents, or important business data, be sure to use offsite backups. While modern operating systems will often complain at you if you aren’t backing up to an external hard drive, they won’t encourage you to use offsite backups. Offsite backups are crucial for protecting important data.

Image Credit: dvs on Flickr

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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