This is a guest post by Paul from the Fiscal Geek.
It's a story you've heard a million times before. You're sitting in Economics 101 and you look out across campus to see thousands of invading forces parachuting onto the football field. You grab your laptop and jump into your buddies pickup truck to head to the mountains and regroup. Then it hits you. “We've got to buy some ammo and supplies but I don't know what my budget is for the month, those files are on my desktop at home!”
Yeah I've been there myself. These days not having some form of dynamic backup strategy for your important information is not just a convenience it's a necessity to ensure important documents and files aren't lost. So what can you do to backup your files to protect them from a computer virus as well as keep them synchronized among several computers?
Free Cloud Storage Options
There are plenty of backup options out there Mozy and Carbonite come to mind. But those are largely just backup programs and have a monthly subscription fee. Personally I use Windows Live Mesh. Yes it's in Beta at the moment but I've been using it successfully for almost a year without so much as a hiccup. If you want a different option DropBox provides similar capabilities providing Windows, Mac and Linux options. It does lack one killer feature that we'll talk about further on.
Backup and Synchronization
The key feature of these programs is the ability to backup up folders from one computer to the Internet (cloud) and…to however many computers you want. This is the best part of the file sharing programs. You can create a new document at work and story it in your folder on your work computer and within seconds Mesh will synchronize it with the rest of the computers in your mesh. You can also choose to give users a read only view into that data if you want to share pictures and such. This is really useful if you are working at something in your office and then head out on the road and realize you forgot to put it on a thumb drive or copy it to your laptop. Now the file will just show up when you power on your laptop and connect to the Internet.
I use this for a variety of applications, obviously for documents but I've converted to a near paperless receipt environment. Whenever I purchase something online or make a bank transfer I print the receipt as a .PDF file and store it in my receipts folder organized by year and month. Now I have all my receipts collected and replicated to all of my machines without having to manage the paper trail. It also works really well for keeping program data files together. I wrote a series on Zero Based Budgets where I document how I use You Need a Budget software and Windows Live Mesh to keep my budget available wherever I go.
The reason that I have never actually used dropbox is that it does the same thing as Windows Live Mesh with one key difference. In Mesh I can remote desktop connect to other machines that I have installed the Live Mesh client. So if I have a specific program that I only have installed on one computer, I can connect to it directly use the software and log back out. This is really handy in a corporate environment and has saved my bacon a number of times.
Obviously if you have important data on your computer you want to keep it away from prying eyes. I won't get into the weeds but your files are transferred via the same protocols (HTTPS) that are used when you access your bank or buy something online. Unique keys are given to your machines and you setup a Windows Live ID to password protect the entire environment. Your data is about as safe as putting anything online can be without much stricter controls in place. It's something you need to consider though as you think about implementing this solution.
Finally some things you need to take into consideration is that this is a beta product. Beta's can have bugs just like production class software but often more so. I haven't hit any of them myself but something to be considered. Second there are limitations to the amount of files that can be synchronized. That is currently at 5 Gigabytes of storage. DropBox allows you to purchase an upgrade for more space if that's a limitation. A second option is to use the 5GB's of data for the most important stuff and use something like Windows Live Sync to keep your computers in sync for music and photo's. There is no limit on file storage because your data is not synchronized to the cloud and it's free as well. You've got options, any of which is better than just hoping your hard drive will run until the end of time.
This is a guest post by Paul from FiscalGeek. On his blog, Paul makes no apologies about his inner geekdom, and thats why his audience appreciates him so much. He spreads his knowledge about finance and technology to help his readers improve their fiscal fitness. Be sure to subscribe to his RSS Feed or be a Fan on Facebook.