Keeping all your data in the Cloud is convenient and seemingly hassle-free -- you just sign up and off you go, accessing your pics, emails and documents on whatever PC, Mac or mobile device you have to hand. This ease comes with a downside though. By placing all your digital eggs in an online basket you are trusting a third party to look after everything for you. Sure, Google might not be all that evil , but what about this time next year? Are you sure you can trust that Flickr won't get hacked and spill your private pics all over the web, or just decide to block you from getting at them when the money runs out? Unlikely, but still possible.
No, if we are going to use Cloud services, we want the option of backing up our data somewhere else in case something goes wrong. Nobody likes making backups -- they are the downers of the IT world. Dull daily tasks that nobody wants to do, but stuff that you only realise are crucial when they don't work. The best kind of backup solution in our opinion is one that just works and you don't have to think about. Here are some of our favourite options:
The quick and easy way for alternative web-based mail storage is by using a free desktop mail client like Thunderbird, and pointing it at the POP3 or IMAP servers for your web mail provider. Hotmail and Gmail make this pretty simple to do for free, but Yahoo requires you upgrade to a paid account for £12 a year.
Your mail client can slurp down your existing and future emails to your PC while keeping a copy on the web. Use the client app as your regular mail reader, or if you prefer, just log in to it once a week and grab new mails while keeping the web interface. This won't help if you're already worried about your diminishing local storage capacity (or the speed of your machine), but if you're really worried about your email, it's a handy trick to know.
Twitter only lets you search a measly 3000-odd tweets from your timeline. If you tweet a lot, this is next to nothing and you might want some way of preserving your twitterings for posterity. The Library of Congress is meant to be backing everyone's tweets up for future historians to pore over, but a more practically-useful solution is the aptly-named BackUpMyTweets.com.
If you agree to tweet a short ad for the service, you can sign up for free and get a browseable online backup of your tweets. If you want to download them all to your PC for safekeeping, it will cost you £7.50 a year.
Social Safe is a more general-purpose social media backup that can grab your Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and other data. Support is a bit patchy with a slightly confusing pricing structure, but you can get backups of Facebook photos for free and Twitter, G+, Instagram and LinkedIn, as well as support for Facebook wall posts. Facebook messaging can be added for a bit more cash. Social Safe is an Adobe AIR app that will download all your data directly to your hard drive to do with as you please.
If Instagram is your thing and you want a copy of your pics just in case Facebook decides to sell them or set fire to them or something, you can back them up very easily by signing up to Copygr.am, which acts as the web interface that Instagram (for some reason) never bothered to implement. You can download a ZIP file of your photos with a couple of clicks for zero pounds -- the site will soon let you order prints of your pics which should give it the revenue it needs to keep going.
Dropbox, box.net, Google Drive and all the other cloud storage services give you gigabytes of raw storage that you can fill with anything you like. This is in itself a great way to back up a PC, but if you are a heavy user of cloud storage you will want to back up in the other direction every now and again.
Our favourite zero-effort way to back up our Dropbox is just to set it up on several PCs. We run it on our main work PC; home server and browsing-in-front-of-the-telly laptop. Every time a file is uploaded to Dropbox, a copy silently arrives on those other PCs too. It is effortless and will work for most similar services. The downside is that deletions are similarly replicated on your other machines so if you make a mistake, you had better hope one of them is turned off.
Another lazy option is to back up your cloud with another cloud. Point your Dropbox, Box.net and Google Drive at the same folder on your PC, add a forwarding rule in Gmail to send a backup of all incoming messages to a Hotmail or Yahoo account for a quick & easy win.
Tools like Cloud HQ will sync multiple services from EverNote to Google Docs to Dropbox and more, adjusting data to fit each one.
If you are serious about your data, but still want the use-anywhere convenience of something like Dropbox, why not make your own cloud? No, not like that -- although a high fibre diet is generally a good idea -- we mean getting your own piece of network storage and plonking it on the internet.
You can do this easily and securely using your PC or Mac by running an SSH server. This is software that gives you a secure command-line access to your computer but also doubles up as a way of sharing files over the internet. SSH is built into Mac OS X (Apple calls it 'Remote Access') and you can find a simple guide here. On Windows you will need to install it. There are several free versions around but try Bitvise WinSSHD, which is free for non-commercial use.
Once the SSH server is working, you can grab files stored on your computer's hard drive using a client app like FileZilla on Mac/PC or Astro File Manager on Android. Apple's sandbox means iOS users won't see much benefit here, but thems the breaks.
If SSH sounds like too much hassle to set up, a Pogoplug or similar device gives you a plug-and-play hard disk that you can connect to over the internet with apps for Android and iOS and a web interface for easy admin.
Do you have a favourite method for backing up your cloud? Let us know your tips and tricks in the comments.