Cloud storage vs USB sticks

I have seen too many students over the years in tears because they have lost their dissertation or other work just before a deadline to let it happen again.  As you begin your first assignments of the year in earnest, I want to persuade you that spending a few seconds at the end of your working day saving back-up copies of your work to your N-drive and Google Drive is well worth the effort.  I also want to warn you of the dangers of saving your only copy of your work to a USB stick…

The benefits of saving your work in many places

Backing up work to several different places that are physically and technologically separated helps ensure that you never lose all the copies of your work.  If you have a copy of your dissertation or thesis saved to your laptop at home, a copy saved to your N-drive on the computer network, and another copy saved to Google Drive, then the only way you could lose all your copies would be for your laptop to be destroyed at the same time the University server and its back-up systems caught fire, while on the same night lightning strikes the remote server farm used by Google and somehow destroyed its myriad backup systems.  In short, if you back up your work this way, it should be safe against (almost) everything that could possibly go wrong.

Remember – ‘Lots of copies keeps stuff safe!’

I recommend that you save all assignments and other important pieces of work to these three places when you finish work each day.  I also highly recommend adding an increasing number to the filename so that you save multiple versions of the file over time, just in case one becomes corrupted.  This way, even in the worst-case scenario, you will have a recent version to work from.  Such file corruption is much less likely to occur today than it was even a few years ago, but it is still possible.  Simple practices such as keeping several versions of a file and saving it to several places is simple, quick and offers very robust protection against all kinds of potential disaster.

The uses and limitations of USB sticks

USB sticks have a niche use for backing up very large files that are impractical or impossible to store in the cloud.  I cannot recommend strongly enough that you save these to your N-drive as well as your personal device (if possible) in addition to one or more USB or other removable drives.  They are also useful for storing presentations if you suspect you will have to use a computer without internet access and on which you cannot arrange for your presentation to be uploaded in advance.  In short, USB sticks have only a few niche uses; they are rapidly becoming the technology of yesteryear.

A USB stick should never be the only place you save important files.  Anyone finding your USB drive can access all of the personal information stored on the drive.  They are very easy to forget and leave in a computer on campus, can be dropped or fall out of pockets, and become less reliable over time.  Those that do not become lost often become corrupted or simply refuse to work, usually on the brink of an encroaching deadline.  Use USB sticks all you want, but never trust them. If your only copy of your work is on a USB stick, it is more than likely to be lost before you have a chance to submit your work.

tl;dr –

Save your work to your own device, your Google Drive and your N-drive at the end of every day.  If you cannot save your work to the cloud, still back it up to your N-drive.  Use USB sticks all you want but never trust them: they are all too easily lost and files saved to them frequently become corrupted.

Assistant Librarian (Promotions) at the University Library. An enthusiastic advocate of libraries, diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice for all, inside and outside the workplace.

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