It happened to Susan Solovic on a recent flight.
As her seatmate stood to go to the bathroom, she knocked over a soda on Solovic’s laptop.
“I’m sure it will be fine,” she said to herself. But when she powered up the computer, the screen remained stubbornly blank.
“Nothing,” she says. “I mean nothing.”
Solovic, an author based in New York, is just one of many victims of data loss on the road — losses that seem to be getting worse but are almost always preventable.
“I was mortified,” said Solovic, who lost 150 pages of her book manuscript. She was also scared straight: After her data loss, she signed up for a subscription to Carbonite, a service that automatically backs up her laptop’s data when she’s connected to the Internet.
Slightly more than 1 in 5 consumers don’t save their data in a safe place, according to a survey by Acronis, a company that provides backup systems. Yet 42 percent of those polled valued the data on their devices at more than $1,000. In other words, we think our data are worth something, but not enough to invest in a backup system.
Not that backup systems are completely reliable. Jo Young, an actress who lives in New York, remembers a motorcycle ride back from the beach on the back of a friend’s motorcycle. Her iPhone was safely tucked in a beach bag, which was securely fastened to the back of the motorcycle — or so she thought.
“When I got off the bike, my bags were gone,” she says. “They had flown off after hitting one of the oh-too-numerous road bumps without our knowledge. I was devastated.”
She’d saved the contents of her iPhone to the cloud, but not all of it. “They were able to upload most of my contacts, but none of my texts and only the last 30 photos I had taken. I had some great memories in those photos.”
I know what it feels like to lose data while you’re traveling. My worst loss: This summer, my server melted down while I was on a two-month road trip across North America. Our backup systems also failed, and we had to restore from a version of my consumer advocacy blog that was three months old. Ouch!
There’s a feeling you get when you lose data. It’s a combination of helplessness and anger. But when you’re out of the office, and unable to do anything except send a series of increasingly urgent emails to your IT guy back in the office, that sentiment drifts toward despair. It almost feels as if part of you is gone. It’s awful.
If you carry a phone or a computer, you’ll probably deal with data loss sooner or later, predicts Ted Hulsy, a vice president at eFolder, a company that specializes in data backup and disaster recovery. “Unfortunately, we may even see a higher incidence of data loss because the number of devices that data resides on is increasing, and the number of employees that decide to work remotely is also increasing,” he adds.
But you don’t have to become a victim. If you travel, you’ll lose data eventually. Yes, even the experts lose data. David Grubb, who runs CMIT Solutions of Tribeca, a company that provides backup services, regularly commutes between New York and London. On one of his trips, he lost a bag that contained his cellphone.
“This included personal data, plans I developed for a new business, personal photos and all my key contacts,” he says.
The handset was lost, but he’d taken the precaution of backing up the information in the device to the cloud and was able to retrieve all his contacts and other data from it. Lesson learned? Keep your eye on your belongings — and “always, always take a proactive approach to backing up, rather than deal with the consequences afterward,” he says.
In a world where we’re more dependent on our devices than ever, data backups shouldn’t be an afterthought. It should be one of the first things you consider before you take off. If you don’t, you could lose your photos, your manuscript — or your entire business.
Tips for preventing data loss
• Back up your digital photos and files before you leave. Before taking off, use an online data recovery solution or external hard drive to make sure all of those great images – and any other important files — are fully backed up, advises Mohamad Ali, CEO of Carbonite, an online data recovery solution. “You don’t want to risk losing them if your laptop is lost or stolen while traveling,” he says.
• BYOB. Bring your own backup, says David Zimmerman, CEO of LC Technology International, a data recovery service. “Consider bringing along a lightweight external hard drive,” he says. “These serve as a more durable backup for your files compared to the SD cards and they are quite inexpensive compared to how much they store.” Some external drives even feature automatic cloud updating that pushes your files to a remote server.
• Have a plan “B.” Know where your backed-up data are kept and how to recover the files quickly. One of the safest bets is a cloud-based backup system, says Mark Jennings, the director of network sales for SymQuest, an information systems provider. “They ensure critical data and applications are backed up often and easily restored, reducing downtime, and getting you up running in the event of loss,” he says.