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Can I use iCloud like an external hard drive?
January 29, 2013 10:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the final stages of my PhD and writing up my dissertation. The prospect of losing my analysis and written work is petrifying. Can iCloud be used to save documents like an external hard drive?

I'm in the final stages of my PhD and writing up my dissertation. The prospect of losing my analysis and written work is petrifying.

I currently use a MacBook that's 4.5 years old and it has a bad tendency to corrupt drives and memory sticks when I plug them into my ports. I went to some Apple experts who told me that it pretty much means my computer's on its way out. I had an external hard drive to store this stuff on and it got corrupted and so I've been buying flash drives, backing up my work once, and putting them in a drawer before my computer has a chance to corrupt them. It's tedious and expensive to keep buying flash drives to only ever use once.

I'd like to know if documents can be saved with iCloud and if my computer were to completely die, would the documents still be in iCloud? I realize these are stupid questions, but the main advertisement page of iCloud doesn't seem to be answering these questions (I'm not computer-savvy and I could be potentially misunderstanding).

I'm likely going to be purchasing a new computer in the upcoming weeks and was also wondering if that meant that my documents and files would magically be imported on the new laptop.

Thanks for your help!
posted by DorothySmith to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
iCloud will work fine. Also, get a free DropBox account and back up to that. Now. Seriously, you can get that set up in about two minutes.

I'm not sure why you are using a new flash drive for each version. Can't you just reuse them?
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:42 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dropbox. Put anything you want in there and retrieve it from anywhere.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:42 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


iCloud, DropBox, and email yourself drafts.
posted by rtha at 10:43 AM on January 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Nthing Dropbox. It's a lifesaver and handy as hecky-fire.
posted by THAT William Mize at 10:44 AM on January 29, 2013


Agreed that iCloud, DropBox, your university's remote storage are all good options (use all of them!). Also instead of always buying a new flash drive why not rotate through two or three?
posted by mskyle at 10:46 AM on January 29, 2013


If your university offers server space, you could also use that as a backup. One friend would email drafts to herself, because she knew that the university email was backed up well (but she was just backing up writing -- I know my data would never fit in an attachment).

Dropbox would also work well. If your data and writing exceeds the free space on Dropbox, there are other good paid backup systems. My SO and I share a subscription-based backup service, so we have automatic backups daily whenever we boot our computers.
posted by jb at 10:48 AM on January 29, 2013


re: your other question, if you get a new Mac you can connect it to your old machine and run Migration Assistant on the new machine and it will import users, documents, applications, settings - anything you want it to.

You can do this step when you first start up the new machine. You don't need to create a new user on the new machine - you can just import the one that's already set up on the old machine.
posted by BillMcMurdo at 10:51 AM on January 29, 2013


I realize it sounds low-tech, but I really do use the method of mailing myself drafts (in addition to Dropbox).
posted by Linda_Holmes at 10:51 AM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks everyone! I only use the flashdrive once b/c when I use them a few times my computer will corrupt them and then they're unusable and the data cannot be retrieved from them.

Thanks again! I'm going to get dropbox and icloud right now! :)
posted by DorothySmith at 10:53 AM on January 29, 2013


I used DropBox for my dissertation. The handy thing with DropBox is that it keeps older versions, too. So if you accidentally, I don't know, delete all your footnotes accidentally, and save it right after, you can go to your Dropbox account on the web and download the previous version. I think iCloud only does that for supported applications, so check that.

I also backed it up to my department account and emailed it to my mom. She doesn't know how to delete emails.
posted by bluefly at 10:59 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I use Dropbox for my dissertation work, mostly because I use multiple computers. I also pay a little bit extra for Zotero storage, so that all of my PDFs are available from all my computers and are linked to my Zotero account.

I would also get an external hard drive and have your Dropbox folder automatically backed up once a week (or more frequently if you wish) onto that hard drive. It's a fairly simple process and it will give you a lot of peace of mind - at least it does for me with my dissertation.
posted by k8lin at 11:19 AM on January 29, 2013


I only use the flashdrive once b/c when I use them a few times my computer will corrupt them and then they're unusable and the data cannot be retrieved from them

Wouldn't this be a reason to get your computer fixed rather than buying flash drive after flash drive?
posted by kindall at 11:23 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you alternated between two flash drives, saving the same stuff on both of them, then when one got corrupted you could just throw that one away and add another one into the mix. (As a stopgap until you get a new computer!)
posted by mskyle at 11:36 AM on January 29, 2013


While Dropbox is nice, Dropbox isn't backup unless you save a separate version of the file to it. Dropbox is also nice when you accidentally make a change and want to go back because it supports versioning.

If you really want to insure against loosing your information, you should consider a cloud backup solution like CrashPlan.
posted by sgo at 12:52 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


While Dropbox is nice, Dropbox isn't backup unless you save a separate version of the file to it.

Eh what? Dropbox is a synchronization tool. There's the copy that is saved on your computer in the Dropbox folder, and then there's another copy saved on the Dropbox server, which is the backup.
posted by kindall at 1:12 PM on January 29, 2013


Crashplan is actually very good - that's the service I've been using for my dissertation. It has a nicely automated backup.
posted by jb at 1:51 PM on January 29, 2013


I would recommend against using iCloud at all. the apps you work in have to have explicit support for it - so there goes most of your regular Mac apps, including Office - and the files are sandboxed into containers that make them unavailable to other apps. it's really nice if all your stuff is in, say, Pages and Numbers and you have both available on your Mac and your iOS devices but if you need to open that up somewhere where you don't have Pages or Numbers you're not going to be able to.

Dropbox does not have any of these issues - it sees what's in a folder and then saves a copy of it on their servers. works just like any other folder on your computer. (and you get versioning - it will let you roll back up to 30 days, or forever if you pay for Packrat.)

as an aside - you're ejecting these external hard drives and stuff when you remove them, right? if you're saving and then pulling the drive immediately OS X may not have actually finished writing the file to the drive. (it is possible this is not the issue too.)
posted by mrg at 2:12 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


That really isn't backup, kindall. A good backup system protects you against not just outright, obvious data loss, it protects you from corruption or data loss that initially goes unrecognized. Dropbox sort of does that because it does versioning of files, but even then, I wouldn't call it a backup service.

I agree that Crashplan's cloud backup is a good inexpensive way for the OP to guard against dataloss. Dropbox would also help guard against the failure the OP fears most, and has other benefits. I don't think iCloud is actually much help in this situation, unless the OP is using iCloud enabled apps for all his files/documents.

My recommended course of action:
* Install Dropbox. Move your key files in to the Dropbox folder.
* Install Crashplan and edit the initial backup selection to include the essential folders/files (once the initial backup is complete, backed up, you can expand the selection to your entire user directory, or more).
* Get a new computer ASAP. $1000-1500 for a new Mac is nothing compared to all the work you've already put into this, and it seems like cheap insurance towards making sure the final stretch goes as well as possible.
* Set up Dropbox on the new computer. Your files should sync down automatically.
* Set up Crashplan on the new computer and "adopt" the backup from the old computer.
* Restore whatever files weren't already in your Dropbox to your new computer from Crashplan (or copy them over the Network).

I'm using iCloud more and more, but it takes some adaptation. The payoff is that I have the same Documents, Spreadsheets and Presentations on my Mac, my iPad, and my iPhone. If I make a change in one place, it is waiting for me wherever I want to use the document next.
posted by Good Brain at 3:37 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


A good backup system protects you against not just outright, obvious data loss, it protects you from corruption or data loss that initially goes unrecognized. Dropbox sort of does that because it does versioning of files, but even then, I wouldn't call it a backup service.

So how does Dropbox miss the mark, considering it retains a copy on its servers every time you save the file? I'm curious why that approach only "sort of" protects you.

For what it's worth, I submitted my PhD thesis last January after working out of a Dropbox folder for a year, rotating between three computers. Absolutely no complaints. I think it's probably the finest online service I've ever used (now as a paid customer, moving from 7.5GB free storage up to 50GB).
posted by Mapes at 4:42 PM on January 29, 2013


I say that Dropbox misses the mark as a backup service because it isn't a backup service, wasn't designed to be a backup service and isn't priced like a backup service.

What does it do if it misses a change to a file for some reason? Its main method of noticing changes is to rely on OS filesystem change notifications. I don't even know if it has a secondary method, other than rescanning directories when the background service is restarted. Crashplan has a secondary method, and if necessary, you can adjust how frequently it applies it.

Furthermore, with Dropbox you have to pay extra if you want to be able to recover/revert to versions of files that are more than 30 days old. Are you paying extra for "Packrat service?"

Dropbox doesn't/can't back anything up when you don't have an Internet connection. Crashplan can backup to an external disk.

Dropbox encrypts your data for storage, but everyone's data is encrypted with the same key which means that its really only protected against a superficial breach of Amazon S3 (which is where they store everything) rather than breaches of the dropbox staff and service. Plus, they initially over-promised and then were squirrely when called out on it.

Dropbox's pricing is ok for working with traditional documents. It falls down when dealing with digital media. Dropbox is $10/month for 100GB (no 50GB plan available any more). For $6/month Crashplan gives unlimited backup of one computer (plus external drives) and for $15/month Crashplan offers unlimited backup for up to 5 computers. With 10 years of digital photos + some MP3s it wasn't hard to go over 100GB. I'm now headed up towards 300TB now that I've added high-quality copies of my CDs.

From my point of view, Dropbox is great for having access to one's files from any machine, for sharing a few files, and for collaborating with people over a few files. As a bonus, it protects against some common data-loss situations.

None of those things are wort $10/month to me. I use a laptop and when I'm not using a laptop, there are better ways to access the data I need from my phone or tablet, I have other/better ways for most file sharing or collaborating, and I have a cheaper, more thorough backup service that I do pay for.

We are at the point where so much of what is important and irreplaceable is digital, and I think having a good solid backup plan should be important to everyone. For me, that plan is a combination of Time Machine backups to a server at home for our laptops. A local incremental backup of all the data that exists primarily on the the server (music, photos, archived documents), and then Crashplan for off-site backup of the laptops, and the server.
posted by Good Brain at 11:04 PM on January 30, 2013


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