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How to build a bulletproof cloud backup system without spending a dime

Rick Broida | May 2, 2013
The no-cost guide to backing up photos, documents, and more.

Pick a spot to stash your data 

Spreadsheets, word-processor files, PDFs, tax documents, newsletters--this is your data, the stuff that makes your computer yours. Most folks keep this data corralled in their Documents/My Documents folder, but it might be spread out across a variety of locations. Whatever the case, it needs preserving.

Fortunately, this kind of data typically doesn't consume a ton of space. I have nearly two decades' worth of Word documents, for example, and their combined storage footprint is just 250MB. Even the dozens of PDFs I'm hanging onto barely hit the 50MB mark.

Microsoft gives you 7GB of free storage when you sign up for SkyDrive-plenty of room for storing backup copies of your critical documents.

That means I can easily back up all of this data using a free online storage service, which will automatically sync selected files and folders to the cloud--and back again, should the need arise. Even better, I can access my files from other computers and devices, including phones and tablets.

Dropbox is the go-to cloud choice for many users, but its freebie account limits you to 2GB of storage. Box and SugarSync each give you 5GB, while Microsoft offers 7GB when you sign up for SkyDrive. Of these, I'm partial to SugarSync, which lets you tag any folder for syncing. With the others, you have to waste time dragging files and folders into specially designated "sync buckets."

Photos are trickier, but there's an app for that

Nothing could be worse than losing precious family photos. If you're still relying on the old copy-from-camera-to-PC method, consider syncing your photo library to a cloud service. That not only gives you an automated backup solution for existing and newly added photos, but it also lets you access those photos on your mobile devices.

Use the Camera Upload function in the Dropbox mobile app to automatically back up your smartphone photos to the cloud.

These days many of us shoot and store photos on our smartphones, never bothering to copy them to a hard drive. That's dangerous, because a lost or stolen phone means lost or stolen photos. So add cloud backup to the mix: Dropbox, Pogoplug, and SugarSync are among the services offering free Android and iOS apps that will automatically back up your smartphone photos.

Keep in mind that you can leverage different services for different needs--say, Dropbox for documents, SugarSync for photos, Pogoplug for movies, and so on. By spreading out your media, you're less likely to hit the storage caps on the services' freebie accounts.


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