Dropbox isn't a backup solution


On a post I wrote last week about Streak for GMail I included a screenshot. That screenshot was showing off Streak's functionality, but it featured an email I received from Dropbox.

Dropbox has a really handy feature called Selective Sync. With this, you can choose to only have certain sub-folders synced on a given computer. I've got an old(er) Dell laptop that I use for QuickBooks. It's from 2010, but a couple years ago I bumped up the RAM to 8GB and installed a 120GB solid state hard drive. While the performance boost was amazing, the small hard drive meant I had to be more proactive about managing free space. So, even before Dropbox bumped up the Pro accounts to 1TB, I couldn't sync all of my sub-folders to the PC.

Fast forward to last week and Selective Sync is the subject of an email. Here's the first paragraph.

We're reaching out to let you know about a Selective Sync issue that affected a small number of Dropbox users. Unfortunately, some of your files were deleted when the Dropbox desktop application was shut down or restarted while you were applying Selective Sync settings.

One strange thing about the email is that I haven't made any changes to Selective Sync in weeks. I think I removed one folder on my PC last month when I started to run out of hard drive space. So, unless somebody was making unauthorized changes to my account...from my PC, they took a very long time to let me know about this issue.

The result?


As you can see, they lost almost 150 of my pictures. Had these been my only copies, it's very possible I'd be losing my mind right now. It's a good time to remind you, and myself, that Dropbox isn't a backup solution. It's a really handy way to sync your files across multiple devices, but it's not a backup solution. A service like Dropbox makes sure all of the sub-folders in your account are identical. While that's handy when you need to make sure the files on your computer are available on your phone...it also means the files you delete on your computer also get deleted from your phone.

I've had far too many backup failures over the years. I've had external drives fall off my desk (thanks kids), CD's and DVD's get scratched or just plain stop working, and countless internal hard drives meet an untimely demise. I have lost music, movies, photos, and work documents. It doesn't take too many of these to realize that any one backup solution isn't enough.

So, before I hop down off my backup soapbox, let me offer a few tips. These are important to keep your own files safe. It's that much more important when you are also responsible for your client's files too.

  1. Have an external drive at your desk that is set to backup your files (at least) daily. If your internal drives fails, this will be the fastest way to recover your files.
  2. Syncing services like Dropbox, Box, or SugarSync are great to keep files in sync. If you are robbed or you lose your internal and external drives in a fire, pulling down your files from these services will be the next fastest way to recover your data.
  3. Setup an offline backup solution. I use Backblaze, but there are several options here like CrashPlan or Carbonite that provide cloud-based backup, or you could even have another external drive that you keep at a friend or family member's house.

There are also plenty of other tips that are media specific. I'm super paranoid about losing photos, so I have an app (CameraSync) on my phone. Every time I take a picture, it automatically uploads the photo to Dropbox, Flickr, and Google Drive. Since I also sync Dropbox and Google Drive to my desktop and laptop...and then backup my computer daily, there are all sorts of copies of my important files. Lots of devices and cloud services would all have to collapse before I needed to worry about losing my files.

Alright, hoping off the soapbox now. Be careful out there kids.