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AIA CRAN Chronicle
A Burglar, a Glitchy Graphics Card, and a Happy Little Cloud

by Jared Banks, AIA | Shoegnome, LLC |

Within 48 hours of graduating from college, I loaded my car and drove north from Houston, Texas, to St. Paul, Minnesota. Somewhere in that car, along with my diploma that said Bachelor’s of Architecture on it, was my computer with a college career’s worth of photos, projects, resumes, and other important digital paraphilia. Within 96 hours of graduation I was sitting down to my first day of work with a small firm that did a mix of residential and commercial work. I spent the next eighteen months telling both myself and my wife that I was going to buy an external hard drive, or burn my portfolio to a DVD, or do something else to protect my data. But I had a job (well jobs), friends, and so much else to do. I never backed up that machine. On September 5th, 2006, I came home to find our front door open. While everyone else was going back to school or work after Labor Day, a burglar pushed in our window air conditioning unit (I had meant to take it out that weekend), grabbed some jewelry and my computer, then walked out the front door of our duplex. Neither the jewelry nor the computer had much monetary value. But in that one moment, all my schoolwork was lost and gone forever. I did have two hardcopies of my college portfolio and years later as I was packing up to leave Minnesota I found some old CDs that had some of the original images for some of my projects (of course not my favorite images of my favorite projects). But my college work was effectively lost. I was lucky that it was a burglar and not a fire or flood. Then my two hardcopies of the portfolio would have been lost as well.

I moved to Newton, Massachusetts, in 2013. After a few weeks of unpacking and settling in, I was finally ready to get back to work. My first week of working was very productive. A month of traveling, unpacking, and no childcare was exhausting, fun, and surprisingly rejuvenating. It was nice to have my daughters back in school, my wife at work, and my home office to myself. On the start of my second week of work, my laptop stopped functioning: my graphics card spontaneously failed. I could start up my machine and get a few minutes of proper functionality. But the moment I did anything demanding, the computer glitched out and locked up. Instead of being productive, I was now sitting in front of a two-thousand dollar brick. A few hours later, my laptop was on the way to an Apple repair center and I was working unimpeded on my wife’s computer. No lost data. No inaccessible data. Just a bit of annoyance and some impatience. All I had to do was access whatever I needed via The Cloud.

It took me a few years, but I learned my lesson. Regardless of how tech-savvy your firm is, irrespective of your firm’s size, you need to have a bulletproof data-safety plan. Whether you’re using BIM, CAD, or even still hand drafting, your computers are filled critical data. You need to protect your data and make sure it’s always available to you, no matter what.

Time and Space

How do you go back in time a few days or a week? When your client comes and says “You know that genius idea you showed me three months ago that I hated? Well oops. I love it. Let’s do that.” Are you prepared to turn to your computer, magically click on a file, and say “Oh you mean this idea? Sure thing. Now let’s talk about that additional fee for reworking.”

How do you reach all your data when your physical access point changes? This might be because you’re on vacation and not near your primary machine. It might be because someone stole your laptop. Or your office burned down. Or the basement flooded. Or perhaps like me this week your machine broke without warning. How do you not let that stop you from doing your job?

There are plenty of ways to protect your data. For many of us, we need something simple and effective. We don’t have servers with tape drives and IT staff. The answers to both of my questions, which can be shortened to data access across time and data access across space, is a combination of smart practices and smart services.

Simply put, you should save a daily backup of any critical file you work on that might corrupt or require you to look at previous versions of. CAD and BIM files are the best example of this. The solution is to save daily backups in a special backup folder in the given project folder on your hard drive or server. Everyday. Save a backup. If you’re tech savvy enough to automate this process, great. But if not, I promise you the few seconds it takes each day to copy the file or do a save as is well worth it. Keep these backups on your machine forever. No need to delete them. Your hard drive is big enough to store all those files. And when your hard drive fills up, a bigger hard drive will be super cheap. But I doubt your hard drive will fill up. If you don’t believe me, do the math:

(average file size) x (number of days you work on an average project) x (number of projects/year) = a surprisingly small number of gigabytes

To recap: save a backup everyday and keep them all forever.

Saving a backup everyday (I can’t say that enough) handles accessing data across time, but what about across space? For that you want an automatic cloud backup service. There are a lot of options. Here’s a list of 26. I’m not going to advocate for one service over another (though for those curious, I use Carbonite), but let me describe the features that I find are essential.

    1. Automatic. You want your backup service running anytime you’re connected to the Internet (which is probably 99.9% of the time). You want it to do all the hard work without you reminding it to.

    2. Unlimited. Don’t quibble or try to take a shortcut by saving a few dollars a year by selecting a limited plan. Find an unlimited storage plan.

    3. Accessible. You want to have access to your data wherever you are. You only want to look at cloud storage services that allow you to download your data via a website to wherever you need it. The beauty of this means your cloud storage is not just a backup for crashes; it’s also a way for you to grab that one critical file that is sitting back in the office on your machine which is turned off (because a backup of that file is also accessible via the cloud).

    4. More than Dropbox and iCloud. Dropbox, iCloud, and other similar services are great. But those are something that work in conjunction with an automatic cloud back up service. They are not a replacement for it.

    5. Not just Time Machine. Time Machine is a great feature for Mac users, but it doesn’t meet the criteria of permanent backups, accessible from anywhere. Is it worth setting up? Sure. But focus on these other solutions first.

Now this is all just my opinion, of course. You might have differing opinions and other solutions. But remember, if you can’t always access your data, no matter where you are and no matter when you created it, then you are setting yourself up for a cataclysm. Just because we are small firms focused on smaller scale projects and not computer wizards working for mega corporations is no excuse. All your backup and data safety needs are easily solved, and of paramount importance.


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