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  • Doug Cook

Backing up (and securing) your College-Bound Student’s Computer

So it’s time to send them off to college.  Many students get a new notebook when they head off to the university.  After a year of testing and evaluation, I have recommendations to help insure your student’s computer and data stays theirs.

If you spent a lot of money on a computer and want it protected – with a little more effort, you can help insure the expensive computer stays theirs and that their data is saved from loss or hardware failure.  There are a few ways to backup data and one really good way to help you find a missing computer.

This works for your regular daily use notebook as well…

PART I – Backup

For backup, I can think of two ways to set up a routine.

  1. Easy way. Use a paid subscription backup service like Carbonite.  Easy setup, long to backup and restore but the Job get’s done.  Restore times can be long as one has to download the backed up hard drive.

  2. You could also build a personal “cloud” and save the subscription fee.  Requires some setup time and possible learning curve.  Cost ranges from nearly free to $700 or more.

This article focuses on the latter strategy.  You want this all automated.  You want the backup software to recognize when files have been edited / updated.  A 321 strategy offers the most reliable backup.

321 Strategy

This stands for 3 copies of the data (the original hard drive + a copy on another locally available backup + another copy remotely stored)  on 2 different media ( the original hard drive and the locally available backup such as a USB connected drive) with 1 of the copies stored offsite.   This allows a student to quickly get a backup from their USB drive they have in possession or on your home machine if the local backup failed or itself was stolen.

Two Ways Based on Budget

Economy Backup Setup

  1. FTP Server using Filezilla Server (free)

  2. GoodSync or other sync/backup software installed on the notebook

You can do this minimal cost by setting up your PC to run an FTP (file transfer protocol).  This PC should be an “always’” on computer.

For the home (remote) backup site install Filezilla Server (free)

This is a free open source software that runs an FTP server on a home computer on 24/7.    You will need to read up to follow the installation setup.

FTP can be considered a pre”cloud” way of sending files between two computers.  Even though it was developed in the 1990’s, it still works great.

For the notebook, install an automated sync / backup software

GoodSync for Windows, Macs and Linux  ($30)

This software runs in the background and does the automated backups.  You can backup to an attached hard drive (the 2 of the 321 strategy) and to a remote site (the 3 of the 321 strategy).

GoodSync is a backup/sync software that can backup files to a remote site (like your harddrive on your home PC).  This offers the remote backup needed in a 321 strategy.  It’s the only safe place if your student has their notebook AND backup drive stolen.

I can also vouch for SyncBack SE for Windows ($34.95).  I use this in my office 321 backup strategy with reliable success.  GoodSync may offer you a shallower learning curve.

I would recommend setting the FTP for a USB attached drive so that you can disconnect it and hook it up to the notebook for faster restores when needed. (Cost nearly free for an old drive to $120.)

Better Backup Setup

  1. FTP Server running on a dedicated network attached storage (NAS) solution.

  2. GoodSync or other sync/backup software installed on the notebook

A network attached storage behaves like a server and is always on – consuming less power than a PC.   FTP server software comes with the NAS usually and is easy to setup.

Consider a Synology DiskStation 412+

I use a Synology DiskStation 412+.  This box runs like a server.  It is always on – using less electricity than a PC.  This model runs on Linux and is itself a computer.  It has 4 storage bays that you can plug in 3.5” size hard disk drives.  You can start with just one – expanding as you go.

There are cheaper DiskStation models. Some of these may have memory limitations that may not run certain software in the future should you decide to have it work as a media server or an iTunes server.  I find “business grade” hardware a bit more reliable.

At this writing mine uses four 4 terabyte size western digital red drives.  I don’t get 16 terabytes because a RAID array is set up so that if one drive fails my data is not lost – the array allows for one drive to fail without the loss of data.  I net about 8 terabytes of secured data using this RAID array.

One recommendation to avoid with a NAS: Don’t get a Drobo.  I have two of them and they are not as reliable as the Synology products.  They are slower than my DiskStation and need rebooting once or twice a week which the Synology has never once required.

PART II – Security

Software runs in the background and isn’t easily detected by thieves.  It checks in occasionally to a website where it sees if you have declared it missing.  You can then take action remotely.


Cost (free) until you really need it.  Then it’s worth the $5 + per month of the service.  You may however may not even need to pay for it if the offered free service does all you want.

This anti-theft software package installs subtle software that can tract and recover a stolen notebook.  You can tell it to take a pic of who’s using it.  Give you GPS coordinates of where it’s at and locate nearby WiFi hotspots,  and remotely lock and secure the machine until you get it back.

If you have an iPhone, it sort of can work like the way “Find my iPhone” works.

The only way to defeat it would be to reformat the hard disk drive.  This can happen, but most thieves are not as savvy as you are to prevent that theft.

With a Backup and Security plan you can help protect that money, data and time investment.

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