How to Synchronize Your Data

I once lost a significant amount of data to a hard drive crash. Since then, I’ve been obsessed with backing up my data and storing it in a variety of locations. Most of this data resides on my desktop PC and two external hard drives. I also have some on my laptop and a few USB thumb drives.

Keeping all of these data stores up-to-date can be a challenge. You can quickly end up with gigabytes of redundant data folders, and consolidating these folders later on is a daunting task.

A reliable synchronization program is an easier, more efficient way to manage this data. Synchronization (or “sync” for short) is a process where the software automatically monitors your files and replicates it perfectly to another location. As you add, delete or modify data, the system constantly updates each container, guaranteeing data consistency without any human intervention.

You can store synchronized data on a variety of devices and mediums. You can even store it in different locations on the same machine, or on external devices such as hard drives, USB flash drives, network drives, FTP servers, laptops, PDAs and MP3 players.

Synchronization comes in two flavors: one-way and two-way. In a one-way sync, data flows in only one direction from the source device to the target device — a PC to an MP3 player, for example. If you delete a song from the MP3 player, it’s not removed from the PC. However, should you remove it from the PC, it will be deleted from the MP3 player. In a two-way sync, let’s say from a PC to an external HD, data flows in both directions. If you add, modify or delete data in either location, the change occurs in both locations. One always mirrors the other. 

While Vista includes tool called Sync Center, it’s difficult to use and not worth the effort.  Fortunately, there are a variety of synchronization programs available, and many of them are free for personal use.

For my money, the best is Allway Sync. It offers an extensive list of features and a very simple, intuitive user interface. The program is very small, just under 6MB, and uses minimal memory. It’s compatible with all versions of Windows, and it can automatically monitor and synchronize multiple file locations simultaneously.

 Comic book-like dialog boxes walk you through the basic setup. Advanced options let you specify the sync direction, manage deletions and conflicts, and it works flawlessly with flash memory and USB drives. The software is free for personal use, but business users must purchase a license ($29.99).

Get Synced

We’ll assume you have a folder on your computer’s C drive called “WORKFILES” that you want to backup and keep synchronized on an external HD. You also have a USB flash drive to transport files to and from the office that also needs to be kept up-to-date. This is how you would do it.

Before we begin, you’ll need to download and install Allway Sync onto your PC. Once downloaded, launch the program to begin the installation. It’s pretty straightforward. If you’re not sure what to do just stick with the default settings, and when it’s done installing, start the program.

The first thing you’ll notice is the dialog box on the left side of the screen instructing you to press the Browse button in order to select the source folder. In our example that will be C:WORKFILES. Next follow the wizard and select the destination folder. That’s going to be stored on your external HD.

If the destination folder doesn’t already exist you can create it from within the application. We’ll make our target folder E:WORKFILES to match the source. Now press the Analyze button to start the difference analysis and review the planned changes.

You can open and review every file from within the program, which makes it easier to verify what’s being moved or overwritten before it actually happens. Once you’re satisfied with the plan, press the Synchronize button to begin copying the data.

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