Give yourself a backup drill

My external hard drive had somehow managed to escape out of my notebook backpack and end up under a chair. For good chunk of evening I was pretty sure I lost it. Took a trip back to work because I didn’t like the idea of waiting till Monday without definitive verdict on it.

I caught myself thinking that I had some stuff on it that would be pain to re-create. Bad sign. What if I didn’t find it? Losing your media storage (or at least imagining that) puts backup in different light.

Determine

External media gets lost, hard drives fail and so on. Put your flash drive back in pocket, turn off your PC or notebook (naturally after reading this post) and imagine it is toast. Now what?

The more you panic the worse is current state of your backups. You have backups, right?

Prioritize

Not all files are created equal. Roughly rank your data from absolutely important to things that can be simply re-downloaded. Notice that even easy things (like software setup packages) can become pain to restore in large quantity or setup complexity.

For example I had Firefox Portable with set of web development add-ons. Nothing important, but thought of re-doing that setup again made me shiver.

Secure

If you had lost some data it can very well mean someone else had found it. Put sensitive documents in password-protected archives or specialized containers like TrueCrypt. If you save passwords in software check how are they stored and set master password where you can to protect those. Also be careful to not encrypt stuff so that even you can’t get it back. :)

For example I remembered that mirror of Total Commander on external hard drive has some FTP passwords saved.

Spread

If you sit at home is there any other place with copy of your data? If not then it is single point of failure that no amount of backups can rectify. Keep things separately. Easiest would be to keep flash drive at work or maybe relative where you drop by often. Online backup options like Dropbox are blooming and are mostly in free to affordable range. For large sizes and decent reliability you can consider renting small safe-deposit box to store hard drive with backup.

For example most of my documents and backups of this blog are stored in Dropbox and are likely to survive even if I somehow manage to lose all of physical media.

Overall

Need to restore backup can quickly point out holes in routine. It is best to find those holes before it is too late to plug them.

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5 Comments

  • I laughed out loud when I read the first sentence of your blog this a.m. Nothing like a drive disaster to turn a rational person into a paranoiac. I’ve never been the same since it happened to me, in spite of the fact that I was able to retrieve most of it. I knew a hard drive could die at any time and I knew I should be adhering to some type of backup plan, but I procrastinated. (One of my more endearing traits.) After the catastrophe, I began to worry about every conceivable event that could destroy my data. Theft, flood, fire, earthquake.

    Now – I image my system to an external hard drive 1x/mo. My backup app is set to run automatic data backups of every file on my system every other day. One file, a project I’ve been at for 4 years, is automatically backed up every seven minutes while I’m working on it. The most important files are also backed up to three different flash drives. Two, I carry with me everywhere, one I keep in the car . I recently purchased another 20 GB USB drive for a little added security. The only thing I haven’t covered is online backup and I’ve passed on that so far because I understand it’s very slow. Right now I’m enjoying a DSL connection, but at some point I may have to go back to dial-up.

    Did you figure out how your hard drive just happened to end up under a chair? Wanna share? :)

  • @kelltic

    Well, I had backup and everything without such scares… And still there were pieces that could get lost.

    Your backup is way more hardcore than mine. :) I am spoiled by Dropbox a bit – really easy way to get stuff off site to cloud without thinking about it. You should give it a try. It uses delta sync (only changes in files are transferred) and work quietly in the background so it may work even on slow connection for documents and other low-sized files.

    I am also not a fan of imaging. Most of my software is portable anyway and I can go from empty to fully set up and patched computer in like two hours with silent install and portables.

    Actually I was quite sure that I lost it when buying tea on the road from work to programming courses. I even called work and it wasn’t anywhere in sight. Took a trip back just to be sure and there it was (after I turned room upside down). :)

  • Ah, backups, my pet love/hate subject :)

    I spend a lot of time thinking about backups and trying to get a system in place, but I always find there are holes in almost any system.

    I have an awful lot of large files, mainly from my 21MP camera and so online storage would start to smoke my connection a bit. At the moment I use my Macbook Pro, which backs up to my Time Machine every hour. I periodically move files from my local macbook up to my NAS, which RSYNC’s the drive to another drive overnight.

    This system accounts for hardware failure to a level where I don’t worry about it. It is also located in a secure place in the house, so I don’t worry about theft too much either.

    Saying that, I do find myself thinking “what if we had a fire”? Maybe I am over-thinking, maybe not… From my point of view I need to get a solution that is completely automated. Relying on me taking drives to work would not be good, I would just forget LOL

    The main issue of online backup is my NAS is the bit that needs to be backed up mostly and that runs FreeNAS. All the online backups I see use a TSR type utility to backup “internal” drives within Windows or OSX. Other than rigging up something to bypass that system they won’t work with my setup.

    One thing I had thought of is a second NAS in a shed at the bottom of the garden, hooked up via wireless just for backup… but then again is it really worth it just to secure against the possibility of fire?

  • @Jim Sefton

    Hmm… Completely automated solution that will survive a fire is tricky. Best I can think of to use (or build yourself) miniature low-powered file server (you know, those size of a power plug) that is cool enough to work in enclosed space and fire-proof it.

    Or you could go for NAS with more able OS and try online storage. Throttle bandwidth and/or schedule to hours when you don’t need connection.

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