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Tag Archives: hard disks

Do you have a back-up plan?

If not, WHY NOT?!

Do you have a back-up plan?

Disk drives are full of electronics and moving parts, and unfortunately they fail occasionally. But, with a little thought and preparation the data stored on a hard disk can be easily protected. High-end systems and dedicated data storage devices can do RAID striping and mirroring, and it is possible to get a similar level of protection in a high-end home computer with an investment in hardware, software and time.

All of this is great, but for the average user that level of protection is way over the top… however the average user still needs to protect their data for when the inevitable happens. I’ve been in the industry long enough to know it’s not IF a disk will fail, it’s WHEN, and if you have no means of protecting important files and folders on your computer then you are playing Russian Roulette with a part of your life.

With the amazing rise in the popularity of digital photography and digital videos, people are trusting their memories to a rapidly spinning piece of magnetic media that at some point in its life will fail. The failure might cause a file to get corrupted. It might cause you to lose access to a folder. Worst case it could cause you to lose access to everything that is on the disk. Some back up photos and movie files to CD or DVD (or more recently BlueRay) media, but this can be a royal Pain In The Ass.

Having been in the industry for a while, but not wanting to spend a small fortune on my home system to get the kind of data protection that most companies run their business with, I’ve worked out a strategy that balances an acceptable level of data loss with ease of use and management, and so protects the important information on my computer in a way that works for me.

Many computers nowadays come bundled with some form of backup software. If yours does, check it out. Most are linked with some sort of on-line data storage service, which is great for protecting important files, however you might find the amount of storage offered is limited, and speed could be an issue, especially if you don’t have a fast internet link. Backups to remote data stores don’t work well if you need to restore a totally trashed system drive, so keep that in mind also.

If you have a computer with a single disk, the best strategy without spending a fortune is to get an external USB drive with enough capacity to be able to store a backup of your whole disk, and either use the backup software that came with your computer, or ideally invest a little money to get a dedicated backup package.

Another thing to keep in mind is that a data protection strategy is only good if it WORKS. You should test it at least once before you need to rely on it. The worst time to discover that your backup system doesn’t work as you thought is when something has gone bad and you are relying on your backup strategy to be able to get things back the way they were before things went wrong.

I use and trust Acronis True Image Home. It’s saved my bacon (or that of someone in my family) on a number of occasions. It will do a full disk image backup (and can compress it too) and gives the flexibility to restore a full disk image, or at the file/folder level, and you can even mount a backup image as a disk and copy things from the backup on the fly. In the case of our house, we have a shared computer with a dedicated 2TB disk for backup images, and the family laptops back up across our home network to a share on this computer. Each computer has a boot disk that in the event of a failure can boot, access the network, and can restore from the previously taken backup to recover a failed disk.

The main computer I work on has a number of disks installed, and given that most failures happen at the individual disk level, I have each disk run a backup to another disk in the system. In the event of a failure it’s very quick to pull back files (or if necessary a whole disk) from a locally attached drive with the backup image on it. My important files back up to a removable disk, and in the case of my photographs, I have a second removable disk that is kept up to date nightly with my working photography files too.

Today I had a need to rely on all of this to recover from a disk failure. We were scheduled to have a 2 hour power outage for local power company work this afternoon, so before I went to work I closed my computer down. When I got home from work late this afternoon, I powered the system up. It started to boot and then hung. After doing some quick tests I worked out that while the system could see one of the attached disks at a basic hardware level, nothing could be read from the disk’s magnetic media. I removed it, attached it via a caddy to another computer just to see if there was any chance of recovering what was on this disk. No joy. The disk was DEAD!

So… I quickly popped out to our friendly neighborhood electronics superstore, picked up a new 1TB disk to replace the 500GB disk that had died (paid less for the new disk than I had for the old one too!), and in a few minutes had fitted it, formatted it, and had started restoring from the last backup I had taken. With the restore completed, I synced my most recent photographic images back from the external drive that held them, and after about 3 hours I was back in business.

The disk that died held all of my photos from 10 years of digital photography. I was able to get EVERYTHING back, even some shots I had taken yesterday evening! I would have been heartbroken if I had lost all of that work and all of those memories. Had I (like some) saved the files to optical disks, it would have taken me DAYS to have restored them to my new disk, and I’d still be scratching around trying to work out how to get back the other files that were also on that disk. Instead, after buying a replacement disk and investing a few hours of my time in the recovery of the contents, I was up and running as if nothing had happened (apart from the fact that I’d magically gained 500GB of storage!).

My advice to you therefore is to get an external drive, get a good backup application, and be sure to use it regularly! It may sound like an expensive waste of money, but trust me – the time will come when you will thank yourself for putting a few simple precautions in place.

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