Friday, March 17, 2006

Tech: Oops! You lose. Or, this can’t be obvious, because it’s being ignored.

My work computer was only a year old when it died. More specifically, the disk crashed.*

I lost work. I lost stuff. Work can be redone, but I also lost email archives, an accumulation of very useful bookmarks, and little bits and pieces that I wanted to keep. And it sounds like opportunism, but this is the truth: I was about to move it all to a network drive that was regularly backed up.**

It would have been much worse if my home computer had died, because a) nobody else would ever have saved any of it for me, and b) I have treasures that I couldn’t recover. Photos, family history, etc. It’s all digital these days, our archive is in our computer. If those archives die, it’s like a house fire that destroys everything. Infrastructure can be recovered, but those personal items can’t.

Backup your data! Start now! Or you will lose.

My immediate plan: I had an old secondary 8 G disk on my computer. I reduced my archive to less than 8 G worth of essentials, then backed it up to that disk. There’s a few peripheral items that needed to be included, such as mailbox and bookmarks, but I made it quick and simple to do the backups: a process that would be painless for me, so I wouldn’t drag the chain. At least there's two copies now. As I mentioned above, I delayed once and I was lost.

The solution’s not ideal, but it’s better than it was. The ideal solution is regular, automatic backup to an offsite copy that will weather storms and house fires. Archiving via DVD may be feasible, but doing it via CD would probably be quite painful.

But failing that, back up to another computer. Failing that, to another disk – as I did. But don’t be a Homer and create a backup on the same disk – that’s almost a waste of time.

Most of us must be living life on the edge. I rang Dell yesterday to do some pricing. 160 G disks are standard, but 2 x 80 G definitely costs extra (Dell no longer goes below 80 G). At a rough guess, I’d say almost all home computers only have a single disk. And no backups are done.

Calamity struck at work – and that was a more professional, newer, environment than home. Your home computer is vulnerable now.

24-Jul-06 Update: IBM has announced a new product, "Tivoli Continuous Data Protection for Files", to automate backup as a background process, in a similar fashion to updating virus definition. This is commendable, and although it's not a new concept, that's the sort of thing that most of us need. Backups should be a background task, set it, (check it's working!), then forget it.

*Helpdesk said it was a bad batch of Maxtors, and quite a few people had suffered. To be honest, they said “don’t use Maxtor!”, but it really would be more accurate to call it a bad batch, or Maxtor would be out of business, as a lot of old disk makers are - see this discussion. I also found a page which rated manufacturers, but treat it as somewhat anecdotal.

**Why did I not consistently use only a network drive, regularly backed up? I’d had a bad experience a couple of years ago, where I asked helpdesk to recover a file. After a few months of badgering, they eventually said to me they couldn’t recover it. In mitigation, I should say the IT manager at the time was quite hopeless, and was subsequently abolished. A decent operation would periodically test both backup and recovery processes.

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