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March 31, It Is World Backup Day

Submitted by rob on Thu, 03/31/2011 - 13:49

Odds are that if you have not yet had the "joy" of loosing a valuable file, you will. It is all a part of working with computers, it does not matter what OS you may use, the fact of the matter is something will happen, and you will lose at least a file, and at most all your files.

When people come to me with this problem, I always ask "Can't you get it from your backup?" This is usually the point where people get the "dear in the headlights" look. I know it is trite, and computer people like to talk about it (and even some of them don't do it at home), you have to have a backup. Back in the "old days" we used to use tape for backup, heck it is still used today but only in very large data centers, home users have much cheaper options.

First some rules of backup:

  1. Backup Often, daily is best, once a week is gambling
  2. A file is not safe until it exists in at least 3 places (local, local backup, off-site backup)
  3. Make sure you can get a file from a backup (waiting until you need a file only to find out you can't get it is the wrong time)

I know what you are saying, "Why do I need THREE copies? I have a perfectly good backup right here!" Hey, having a local backup, great, though what happens if you have a house fire, natural disaster, get robbed? Chances are, your local backup will suffer the same fate as your local computer. Not that it is something people plan on happening, it does happen.

Now that said, a local backup is still invaluable, as it is right there, so for large files it can not be matched for speed of access. Now there are 2 kinds of local backup:

  • Full Disk Image
  • Data Files Only

Now, the choice is up to the user and most backup software will do one or more types. I do keep a full backup image of my main system, this backup that I make is also bootable, and important feature to have if you happen to suffer a hardware failure, this way I can in a pinch, boot my system from the backup disk if my main disk is dead. This is a nice to have thing, but is not necessary for every one. External harddrives are cheap now a days, one can readily get 1 to 1.5 TB external drives for $100-$150.

Another good item to have in your home is something called a NAS, network attached storage, this is basically a harddrive that is connected to your network, not to just a single computer. There are many types out there, and many ways to do this, so far, the one I like is the Drobo FS because it is dead simple to use. This gives you an expandable storage device with built redundancy, basically the Drobo is a box that hods harddrives, you just slide in any combination of SATA harddrives and it gives you storage space, you will get less than the total number of discs you put in, but if any drive fails, you simply pop the disc out and put a new one ine, no data lost and you don't even shut the Drobo down, all hot swapable. This also lends itself to another very nice feature, when your Drobo gets to 85% full, the light next to your smallest disk will start flashing yellow, simply replace with a larger disc if your Drobo is full and away you go. There many options out there (yes I have run home brew RAID with mdadm, it is cheaper, but not for average mortals) just look around, and remember something that is simple and reliable gets used, something flexible and finicky tends not to.

I know you don't have an off-site data center, but you can get affordable off-site storage. I personally use Carbonite, for $55 a year you can backup your computer, that is less than 16 cents per day, think of it as insurance for your data. I currently have over 200 GB of data stored there, it is dead simple to use and once it is configured, it just runs. Carbonite will also e-mail you if your backup has not been updated in 7 days, handy to let you know that you may have an issue. Though I am not a typical user, it took just about 2 months for my initial backup to complete as it does run at night or when your computer is in use, so as not to consume all of your bandwidth. Again as with local backups, there are choices out there, pick the one that suits your needs and level of involvement, Keep It Simple Silly (KISS).

This is my backup "scheme":

  • Network connected Drobo, currently at 4 TB, has a disc image of my main machine that is updated every other night.
  • Two 1 TB external drives, I alternate them, 1 week at home, 1 week at the office, these ar updated on the opposite every other night as my Drobo image
    • These disk have 2 partitions, one is a bootable image of my main machine, the other is for hard to replace files (registard programs, serial numbers, videos, music, etc.) Items I can rebuild, but would consume a lot of time in doing so.
  • Carbonite backup is always running.

Another very useful tool is Dropbox, you can get 2 GB of free storage (click here to get an extra 250 MB when you sign up) which basically gives you a 2 GB memory stick that you can access from anywhere, and if you install the Dropbox software on you home and work machines, you are kept in sync, very handy.

...and remember, it doesn't matter how you backup, just backup!