Friday, July 26, 2013

TGIF

Three colleagues have had hard drive failures on their laptops this week. All in the same location - which makes the power supply suspect in this Edinburgh building. To lose one HDD is rare enough, but 3 in one week is very suspicious.

It cam as a timely reminder to backup everything of value. The Gorse Fox is paranoid about data loss and has a number of mechanisms in place to ensure he protect valuable digital information. For the sake of those who are not so careful here is a quick summary...

Background...

  1. Assume you will suffer a catastrophic loss of a disk drive, or a computer. If the assumption proves false, then you can feel smug.
  2. Assume that a computer can be rebuilt from the installation disks (or the Recovery disk you created when you installed the machine - you remember to do that step didn't you?)
  3. Assume the applications you use can be reinstalled from their original distribution packs (CDs, downloads, or whatever - you did make a note of the license key didn't you? I keep mine in Evernote).

So now we only have to worry about the application data,  the photos, the emails, the designs, and the drawings... the things that change on a regular basis as you use your computer:

  1. Analyse the computer folders to find out where your precious files, photos, and other data are stored. (Likely places are: My Documents, My Photos and so forth... but there could be others. The Gorse Fox has an external drive M:\Music and another T:\Photolib).
  2. Make a note of the folders where your files are squirrelled away.
  3. To cope with the first stage of data-loss paranoia, go and buy one or more external hard-drives which can be connected to your computer (by USB or Firewire) or to your Local Area Network.
  4. Connect to the hard drive and copy across all of the folders you identified in the analysis above.
  5. Set up a reminder to repeat this exercise on a regular basis. The Windows Scheduler cam be pressed into action to do this for you. 
  6. There is an excellent product called ALLWAY SYNC which can manage these backups for you on a Windows computer.  The Gorse Fox has this set up to manage different folders on different schedules based on their volatility.
  7. Indeed he has all of the computers in the house set up to backup data to the same external drives using the same underlying mechanism.
  8. At this point, all of your precious data should be in two places, the second being the external drive.

There is a second degree of paranoia. What if the computer equipment is damaged (fire, flood, lightning strike, hurricane, alien invasion)? You should really have a further copy of the data somewhere other than your home or business.

  1. Microsoft, with their SkyDrive, and Google with their Google Drive provide storage services on the internet. (There are many other providers e.g. BT, Dropbox, Amazon, Carbonite etc.) The Gorse Fox uses SkyDrive and GoogleDrive (and pays a few dollars a year to extend the space beyond the free allocation of 5GB).
    Sign up for some storage in the internet.
  2. Now you have a pool of storage that is accessible over the internet. Return to your backup strategy and rework it so that files are not copied just to the external hard drive that you purchased, but also replicated up to folders stored in your internet space (which you may have heard references as "The Cloud")
  3. Again, the Gorse Fox uses ALLWAY SYNC to schedule the automatic backup of the data to this internet storage. The first time it backs up will take quite a long time, but subsequently it only sends those files which have changed, and completes much more quickly.

Yes but what if?

  1. No backup really has value unless you know how it can be recovered. Make sure that you have details of where your backups are, and how the data can be retrieved.
  2. Practise retrieving some of the data every now and again

You can now sleep better and your data-loss paranoia should subside over time.

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