Friday, May 29, 2009

Backup Strategy to the Rescue (after hard drive failure)

There is nothing more catastrophic to a computer than a hard drive failure. Hard drives are the one component where failure can mean a complete loss of data. This is a cautionary tale from a real experience about the importance of having a backup strategy for your data.

Over the past few weeks one of my computers has been acting erratically - locking up at random every couple of days. I used my subscription to get some advice and as I suspected my hard drive was on the verge of failing.

The computer in question is my media hub (that I wrote about previously) - the central store for all of our family's music, photos and home videos. 200+ gigabytes of memories and online purchases about to crumble into digital dust. Sounds like a tragedy - but it wasn't. It was a minor inconvenience in the end.

Learning from earlier mistakes, I protect this critical personal computer with a comprehensive (but not expensive) backup strategy. First I'll summarize what I did proactively:

Automatic backup to a USB-connected hard drive - using SyncToy (freely available from Microsoft's website) and the built-in scheduling capabilities in Windows Vista my computer automatically backs up personal folders nightly. That provides me with a fast way to restore files but was only part of my backup strategy.

Automatic online backup - there are multiple providers of online backup and I use one of the more popular options.

Why do both a USB drive backup and online backup? A few reasons:
  • Redundancy - my data is in multiple places - on the PC, the USB drive and in the "cloud" or online backup provider (who also backup your backup in their network storage facility)
  • Offsite (survives a fire or water damage)
  • More comprehensive (online backup solutions backup items I haven't configured SyncToy to grab)
  • Flexible recovery - it is faster to backup and store 200 GB from a USB drive than uploading / downloading 200 GB from the web

I didn't use to be so proactive about backup... the last time a hard drive failed I had to re-rip hundreds of CDs to build back my MP3 collection. Lesson learned.

With every failed hard drive there is an opportunity to rebuild a bit better - which I've done. I installed a new, larger, quieter and greener (less power) hard drive to replace the failed drive. I re-installed Windows Vista but upgraded to the 64-bit version to take advantage of a memory upgrade.

I then restored the bulk of my files from the USB backup drive and then restored the rest (the odds and ends you never remember to backup) from the online backup provider.

A bit of a nuisance - yes - but a crisis? No. Because everything that mattered was backed up - not once, but multiple times (and in multiple places). I was protected.

If you'd like help doing the same online technology service companies like (where I work) can help get you there. With all memories now going digital it is important that families - not just corporations - proactively backup data now (to avoid tears later).

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