So, a few weeks ago I told you about the plight of Jo, an employee at the House (where I work), whose hard drive in her laptop died. Her data was unrecoverable, and she decided to go to a data recovery specialist. I told you as a lesson in the importance of backing up. But that wasn’t quite the end of her story. Here’s what happened next…
A few days later, Jo came in with her external backup hard drive, less the power supply which she now claims she has lost. Word had come back from the data recovery guy and initial data recovery had failed. The next step was going to cost Jo $1600+ to recover her data, and that still didn’t include the price of the Dell replacement hard drive. While she estimates that the drive contained 3000 hrs worth of work, she decided not to pursue data recovery any further. This meant that the task of saving her from this abysses fell to us: IT Support.
We dug a spare power supply out of the storeroom, and went to work getting any data she may want off her backup drive from the last time she actually did a backup. However, we ran into a bit of a snag. When we plugged in the external drive, all we heard was a familiar, eerie, “clunk, clunk” from the drive. Yes, her back up drive was also dead! “She’s a drive killer…” the professor declared, but we couldn’t give up yet.
The external drive was actually just a 3.5″ internal drive in an enclosure, so I carefully removed the drive from the enclosure, to test it with our SATA to USB adaptor, in the hope that maybe we’d be able to get to Jo’s data that way. Maybe it was just a wholly faulty enclosure. When I first plugged it in, the drive came up straight away. I wasn’t really ready for this, so I turned it off so it didn’t tire itself out or destroy itself, while I got one of our clean backup hard drives to copy the data to. When I tried again, the drive refused to work. It spun and sounded like it should work, but Windows refused to detect it. I tried holding the drive at different angles and in different positions, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. Whenever it looked like it was going to come up, it just disappeared from Device Manager again.
After about two hours of trying, by which point I was at the end of my tether, Mr Chief suggested what I should’ve and wish I had thought of much earlier: try doing the same thing but in Linux. He also claimed that the SATA to USB adaptor was dodgy and that we should plug the drive in internally, as in straight into the motherboard. So we did as he said, and for a bit, it looked like it still wasn’t going to work. But it came up. All that was left to do was to navigate through the directories and find what Jo wanted copied off. And while it worked, it was super-slow. Whenever you tried to open a folder, it would take a good couple of minutes to open, but at least it got there at all. At multiple points, Linux came up with messages complaining that the drive was damaged, but once you dismissed them, it still copied the data as asked. All I can say is Thank Goodness for Linux!
Since Jo’s initial ordeal and it’s publication, we’ve been inundated with people coming to us, asking for help in knowing how to back up. This is sort of a puzzling question, and I don’t know what to tell them. The main thing I emphasis is that backing up is about regularly and frequently making sure you have an up-to-date copy, or multiple copies, of files that are important, in more than one location. The two questions they always ask though are “How do I do that?” and “What files should I back up?” The answer to both are up to you, the data owner, and are partly dependant on each other. If you think you’ll be able to remember to back up your data, then copying-and-pasting it is probably an ok scheme. However, this will only work best if the data you’re backing up is all in one place. If you’re not going to remember, using a piece of software to automate the backup process is a good idea. As for what files to back up, most people who use Windows (from Vista onwards particularly) will have saved all their files in their user folders such as My Documents or My Pictures etc., so all they need to back up is the whole user folder (found at C:\Users\<insert_username>\). Some software may save stuff elsewhere, so that’s something you need to be aware of.
The question I would’ve been expecting from people about backing up, although it’s no easier to answer, is “Where do I back up to?” The answer to this, again, is dependant on the data you’re backing up and how you want to do it. I know people who swear that you should be backing everything up to multiple hard drives in separate geographical locations, and to the cloud. Another person I know has a 5 disk RAID array of hard drive in their PC and only has one other backup. With his RAID array, two of the hard drives have to fail before he’s even got a chance of losing any data, because it’s mirrored and distributed across the five drives. For most people, I think both of these are overkill, but that depends on how important your data is and how much you have. If you only have a few super-important files, then a few hard drives and/or USB sticks and the cloud are a great way to back them up, as long as you can keep track of the version. If you have colossal amounts of data that you want to back up, then a backup hard drive or two (in a fireproof safe) are a great way to back up.
In the end, it all comes down to you and your data; what you want, what you need, and what you can afford (to pay or to lose).
So, what about you? Where do you back up to? Have you ever had a backup fail? Do you keep all your files in one location, or are they all over theplace? Have you learnt any useful lessons from Jo’s experience? As always, if you have something to say, like a reply or a suggested blog topic, feel free to tell me in the comments below, or on the <www.facebook.com/nitemice> Facebook fan page.
To Infinity and Beyond,
- House Update: Back Up, or Lose! (nitemice.wordpress.com)
- NAS-tastic:The steps to prepare for setting up a NAS (nitemice.wordpress.com)
- Do You Have A Backup Plan? (techattitude.com)
- Hey! I Lost (Some of) My Backups (eogn.com)
- Back it up | Serendipity (teepee12.wordpress.com)