Death. Taxes. Data-Loss.

December 20, 2009

Death. Taxes. Data-Loss.

You will experience all 3 in your lifetime. You can remove the sting of Data-loss by a simple, regular act, one that no one seems to do, but everyone should do.

Backup Your Files

Stop reading this article right now and go backup your most important file by emailing it to your Gmail/Hotmail/University account. You'll rest easy knowing it's not up to you to worry about the data anymore. While you're emailing, why not burn a copy onto a CD-R and store it in a paper envelope in a file cabinet? Now you've got 2 backups, one on-site and one off-site. This is standard operating procedure for any IT department when dealing with data and backups.

You can handle a local emergency (your house burns down) or national (the internet breaks) and be somewhat secure knowing you have another copy of your data.

Old Habits Die Hard

As I get older, I rely heavily on lists. Lists for daily goals, monthly tasks, jobs due. I added Backup to my monthly tasks list (which includes getting a Hair Cut, and Laundry, among other things)


Every first of the month, I make DVD backups of my 'working folders' with live jobs and data. This usually fills around 4 DVD's. These go off-site from work to my house. I also make a mirror of my internal drives onto a backup drive. This stays nearby, but not always online. This reduces wear on the backup drive.

Every 3 months, I'll do a complete backup onto DVD, all drives, all data, even if it's been backed up before. This sometimes takes up to 20 DVD's, but at 25ยข per disc, it's a small price to pay for data-security.

Online to Offline

Having recently suffered a catastrophic drive failure on one of my web servers, I started to include online backups as well.

I lost 15 websites and 60+ blog posts due to poor backup scheduling. I'd assumed (wrongly) that the machine had dual redundant hard drives with the data being mirrored on both drives. At a normal reboot sequence, the boot drive failed and made really nasty clicking noises. To my dismay, its data was lost - even to me, and I've recovered some seriously broken drives before. This type of hardware failure is not typical, but possible. No software can repair the physical damage to the drive platters. This would have to be shipped out, and at great cost (too much!).

Nowadays, any CMS controlled site I own/manage gets backed up locally, with a ZIP file, and usually a SQL dump. This allows me to recover in case of server failure. Any other sites can be archived as folders, and this doesn't have to happen too often with static sites. All of these also get copied to a local backup drive, as well as burned to DVD-R and stored off-site. This is included in the usual monthly backup routine.

Burn. Test. Recover.

You should always verify backups as they are being written, and double-check the DVD after your done. I avoid using applications that 'split' backups across multiple disc's using their own compression engine, as they'll end up breaking later with the next OS release. Generally, I can sort the data into 4.3GB chunks pretty easy, and it makes it compatible with the future.

Final Request

I know you didn't actually do that backup I mentioned earlier. Why not do it now? How about everything that's important: Pictures? Word Documents? Your MP3 collection? Pron stash? (Maybe not.)

You'll rest easy knowing your hard drive is going to self-destruct at any time...

....because it is!

While I'm on the subject of making backups....why not make a backup of your wallet's contents, too? Seriously, take all the cards (membership, library, credit, bank) out of your wallet and put them on a scanner, or make a photocopy and scan that (front & back!) Email the scans to your free email account, and now you're ready in case your wallet gets stolen goes missing! This backup tip only has to happen maybe once or twice a year! This also helps if you have to call the cards to cancel them, as they'll have the 800 number on each card!

Backup Your Files, Now!