Crash Boom Bang

I’ve been using computers for many, many years now, and finally had something happen to me that has never happened before: a disk crash. It happened yesterday.

“But you have backups, right?” you might wonder. But of course! I back up to a network disk system every night. And that’s what crashed: my backup disk!

Backup Plan

I’ve got a new one in already (even in rural Colorado, I can get one overnighted to me; sweet!), and as I write this I’m backing up my working system’s hard drive. Since it was the backup that died, I didn’t lose any important data, but it could have just as easily been a working system’s drive that crashed.

I’ve heard horror stories of people who were working on their Great American Novel, or their master’s thesis, or their doctoral dissertation, or something else they felt was incredibly important — and had the disk crash, or they accidentally deleted the file, or forgot a password, or whatever, and lost a lot of work because their only copy was on their hard disk that crashed, or was stolen, or….

Do you have your important work backed up?

Every few months, in addition to my online backup, I burn a DVD of my most important files, seal it in an envelope, and hand it to a friend who lives a few miles away. And he does the same thing with me, handing his own back.

Because a backup is great — unless the house burns down. So I have a backup of my backup stored somewhere else.

Do you have your important work backed up? I’ve been incredibly lucky that in 25 years of professional writing work that I’ve never had a hard drive crash. Until this week. But the fact that I’ve never lost any of my work isn’t luck, it’s due to careful planning.

Do you have your important work backed up?

Don’t say nobody ever warned you. Hard drives crash. You need a backup of anything you mind being lost without notice.

61 Comments on “Crash Boom Bang

  1. I keep one external 1TB hard drive at each home and work, and I truck my laptop between the two locations, making daily backups at each stop. I also download everything on my hosted web server twice a week, all of which is then backed up again as part of my daily backups.
    Something went wrong on my blog last year, and two years’ worth of posts disappeared like *that*. Faced with such an insurmountable loss a decade ago, I would’ve called it quits and never blogged again. Instead, I just uploaded my backup and carried on like nothing happened, never breaking a sweat.

    My concern isn’t losing data to the ether, but losing it to thieves. What happens if one of those backup drives falls into the wrong hands? I need to investigate better security options.

    For that, my buddy Leo of Ask Leo! recommends Truecrypt, an open source encryption system. I’ll be evaluating that myself Real Soon Now. -rc

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  2. i subscribe to Carbonite, it’s well worth the $45 a year or so per computer, I have two. I just love seeing the tag on files i worked on half an hour ago change colour to show they are backed up. I don’t have to do anything.

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  3. Just three quick observations. I have heard of stories where people thought they had backed things up properly only to find they had a media problem of some sort that they were unaware of.

    Secondly, I have a continual backup to a local external hard drive but I also do what you do, except I bring home a third external hard drive and do thorough monthly backup that I keep away from the house. So in the worst case, I would lose a month of my writing.

    Finally, nothing can be done if your main hard drive or a data base gradually becomes corrupted. Your backup data will also be corrupted. Which is why the third copy is an absolute essential.

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  4. I was just checking out your drive on Amazon and noticed they only have TWO left! Looks like your comment caused a bit of a run on their stock!

    Talk about having some sway in the market!

    Now I just need to convince my wife that we really DO need an NAS!

    By the time I approved this, there was only one. But it says more are on the way… -rc

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  5. I run a computer repair shop.

    I can tell you that more than half my customers don’t know how to back things up. More than half the remainder don’t bother.

    Well, since you run the computer repair shop I use, you can count me as among the tiny percentage of your smart customers! It has been too much work to create this stuff to just let it vaporize. -rc

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  6. We had a practice of backing up our work product (graphics) off site at the local bank safe-deposit box. On a whim we began sending backups to relatives in Dallas … the week before Katrina.

    Our studio was three blocks from the Gulf just west of Waveland MS.

    Need I mention that we have yet to find the bank much less what was in the safe-deposit boxes.

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  7. I store my most precious files – pictures, home movies, irreplaceable docs – at a couple of online storage sites. I use more than one because like a lot of people I had a Yahoo briefcase, which was closed by Yahoo a couple months ago, and I don’t want to find myself scrambling to find a replacement service. I use my Google mail account (used to use a program that managed that for me, but emailing to myself is just as easy), Google Docs (also allows for collaboration), and Mozy (2GB for free, unlimited space is very cheap).

    Locally I do a full backup weekly and incremental daily to a dedicated file server so that if I need to I can fully restore my system. If I could afford it I’d go with RAID 5 for the local store so that even HD crashes cause minimal loss.

    It would have to take a substantial disaster to lose my files.

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  8. About 10 years ago my son built me a marvelous computer, bleeding-edge current. It had twin hard drives built in, one for working, one for storage. You can see this coming, can’t you??? One day, the working HD went to computer heaven. No problem, we’ve got the backup HD. Replaced the first HD, went to copy everything over from the backup HD, and the BACKUP drive went to computer hell. I put my Get Out of Hell Free card in the slot, but I guess the gatekeeper wasn’t working that day. It took months to get everything back to the way it was. I now use a Western Digital outboard drive, keep that waaaaay far away.

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  9. Backing up is all very well one would think…. Many years ago I started a part-time job at a ‘resources’ company that had been backing up their files for only 3 years. I noticed that the backup files sizes were around 10k not the 10’s of megabytes one might reasonably expect for an overnight process initiated just before leaving at the end of the day.

    So I checked contents and the ‘files’ were just filenames!! On starting the typical backup as shown to me, total time to completion was about 10 mins. But no-one ever knew because no-one ever thought to check. Luckily they had never had a problem with discs crashing, probably due to the newness of the system. CHECK YOUR BACKUPS if you *can’t* actually use your the backup then it was a wasted effort.

    Definitely good advice. Amazing they never knew — I have to restore files all the time, usually due to an EBKAC (Error Between Keyboard And Chair). -rc

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  10. Having had computers since 1980 and hard drives since they were called “Winchesters,” I never had a crash until I bought a Dell Dimension 5000, since when I had two. I think Dell mounts the drives upside down for ease of access during installation but it means the read heads hit the drive disk from underneath instead of floating contactless above it on the usual air cushion. Since standing the tower upside down (inverting the CD-drive etc to make it right again) I’ve had no trouble. Even so, the desktop and laptop still back up new/altered files to each other nightly and the desktop backs up to Mozy nightly and both machines back up to a USB drive weekly. These precautions saved me after those crashes.

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  11. I’m a Support Escalation Engineer in the Microsoft SQL Server CSS team. I cannot tell you the number of corrupt database issues I have seen — my first question is always, “Do you have a backup?” No need to tell you what the answer usually is….

    First, do not trust a RAID array to completely protect you. When hardware goes south far enough and fast enough, you WILL get burned. This is probably more advanced for most, but keep in a mind that a RAID-5 pays a performance penalty with write operations.

    Second, review your System Event Logs regularly. Treat any event from “ftdisk” as a message of impending doom. There are other events to watch out for and you’ll learn to spot them.

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  12. I used CD-RW and now DVD-RW to make backups that I kept in my fire safe and in my safe deposit box. I had been thinking about moving to some slightly larger USB flash memory sticks. But I have also started using some software called CrashPlan. [Disclosure: my brother-in-law works for the company.] It can be used with their on-line service; however, it is geared towards peer-to-peer backup. Their main focus has been the Apple world but I use their PC and Linux clients. I am letting my family backup to my Linux server but I am still trying to find which one them has the space to let me back up to their PC. So for now I still do DVDs for the safe deposit box.

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  13. Just wanted to thank you for pointing to the NAS unit that you purchased. I use an external drive tied to a desktop on the home network that I only turn on once a week to do a weekly backup. Figure that will help extend drive life. I was not looking for new capability but the features of the NAS are really attractive and look like they would address a number of needs that I have. Thank you.

    My pleasure. Network Attached Storage drives are particularly good for people who have more than one computer. I have a computer for me, for video editing, and for order entry/processing, so the one backup drive gets the videos, the sales data bases, all my writing, etc. When the first (failed) NAS gets a new hard drive, I’ll be adding it to the mix too, to backup the backup. -rc

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  14. Even when you think you have a good backup (checking the size of it just isn’t enough) try restoring some of the data.

    I used to work for a software company doing medical charting software. This was used in a HUGE hospital down south somewhere (not allowed to say where). When we went and installed the software we spent quite a bit of time emphasizing the backup procedures. We showed them how to do it, and we even gave them checklists to ensure they followed all the procedures. Part of this was to restore part of the data in this huge database. Well they religiously backed up every night, but got lazy and assumed that the lack of error messages meant that there was no problem. Came the day when the system crashed and they went to restore only to find (you’ve guessed it) that the backups were corrupt and had been so for 6 months. So they lost all records of patient interaction for the entire hospital for 6 months. Fortunately (for us) it wasn’t our software that had the problems but the database we were using. After lots of work we restored most of the data, but there were a slew of jobs in IT that suddenly needed filling down there!

    Also please remember that a backup drive is just that, a backup. Don’t delete the data off the main drive to save space. We had a police officer with a hard drive that had simply frozen (bearings seized!) with the only copy of thousands of crime scene pics and witness statements on.

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  15. Do a google search on “data recovery” and you will find that even seized bearings aren’t a deterrent to recovering data off the original disk. Even with a head crash, most of the data is recoverable. The only data truly lost would be that scrapped off by the head crash.

    I like the idea of using flash drives for backup. I currently have more data to backup than even a DVD could hold. I’m going to start watching sales and pick up a few 8 to 16 GB flash drives to use. That should last me a while….

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  16. You’ve been luckier than me – I’ve averaged a laptop drive failure every 3-4 years. My 3rd such crash happened last year, and backups have saved my bacon, losing only a few hours worth of work.

    In addition to a local ‘bare metal’ backup of everything on the disk, I recommend an online plan as well. I used to use a commercial grade service, which was a little pricey, but now use and recommend Mozy, which I’ve been using a couple years, and runs about $50 annually.
    The ‘swap DVDs’ method (or take them to a safe deposit box) are fine – but I’ve got about 100GB (lot of it is photos from my line of work) protected online, and updated every night, rather than every week or two – with no need to leave the house.

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  17. You bet I have some comments. 🙂

    I have Zero Tolerance for people encouraging others to believe that spinning magnetic storage in the same building constitutes a “backup”; it doesn’t.

    Let me ask you two questions, Randy:

    1) What happens if the building burns down while you’re away?
    2) What happens if *either* hard drive crashes while you’re copying files to the other?

    At the very least, you need to maintain 2 separate backups, so that if your source disk dies *while you’re making a copy* you’ve got *something* to go back to* (you have got a broken source, and a half-overwritten target), and you’re *much* better off backing up the really critical stuff to movable storage (CD/DVD-ROM, or preferable tape — I like DLT and LTO), and taking at least one generation of it out of the building.

    Whether you encrypt your backups is a matter of taste. It makes them less likely to get scarfed by someone usefully, but makes you run the risk that you will have trouble restoring them.

    Don’t forget to *test* your backups as well — down to a bare-metal restore if that’s the sort you’re making — if you can’t restore it, it’s not a backup.

    And finally, consider the longevity of whatever software you’re backing up with. I can restore 25 year old Unix tar tape backups today, for free. Commercial backup software has a nasty tendency to go out of date on you, or not be installable on your new OS, or what have you; been bitten by 5 different versions of that problem in 20 years.

    I don’t mean to go off on a rant, here, but lots of people listen to what you tell them… and you’re perilously close to starring in one of your own pieces by intimating that a NAS box is good enough to qualify as a “backup”.

    If that’s all you’ve got, you’re not Backed Up, yet.

    To answer your questions, 1) I already addressed that very scenario, and 2) Then one of the copies is lost. -rc

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  18. Yes! I keep a backup of all my files. I keep two, actually.

    All files from my laptop and desktop backup to a simple USB hard drive array connected to the desktop. Both the desktop and the laptop transfer the files to the disk array via SecondCopy.

    I also use mozy.com to backup the backup. This is my “few miles away” insurance policy. If something crashes I have the local copy get me up and running fast. But should the backup and the desktop both die at the same time, I can restore files via Mozy.

    I do have to say thank you for this article. I have too many clients who don’t practice good backup. Sucks for them when something goes horribly wrong.

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  19. For a home user, or even a small business, there’s free and easily used backup solutions available. My favorite is Gmail from Google – I just email my backup account with the important documents attached, never delete it from my email, and voila, Google’s backing it up for me.

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  20. Is it a better option to copy your important stuff to a jump drive than a CD?

    Both have pros and cons. Both can fail. Doing both is a better idea. Doing either is better than doing nothing. -rc

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  21. I have been a specialist in the disaster recovery industry for many years. In those years I have seen just about every type of data failure and have lost count of the people and companies that thought they had a good backup and didn’t.

    One of the most common preconceptions is that CD’s and DVD’s are a good backup medium. Unfortunately, they are not. Neither of these media perform CRC error checks, so although you think you’ve got a good backup, there is no certainty unless you restore it all and check it.

    My recommendation would be to buy a low cost tape drive and back up to that. Make sure that it is verified then buy a fireproof case (make sure it is data, not paper safe) and leave it with a neighbour. Then you can put your tapes in the case, off site.

    Unfortunately, most people do not think about backups until they lose data. Most people think it won’t happen to them, but it does, all the time.

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  22. Great to see you have a NAS. I purchased a Buffalo TeraStation about 5 years ago when a TB was unthinkable for home storage. It is the greatest little thing I ever bought! I store all my music and copies of all my software (like those downloadable jobs that you never get back if you loose it!) It has been a life saver once or twice. I also use it to Ghost (HD imaging software) my machines as well as a few close friends. If something happens, I can bring it back with all the software already installed and ready to go in minutes. After all that, I have about 1/3 of it left. Good Luck and Bless My Buffalo (and yours!) !!!!

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  23. I’ve had a number of drive crashes over the years, including one that took a couple of years worth of writing work with it.

    These days I’ve taken to keeping the really important stuff online by emailing it to myself through Gmail. I’ve also got a decent amount of stuff also through Google Docs.

    Luckily, my last hard drive issue happened a month before my scheduled purchase of a whole new computer system and was a boot sector issue, so the data itself was intact. I still need to pull the data off the second drive, though.

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  24. I use an online backup service from CARBONITE. Once installed, it automatically and constantly backs up any file that is changed to their internet site. You don’t even have to think about it. It just does it.

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  25. Just one thing to beware of when putting computer media in a fire safe: A lot of fire safes are intended to protect paper. Paper will be fine even if its heated to several hundred degrees Fahrenheit; computer media will not be: do not expect it to protect for anything near the rated time.

    (Personally, I use Amazon S3.)

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  26. Re: your off-site backups. If the house/office burns down and all your backups are in the same place, they’ll burn up with the current data.

    I used to work as a computer operator in a huge data center. Every night we backed up all newly created/modified files from the past 24 hours. Every Friday night, we backed up all newly created/modified files from the past 7 days. And every month we did a full system backup.

    Granted, we used computer tapes, but we then sent them off-site to another company location on the other side of town.

    The hyper-critical files were then taken for ultra secure storage inside a mountain, a good distance away.

    Your scheme of trading CDs [or even DVDs] to which you’d burned backups, is an excellent idea and everyone should do so. I also like the idea of backups online somewhere.

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  27. I use a Mac Pro Desktop running Leopard with 4 bays for hard drives. It has an automatic backup in the background every hour onto a second drive (or to an external drive if so desired). It is called “Time Machine”. I had the occasion to reload my main (C) drive and after I updated the OSX I simply went into the Time Machine and reloaded everything and nothing was missed. Apple also has facility to upload to their cyberspace too which would take care of “what happens if my house burns down?”

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  28. My best strategy for making backups simple is breaking my data up in chunks. I have a folder for each year (Well, one within photos, one within my private stuff, and one within my published works folder).

    Backing up gets a lot easier since I can burn a few copies of each year, and then not have to touch the bulk of my files again.

    And contrary to what’s said above, CDs and DVDs do have error-checking codes — they use Reed-solomon error correction/detection codes. I don’t trust them not to degrade over time, so I refresh my backups periodically, and try to use good media. But so far, so good.

    I don’t consider whole-system backups a good plan for me, since I can get a fresh start as quickly as I can restore a backup, and if my data’s intact, I’m all good.

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  29. You still aren’t protected with a single drive backup. Please, I recommend a multi-drive backup solution. A RAID5 array (minimum of three hard drives all working together to form one drive) is best. That way, if one drive fails, the other two can work until you replace the third. If you can afford it, have a fourth drive as a “hot standby” so when the one drive crashes, the fourth just picks up and you continue working. Yes, at little pricey, but what is the time and effort lost if things crash around you!

    Enjoy your posts and keep ’em coming.

    Please read my post again, Cyber. It is very clear that I don’t depend on a single backup. -rc

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  30. I have had the same computer for 7 years and last month upgraded the motherboard and installed a backup hard drive to make an exact copy of the hard drive. Should the original fail, I can just keep on going with the other drive.

    LIke you that isn’t enough for me, I have the same deal with an external hard drive which I keep at the office, so if the house goes up, the files are still there.

    Losing a couple of decades worth of joke emails which are like your Jumbo Joke pages, would be more can I can bear.

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  31. When the only option for backup was using 3-1/2″ disks, it was a pain to mark them all with which files, or go through the incredibly tedious process of a complete periodic backup to such disks. So naturally, one day I lost all my data. About that time, a new technology had just come out, streaming tape backups, which I immediately bought. It spent more time synching itself than actually backing up, so it went by the wayside before long. The next time, years later, I ran into such a problem wasn’t actually a drive crash, but a corrupted OS. So I had to use old DOS commands to rescue my data files. Now, with 250-1000GB drives, it would be impossible except for the continually dropping prices on external USB drives. So now it’s a lot easier.

    Still, I really have to wonder about the OCD comments about backing up the backups on a backup system that’s been backed up with backups on another backup system by backing up… Oh, forget it. Anyway, I used to do work for a major corporation on temporary setups that wanted redundancy for everything, JUST IN CASE of failure. (Of course, they complained about cost.) To show the futility of “planning” for ANYTHING that could possibly go wrong, I asked them about losing building power. You guessed it, they began insisting on building-size electric generators for those setups, just in case, you know. (You might have guessed that it’s one of those companies currently begging the government for bailout.)

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  32. For the price of that external hard drive, Randy could have bought almost four years worth of backup service from carbonite.com. The data would be stored (with strong encryption) in a world-class data center on highly redundant servers. Backups happen “all the time” in the background, so there’s no risk of forgetting the backup.

    The useful life of a hard drive is normally considered to be 4-5 years, so Carbonite is only a little more expensive but much more reliable and secure.

    The best backup solution is one that a) you’ll do, and b) that works. Online solutions are definitely useful for some. -rc

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  33. My wife and I use each other’s computers to back up our own files. For example, music collection on her PC, backed up to mine; pictures stored on my PC, backed up to hers. I then use a portable hard drive to back up both computers and store it in our safety deposit box at the bank up the street.

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  34. I have several PC’s and Laptops at home – mainly for personal use. I run a dual portable harddrive backup. I keep one at my work office, and the other at home. Periodically I swap them. Works for me!

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  35. “I’ve been incredibly lucky that in 25 years of professional writing work that I’ve never had a hard drive crash.”

    Amazing fortune. I’ve worked through four hard drive crashes in the past twelve months… no matter how well something’s backed up, it’s still agony to deal with the downtime and recovery process. Losing the boot partition means an evening of reinstalling the OS and setting up the unique combination of apps that this computer needs (don’t bother suggesting ghosting/imaging, as the image changes constantly), and if that’s on one of our primary servers, we’re down for usually an entire day. Insanely annoying.

    Still, if we had no backups, one disk crash would set us back months or even *years*. Considering that it costs us only a few minutes a week to prevent that, it’s well worthwhile (behold the power of automated backups). Actually, one of the easiest ways to run backups is just to hang onto the old hard drive after you upgrade (“This ancient 40GB drive is too small, we need a terabyte for this computer now”) and copy crucial files across to it. Works wonderfully!

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  36. I have a system similar to Matt in Wellington:

    Stage 1) I have a 500GB drive in my desktop that stores a mirror of important files on the other drives. This helps if I have a single drive crash.

    Stage 2) I mirror the mirror regularly (not nightly, though – I should fix that) onto an external USB drive, which lives in the safe (fireproof, but probably not data-rated).

    Stage 3) I also mirror the mirror onto an external USB drive that’s kept in my filing cabinet at work. I update this backup about monthly.

    Selected files that are deemed to have a higher level of importance are also backed up onto quality DVD media (don’t trust the cheap ones!), and kept in several places. All backups are randomly checked by opening some files to see if they’re ok – I’ve not found a problem yet.

    This keeps all our photos & emails relatively safe, though we could potentially lose a month’s worth in the event of a fire.

    I’d really like a NAS or home server, though, to share storage between the desktop & laptop (and before you ask – the important files on the laptop are backed up onto the desktop and then backed up from there).

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  37. To those who think that OCD backups are, well, obsessive, how would you explain to a producer (with his house on the block) that an entire series footage got burnt down with the production facility, last night? and then say that you thought backups were for crazy people? Different horses for courses, of course!

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  38. I got my first computer twenty years ago, but my first hard drive about a year later. I remember starting a project–a Ham Radio program that could send and receive Morse code. I had worked on the project and developed the entire program in sections. After an all-night session one Friday/Saturday, I finished the program. I made several copies on 5-1/2-inch disks. That afternoon I took a couple of copies of the program with me to show it to some friends at the local computer store. I could not retrieve the program. (A year or so later, I would have been able to recover it, I do learn how things work eventually.) But at the time, I had to re-create it.

    I tried to keep copies of important files (photographs for example) on more than one computer. I finally set up a home network with three or four computers that allowed me to transfer any files I wanted to keep. It worked well.

    However I only had one disk crash that took out everything. I had practically everything on another computer. Having the computers networked made it easy to keep copies of important files safe from a disk crash. I also managed to make about six CDs of important pictures and many other CDs of important files so that I would be able to reconstruct practically everything.

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  39. Instead of burning your files to CD, you can use crashplan, which will automatically back up your files to your friend’s computer (and his to yours too).

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  40. I have been using an external hard drive, backing up to it weekly, since an unfortunate incident several years ago when I reformatted my hard drive in my laptop.

    Several months ago, the hard drive in my laptop crashed. I was not worried, as I had everything recently backed up, including papers for my Masters program. When I got my laptop back, I plugged in the external hard drive. The power came on, and then nothing.

    There was a failure in the external hard drive as well, and I did not have $1500 extra to try to retrieve the data!

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  41. I bought backup software a few years ago after my Mac HD crashed (nasty sound, that) and a Passport external drive with more than enough storage. The first time that I needed it, however, the restore function didn’t work. In reading the fine print of the DOC I found a disclaimer that stated in effect, “may not always work”, in which case they were not liable! So while I do backup regularly I have no illusions that it will protect me absolutely. I no longer use that program though.

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  42. As an accountant, I have a great deal of confidential information on my computer that I wouldn’t want to re-build — probably couldn’t! I use a remote backup service (Mozy, in my case) which safely stores my data in their computers. Thus, no natural or unnatural disaster here will affect my data there! I also do a local backup (Genie) to an external hard drive here at home. When my computer died a few months ago, it made it so much easier to restore all my stuff to the new computer! I like the security of two different methods, neither of which require anything from me, as they run automatically every night.

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  43. I have run a computer repair shop for 11 years. Every day I see people who refuse to back up their files. They just can’t seem to “get a round tuit”. I’ve also seen the anguish of people who’ve lost all their stuff, and the joy of those I’ve been able to retrieve. This is what I know for sure.

    Eventually something WILL happen to your computer to jeopardise your data.
    Ninety percent of the time a “crashed hard drive” is just Windows not booting. Your data is still there and intact. Booting to a CD like Selkie Rescue will give you access to your files.

    Flash memory keys are not reliable backup devices. They are fragile. So are external hard drives. Writable DVD’s are the safest backup devices.

    You only need to back up your data. Operating System and applications are already backed up on their own CD’s. Downloaded applications should be copied to CD.

    Backup every day you create new content. Period.

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  44. Whoever uses NAS drives: What speed do you get out of them?

    I’ve got GigE, but even then, backing up movies (10GB for 2 church services) gets quite a bit longwinded.

    Which leads me to another question: Right now I keep everything (hey, I have space), but after “producing” the service, the space drops down to 2GB. How much value do you all place on “before” pieces of work? I don’t see myself remastering it, but…?

    My backups are in the background, so I don’t know — or care — how long it takes. A daily incremental backup only takes a minute or two. -rc

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  45. Short and to the point: welcome to hard disk hell. I use external ones in tandem (two of them) because I already had TWO crash. The really, really important ones (no porn there) goes DVD. If my house burns, losing them will be my least important problem…and a good alibi!

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  46. I lost my hard drive last year due to an unknown fault (it was completely dead, though). In trying to retrieve data from my backup drive, the data became inaccessible. I was still able to mount the volume from the backup drive and retrieve my data despite it showing as “unformatted”. Once I’d got everything copied, I had to reformat the backup drive and set it up again, but I had no problem with reinstalling and retrieving anything. I would much rather spend a day reinstalling all my programs and data than weeks afterwards kicking myself for not backing up something.

    I save all installers to my desktop and my desktop is backed up to the external hard drive – so if my hard drive gets fried (as happened), I can reinstall all my programs without needing to go and get all the disks or hunt around on the Internet for them. I save all my downloaded program keys online.

    Ideally I want a backup offsite for my music and pictures and a few other odd files but I don’t want them to be accessible to anyone else (including people working for backup companies), which is preventing me from backing up online.

    I used to use Memeo AutoBackup. Until I figured out that it was only backing up 1 in 3 of the files in my picture folders and missing some folders entirely. Despite liaising with Memeo support, who told me to basically reset everything (didn’t work), force the backups to run (didn’t work) and reinstall Memeo (didn’t work), Memeo refused to back up all the files. Then we had a power cut and I lost one file I’d created the previous evening that just vanished. The power cut happened early on in the day and Memeo hadn’t backed up the file, so it disappeared. Luckily, my double backup system meant I’d backed it up on my flash drive the previous day and I didn’t lose it completely. Needless to say, I asked for a refund after that.

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  47. I, being a paranoid sort of fellow, also rely on multiple backups. However, my company is small, although in the 10 years I’ve been working, I have never lost anything due to HD failure. Came close when the PC was getting out of date, but the wonderful company that built my Frankenstein computer, High Performance Computers in Evanston, transferred all my old data to my new PC. So, I tend to have a secondary HD just for business files (ok, I use it for more than JUST business, but it’s primarily business and larger files, like moves and music videos).

    The corporate stuff is backed routinely to CD (DVD now, since it’s a few gigs), and it’s either monthly or anytime I make a large change to the files. I also have a Flash drive and CD of my most frequently used files, which I also transfer a lot. I am looking into a portable HD, based on the recommendation of an IT person from the corporate world I know, and will soon be looking into multiple PCs and more types of backups as more money becomes available (damn recession!).

    Fortunately, the bulk of my work is already on my website, so I could always retrieve it from there if needed, and the only “real” loss would be in the multiple stock images I have saved that took some time to research, but that is why I do multi-backups. At this point, RAID arrays and NAS boxes aren’t cost-efficient for me, but once I get to that point that it becomes cost-effective, I would look into it.

    During my time working for others (especially my last place of employment), I have learned that most people are dumb, and will freely lose stuff thinking that the “magic restore” will just re-create everything for them, so no need to worry about exercising caution or any of those silly precautions! That stuff is for losers! Just wave Dogbert’s magic wand of technology and everything will be right with the world!

    The NAS I bought was only $200 for a full terabyte (less, if you don’t need that much). That’s pretty cheap! -rc

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  48. Several posters mentioned using Carbonite for online backups. That may very well meet your needs, but be sure to verify that it backs up everything you want to protect. When I tried it, it failed to back up certain tyoes of files. Carbonite support said that was by design, and the only way around it was to specify files by name. I found that unacceptable.

    Someone else said, “You only need to back up your data. Operating System and applications are already backed up on their own CD’s. Downloaded applications should be copied to CD.” That’s certainly true as far as the applications themselves go, but operating systems and applications are often heavily customized. If you don’t back up those customizations as well, you’ll probably find that it takes several days to get your system back the way you want it following a loss, even if you recover your data completely.

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  49. Re: restoring after crash & ‘bare metal’ backup

    When I used the term ‘bare metal’ backup, I mean I boot from a CD and do a backup that copies everything on the disk. (I use Acronis but there are many choices.)

    When my laptop disk crashed, I bought another disk, put it in, and did a ‘restore’ – EVERYTHING was restored in one step – operating system, all applications, settings, customizations.

    Then I followed up and restored the last couple days work on my critical files from the backups on Mozy (or Carbonite or whichever online service you choose to use).

    That’s much easier than reloading all your software one by one — although you miss the chance for the ‘spring cleaning’ of getting rid of stuff you weren’t using much anyway.

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  50. As someone else already mentioned, I use mozy.com for online backups. They give you 2GB of space for free and for a few bucks a month you get unlimited space.

    Also for those who worry about security, there is an option to encrypt your backup locally before it is uploaded, with a key only known to you.

    I pay for my main computer to have unlimited space and use a free account on my secondary machine (in addition to local backups of important files).

    They keep 30 days worth of incremental backups too which is very useful when you save over a file and then wish you could “undo” it to get the original back.

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  51. And then there was the time when my hard drive crashed in the middle of a large backup of months of source code on a program I was developing. You can never back up too soon. It cost me hundreds of dollars (1987 dollars) to recover the files 15 seconds at a time by a recovery company. I now use Carbonite, after having used a personal backup server for years. I accept that backups need to be automatic (for me).

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  52. You are emphasizing what I have said for years. So many people have saved documents, photos, etc on their computer and eliminated the paper that clutters up their surroundings. I have run my computer with dual harddrives for years and weekly back up my emails and monthly back up my primary hard drive to my secondary hard drive. But the worry of a house fire has had me looking into on line data storage systems.

    Thanks for the heads up reminder!

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  53. Now, I’ve seen a lot of talk about online storage, but I’ve never used it as any kind or primary backup. I have stuff in photobucket, but it’s not anything I would rely on, since anything could happen. Granted, anything could happen to any other kind of backup, but third party applications not run by me isn’t something I would consider. Is that kind of thing really an reliable option?

    I’d think so — usually. I’ll bet they all have “no liability” clauses in their user agreements, though, since anything can happen …and usually does. -rc

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  54. Having been an IT professional for 30+ years I too know the importance of backups. I have my home PC backed up automatically at 2am every day. Once a week I do a full backup and I do incrementals the other 6 days. I keep 2 full backups. The reason for this is what do i do if there is a crash while doing the back up and today’s backup is overwriting last week’s. I would have nothing. I have 6 files for my incrementals, MONDAY, TUESDAY, etc. This week’s Monday overwrites last week’s Monday. At worst I lose a day’s worth of work.

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  55. I’ve been backing up my home computers for years. I used tape drives for awhile, then switched to DVDs, but now I use an IDE/SATA–>USB cable kit to back up to hard drives. The cable kit allows me to buy cheap internal hard drives, which I hook up as external drives temporarily via the cable kit. When I’m not backing up to them, I keep them stored away, out of sight. I have three backup hard drives that I rotate between, and I always keep the most recent one at my work building. (Yes, I agree that an offsite back up is critical.) I do these back ups every month or two.

    Meanwhile, I also do a daily backup of current working files on a 16 Gb flash drive, which allows me to also carry them easily between my work and home computers. There have been a number of cases in which I’ve accidentally deleted or trashed a file I was working on, which I recovered from with minimal pain thanks to my trusty flash drive.

    The flash drive, cable kit, and 3 hard drives represent an investment of less than $300. I think it was money well spent.

    This whole back up routine might seem a nuisance, but I was really glad I’d done it when someone broke into our house years ago and stole our computer. I’m utterly amazed at how many people (the vast majority, it seems) have absolutely no backup plan at all. If you are one of them, then for heaven’s sake (or rather, your data’s sake) stop in a local computer store on the way home today and buy a 500 Gb hard drive (less than $100) and a cable kit ($25) and back up your home computer TODAY. Don’t put it off!

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  56. Surely you know, Randy, that there are two kinds of user: those that HAVE experienced major hard disk failure, and those that are GOING TO experience major hard disk failure. You’ve just moved from one group to the other! Congratulations for making the move as smooth as possible.

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  57. Here is it 3+ years later, and I’d like to call attention (to anyone still reading) to the availability of online backups. One user already recommended Carbonite (which I don’t use because of bandwidth throttling) and I’d like to add CrashPlan to the mix: I get unlimited backup space (and unlimited versions) for only $25/yr/computer.

    And with more and more people using tablets and smartphones, do you have a backup plan for those? -rc

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  58. For phones, I subscribe to a contacts backup, for an extra $5 a month.

    I also use a Blackberry for addresses, and I back that up every so often with the data cable, and it’s helped me a lot.

    I now use multiple external HDs to back up my files, and still save in multiple locations.

    Haven’t looked into Carbonite YET, but as I said, I do have Photobucket.

    I need to get back to using multiple DVD-RW as a tertiary backup. I used CD-RW until my files became too big.

    My paranoia has helped when I accidentally overwrote a file with a blank file of the same name that was only meant to merge into the existing, and not replace. My main backup instantly replaced the file, and I thought I would have to re-create, but my manual backup had the file, so I just copied it back over.

    There are still a few things not backed up, but I’m working on it.

    I use Google to back up my contacts (free). I love it when I get a new phone: I log in, and suddenly my contacts and appointments are there. I’m on my third Android (they just keep getting better!), so that alone has saved an enormous amount of time in addition to “worry.” The only thing I really “create” on my phone is photos; those get backed up immediately via Dropbox (also free for a basic account; there’s only a charge if you need more than the fairly generous space provided). -rc

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  59. @Greg, I stopped using removeable media for backups, when it just became too time-consuming (Carbonite, CrashPlan, etc just run in the background 24×7). I don’t even rely on external hard drives anymore because, often times, these are low-grade drives packed in plastic boxes without adequate shock absorbers and treated as unbreakable (just to establish my bonafides, I’ve been working in IT support for 20+ years and seen my fair share of drive crashes). It sounds like you’ve got a good handle on things though, as long as you follow the most overlooked rule of backups: Test often! I learned that the hard way, when I had to testify to the SEC about why the financial company I was supporting was missing 6 months of files and emails (we were required to keep 7 years’ worth).

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  60. I can also vouch for Google Android contacts, calendar and stuff. It has helped me immensely when I drowned my (waterproof! Not sitting at a bottom of a pool for two hours waterproof though) phone.

    Even though I did not use another Android, I just pulled my contacts in a .csv file and imported that. Just out of curiosity, what kind of a phone do you sport nowadays? I got a Nexus 4 recently and could hardly be happier.

    As for computer backup I use a couple of methods. These days, I backup my documents on Google Drive (formerly Google Docs), other files at Dropbox, yet others on Drive (depends on what they are and who I collaborate on them with), and some on other systems such as EasyCapsa or SkyDrive. Less important files are mirrored across my home network.

    I am also currently looking at buying a Pogoplug device, which should also include unlimited cloud storage, and would fit well with my intention of replacing a spare laptop with Raspberry Pi as a media center connected to the TV.

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