Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sleep Well at Night: Have a Good Backup Strategy

computer hard drive

Today, I didn't need my backups. I was lucky.

Last night, I took my MacBook over to Judy Shintani's studio for her Women's Do Your Own Thing Night. I pressed the power button, and my MacBook powered on - but the screen was blank. I took it home, hooked it up to my external monitor - again, nothing. So I pulled out my iPhone, made an appointment at the Apple Store, and tried not to lose too much sleep.

And today I got a new logic board installed - under warranty. But I'm lucky that the logic board was my problem, and not my hard drive, because my last backup was about a week old. OK, losing a week of data wouldn't be too horrible - but it wouldn't have been fun, either.

So the first thing I did when I returned home was to do a new backup, and recommit to doing those backups every night.

Given my experience, I smiled when the following item popped up in my Google Reader today: Yes. Another Backup Lecture.

That comes from Merlin Mann, who starts out quoting John Gruber:
Hard drives are fragile. Read as much as you can bear to about how they work, how incredibly precisely they must operate in order to cram so many bits onto such small disks. It’s a miracle to me that they work at all. Every hard drive in the world will eventually fail. Assume that yours are all on the cusp of failure at all times. It’s good to be spooked about how long your hard drives will last.
Merlin goes on to say:
- If it’s not automated, it’s not a real backup.
- If it’s not redundant, it’s not a real backup.
- If it’s not regularly rotated off-site, it’s not a real backup.
Given that guidance, I'm looking at making my reasonably-good backup strategy even better, since I fail on the "automated" part.

Lots of things can go wrong with a computer. Here's John Locke's story: "Last week, my laptop died a sudden spectacular death-by-drowning, as a full cup of coffee poured into its keyboard." You might get some warning signs that your hard drive is about to fail - but not always, even if you don't spill coffee on your machine.

Want some help coming up with a backup strategy? If you're on a Mac, you might read The No-worry Backup Plan for a good overview of your options.

Related Posts:
Don't Lose Your Computer Files: Do Your Backups
Backup Your Data - Avoid Heartache and Pain

Related Newsletter:
Lessons Relearned in the Last Weeks of 2009 (see #3)

[photo by Mac Users Guide, found on Flickr and licensed under Creative Commons]


Julie Bestry said...

So tell us, Jeri, what's your plan for making it automated? Mozy? Carbonite? A diligent hottie named Jeeves?

Jeri Dansky said...

Julie, I currently back up to a rotating series of external hard drives - they are bootable hard drives, making data recovery VERY quick and easy. (I know, because I've sued one. Hurray for SuperDuper.)

What I was thinking of adding to the mix is Time Machine.

Yogamamarazzi said...

My hard drive crashed last year and cost $$$$ to recover. Now I am really loving the convenience of It doesn't slow down my machine and I like being able to see what has been backed up. I still do occasional DVD & external hard drive backups once in a while, but I like having copies offsite. usually has a discount code.

Jeri Dansky said...

Yogamamarazzi, congratulations on now having a good backup system in place. I know many people like Carbonite and Mozy - and as Merlin says, automatic and offsite are both good things.

I imagine a full restore over the Internet would be quite time-consuming,though. So those additional back-ups to external hard drives sound very worthwhile to me. And that gets you redundancy, too.