Timely Reminder To Backup

Normally I’d post something like this to my technical blog however, if you are reading my technical blog, hopefully you’d already be doing your backups regularly.

Once again, I’m in the business of hard drive recover. (I should start charging, if I charged even a fraction of what the data recovery companies charge, I’d be rich, especially as they charge it with no guarantees of getting any data off your drive!) It would be a lot easier and cheaper for everyone, if people maintained good recent backups. Hard drives are cheap and big, which means you can have a few so you can duplicate your content between them all. Unfortunately, actually doing backups and keeping track of them is where the problem is. And, people view each hard drive as available space, so when a friend has some new TV Show they want, they don’t think twice about clearing some space on a drive for it, space that should probably be for backing up data.

Simply put, Hard Disk Drives are not to be trusted. Hard Drives are not indestructible, and they WILL fail in your lifetime. This goes for all common storage formats, CD’s, flash drives, portable hard drives, laptop hard drives, desktop hard drives, DVD’s, and whatever new form of storage you are carrying around today.

So here is a quick and easy to follow HOW-TO to backups. Please, don’t skip over it and think you’ll do it another day, do it TODAY!

First, if you are a low data user. Your main data you have is word documents, a bit of photos, etc. You are most likely only going to have 1 computer, and probably don’t use portable hard drives or flash drives much. So you probably have between 1Gb and 10Gb of important data. This method will work for bigger amounts of data but will start costing you a monthly fee as well as using lots of internet.

Use an online storage service, one that syncs your data automatically in the background. The first service I’m going to recommend is Dropbox. The free version gives you 2Gb, up to a maximum of 10Gb (I think) when you get referrals. So for every person I get to signup, I get an extra 250Mb, as do they (so using that link above helps me and you). It runs on Windows, Linux and Mac, and makes it very easy to keep your files automatically backed up. And for a monthly fee, you can increase your storage space. I personally only use it for backing up my documents, and a few software projects I’m actively working on. It also keeps things synced between a number of computers so that I can work on a document on my laptop, come home and it’s already synced on my home computer.

Another similar service is SugarSync. The free version gives you 5Gb of storage, and again has a referal system to get more storage. It doesn’t work on Linux but does work on Mac and Windows. I’ve not used it myself yet so can’t comment much more.

If you are a medium user. This would be someone who uses the computer more often. Probably have 20-30Gb of photos, 5Gb of music, maybe 1Gb of documents you’ve collected from Uni and School and probably some TV shows. All up, 50-300Gb. You may have already outgrown your computers hard drive and have an external drive that you use to store your TV Shows.

This is where External Hard Drives come in. You are going to need 1 or 2 dedicated to backups. This are not the external drives you use daily, but rather drives you backup on, and then don’t use until next time you backup. Ideally these hard drives will be Desktop ones (they are not very portable and need a power supply). I recommend at least 2. This is simply using backup software on your computer to do regular backups. I recommend weekly. You need 2 hard drives because you should make 2 backups. This means you’ll end up with 1 original, and 2 copies. I’d also recommend that like the Light user above, you use Dropbox or SugarSync or a similar service to backup your essential things.

For windows users, I can recommend SyncBack. I’ve not used it in a long time, but the free version should be sufficient. Windows 7 also includes built in backup software, but I have no experience with it. Maybe you can use SyncBack for one drive, and Windows Backup for the other?

For Mac users, I believe Time Machine should be sufficient. However you may need to research some more ideas.

If you are lucky, and have a modem (like BoB) that allows attaching an external hard drive, you can access the drive over the wireless or wired network. This will make it easier to backup to that drive as schedules can run without you needing to get the hard drive out and plug it in. Like any backup system, it will only work if the backups are done regularly. Having software remind is an aid, you still need to do the work of getting the drive and plugging it in. AND, make sure these drives are only used for backups! It’s useless turning your backup drive in to a storage drive for all those TV Shows your friend is giving you, because when a drive fails, it’s not the TV Shows you’ll care about!

Lastly, If you are a power user. You probably don’t need to be reading this because you’ll already have a great backup system in place! However, if you feel that the previously mentioned backup systems just aren’t good enough for you, keep reading.

I recommend a NAS. A Network Attached Storage system. And not just a hard drive with a network port, but a RAID based one. Please, do not read this as “RAID is Backup” because RAID is not a backup method, however it does protect you from drive failures more than JBOD (Just a Bunch Of Disks). For a basic backup system, a 2 disk NAS with RAID 1 (Mirroring).  Then you have your computer do regular backups to that NAS. Ideally a complete backup monthly, with incremental backups weekly or daily. If space permits, store 2-3 months of backups. Again, I’d recommend one of the online services for your critical documents. As you go up to a bigger system, say 4 disk and above, you’ll want to probably use RAID 10. I would not recommend RAID 5 or 6 as disks are cheap. Go for something that will work well and fast, and not be demanding on your little NAS. Also, if you can get a NAS that does Linux software RAID, then if the controller dies, you can just pop the drives into a Linux box and get all your data off very easily.

This kind of system will scale from 500Gb all the way to 8Tb fairly easily. If your backup needs are bigger than that, I’d say you probably already have a decent system in place!

I’d be happy to recommend both QNAP and Thecus. If you are looking for the cheaper smaller systems, then WD My Book World Edition seems to be ok (ensure you are getting a 2 disk version that can mirror).

Again, a backup only works if it’s done regularly. Backups should also be tested, ensuring the data on them is actually usable. No point doing a backup to find it doesn’t work. For a simple backup, browsing through the backup and picking files at random to check they open properly would be ok. Ideally use a backup system that can verify backups. It will do this by reading every single file after it’s been backed up, and comparing it to the original.

And if you want to know why you should backup, it’s because it takes much less time to restore from a backup, than to recover from a loss.  In the time it’s taken to write this, the recovery software restoring from a dead hard drive has managed to restore only about 100Mb. The drive is 500Gb. It’ll probably take 48hrs to restore all the easily readable data from this drive, any sections that are badly damaged could take days to be restored, if ever.

Backup, save yourself lots of stress, time and money. And save me a couple days of recovery!

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