A Public Service Announcement from your friends at Mightor Industries.


Next to making sure your computer is actually turned on and running, one of the most important tasks when it comes to operating your computer is to make sure you have a backup of your data.  Now we all generate some kind of data, whether it be emails, documents, financial information, taxes, etc.  What happens if all that data goes away?  Especially tax data?  Let’s hope the IRS doesn’t come knocking on your door for an audit, otherwise you’re screwed.


But my computer is running pretty well and I shut it off every night before I go to bed, you say.  How could I possibly lose my data?  In today’s world of constant connectivity, there are more chances for a debilitating virus infecting your system or even worse, a power outage that fries your system.  Protecting your data so that you have access to it is so important.  Never lost data?  Lucky you.  I can guarantee that if you do not have a backup strategy in place, you will if you ever go through a system crash or a major virus infestation.


About a year and a half ago, I was working on a system that was running out of disk space.  I had spoken with the customer’s local technical support about adding a secondary drive to the system so that we could move the software that I support onto that second disk, to alleviate the burden on the main disk.  Once the drive had been put in place, I proceeded to move the software and all of the data to the second disk.  Now, during this process, I had taken a backup of the database and verified that it was where I expected it to be before removing it.  Since I had done that, I went ahead and removed the database from the system, since my procedure had always been to use the backup I had taken to restore the database on the new drive.  However, sometime during the process of moving the data, I LOST the database backup, the only copy I had to work with.  That’s when my stress levels started to go up. I spent the next 6 hours trying to figure out a way to recover the file I had lost, but to no avail.  When I contacted the customer’s local tech the following morning to explain the situation, he indicated to me that the customer was not backing up their system.  My heart sunk deep into my chest at this point, because I had NO idea what the hell I was going to do to recover this database backup, which happens to be the heart of the software.  No database = PACK UP AND GO HOME because you’re done!  No record of anything the business had done for 3 years.  Fortunately, Windows Server 2003 had a facility to back up files on the system to itself twice a day.  Using that facility (Shadow Copy), we were able to recover the database from mid day the day before, and they only had to key in a half day’s worth of business transactions.  I can live with that.  Lesson to be learned: ALWAYS have a good backup that is NOT on the system itself before proceeding with removing any data.


How does the above story apply to you?  Take a backup!  Keep it offsite, at least to the point where offsite means on removable media that can be taken elsewhere.  The options for backup go from the least extreme to the most extreme. Depending on the amount and importance of your data, you may decide that a USB flash drive is sufficient.  If you have more than what a flash drive will hold, you may decide that an external hard drive will solve your issue.  However, both flash drives and external hard drives have one problem: they’re almost always connected to the system you’re working with, so it doesnt give you the “offsite” requirement that we mentioned above.  Why offsite?  Natural disasters.  What happens now if your computer, along with your external hard drive, are blown away by a tornado.  Or better yet, what if they’re burned up in a massive fire because you decided to microwave a plate of nachos and the microwave malfunctioned, causing a huge fire that you couldn’t contain (fire is more likely than a tornado, depending on where you live).  You want your data to be in a safe location.  What are the chances that your house and the location you keep your backup (say a good friend you trust) burn down at the same time?  Fairly remote, I’d say.


One of the best offsite solutions I’ve come across in the recent past is to backup to the cloud using services like Carbonite and Crashplan.  Both services are fairly inexpensive to the home user (approximately $50 per year for unlimited storage).  Depending on how important your data is, $50 seems like a reasonable investment.  All you need for this is an internet connection.  Once you’ve identified what data you want to back up, these services will then create a copy of your data and move it to their servers for storage, which is encrypted, so they can’t root around through your data.  The other appeal that I really like about these online backup solutions is that they are always running.  Anytime you change a file, a backup is being done shortly after.  There’s less to worry about as far as “When was the last time I ran a backup of my system” because its just happening automatically.


If you’re a software developer or in some other sort of IT profession, I would suggest Crashplan over Carbonite, simply because Carbonite has restrictions on the type of files that you can back up.  Disk images (ISO files) and Executables (EXE files) are both files that Carbonite will not back up.  The other appeal to Crashplan is that you can also back up to another running Crashplan, as long as you and the user of the computer you wish to back up to are “Friends”.  This gives you another point of entry, as the restoration process could be lengthy if you’re trying to recover 100GB of data from Crashplan’s servers,when you may want to just walk down the street to your friend’s house with an external hard drive to recover your data.   A backup scheme is only as good as its recovery process and both Crashplan and Carbonite allow you access to your data from any computer, as long as it has access to the internet.  For $50/year, I’m sold (<rant>if I could only get my rear end in gear on getting my connectivity  issues fixed on my computer upstairs…..</rant>).


Backup your systems.  You’ll be glad you did!