BitDepth 485 - August 09

A reader's woes with backup trigger a trilogy of backup advice.
Backing up is hard to do

Getting a good grip on your hard disk's data isn't easy, with ever bigger drives sold in shrinking cases. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

It wasn't quite the chorus The Carpenters sang, but it's a sad tune chorused in close harmony by more and more computer users. It's said that there are only two kinds of people working with computers, those who have had a crash and lost files and those who will.
As computer systems become commodities in the market place, their components have devolved into mass produced widgets, churned out on production lines that run on quality percentages.
There's a reason for the continuous drop in the price of computer systems and it isn't all economies of scale; some of it comes from the cost efficiencies of relaxing quality control.

It's one thing, an expensive thing admittedly, for your motherboard to burn out, your RAM to fail or for your video card to suddenly stop working.
But it's a mangy, glue-factory destined horse of a decidedly sickly colour when your hard drive, the repository of your carefully collected files, e-mails and hard work, suddenly decides it's time to quietly expire, taking your digital life along with it.
When that happens, there are really only three things you can consider doing with the drive; you can go neanderthal on it and wreak bloody, splintering vengeance on it with a blunt object, you can pay thousands of dollars to a company like Drivesavers to recover your files or you can carefully reconstruct your disk from your collection of backups.

This column (along with next week's, on using backup software) was inspired by a tale of agony from reader
TJ, who complains that inspite of having a gigabyte's worth of flash memory on a USB storage device, a 750MB Zip disk and a CD burner, he is still isn't confident about the security of his data.
"I often get nervous about lack of backup for the backup, a real scare, since the technician who was installing the Speedstream modem accidentally let his boot touch the protruding (front-loaded) stick and bent the connection."
The end goal of any good backup system is a seamless restore. You should be able to recover an entire hard drive in a day or less, allowing for a full system reinstall and restoring mission critical applications. Getting to a lost or accidentally deleted file should take a few minutes.

A good backup is useless unless you can restore your computer's usefulness, and I have to tell you, this is something you won't be able to do this yourself.
After long years of losing a file here and there because I forgot to follow my own regimen, I've handed the toil of backing up my data over to the computer.
That's the answer to TJ's problem, and the salve for his frustration with that antiquated Zip disk and Iomega's annoying backup software.

The first step in adopting a solid backup regimen is to instill some loose discipline in the way you organise files. It's possible to use backup software to duplicate the contents of your hard disk, but it's more practical to identify a crucial subset of the mass of files that lurk on today's multigigabyte hard drives.
Both Windows XP and Mac OS X make this easier for users by offering folders for documents and other files that tend to appear as the defaults for most applications and are usually recognised by backup software as the first choices for safekeeping.
Most people can manage with backups to removeable flash drives or CDs, but collectors of photography, video and music files on a rapidly filling 60-120 gigabyte drive may want to consider a DVD burner as part of a modern backup regimen.

While you assemble the parts of your backup system and organise your files into neat folders, I leave you, in the best tradition of DJ's all over the world, with something by Mr Sedaka and Mr Greenfield to hum as you consider losing all your data...
Don't take your love away from me
Don't you leave my heart in misery
If you go, then I'll be blue
Cause breakin' up is hard to do.
Next week's more upbeat song will be "Working in a code mine", happy steps to backup nirvana.
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