Several times this year, friends of mine have reported catastrophic failures of their personal computer equipment. As we all become untethered from our offices–and expand our computer abilities–we also disconnect from the silent lifesaving service of carefree backups. These backups are implemented by organizations with sound information technology policies – and staff adept enough to make it happen. The policy here is COOP (continuity of operations) in the event of some catastrophe. The retail space really hasn’t gone far enough to provide one stop coverage. The pieces are there. But you are on your own to assemble them.
I have been hit like everyone else with numerous workstation and laptop failures since I began my firm in 2001. Because of this scheme, I have been able to recover 100% of my functionality within hours. I recommend it for small commercial and personal use. There are downsides that I will note as I go along. Compared to having to rebuild over the course of weeks, I’ll take every downside on the list.
Here’s my solution.
- Never, Ever Put Your Data On Your Computer’s Hard Drive. Your hard-drive is for your operating system and installed software. That’s it. With terabyte drives becoming derigeur in workstations and laptops, this seems absurd on the face of it. Apparently you haven’t suffered enough. They install big hard drives because it’s no more expensive for them and they make a feature out of it. Considering how cheap external storage is, don’t give it a second thought.Implementing this is tricky. I don’t know how it is for Mac users, but on PC’s this is a really insidious issue. Windows is monumentally persistent about the use of My Documents on your C: drive. There’s a fix to that.
- One Backup Isn’t Enough. Two is better. Plus one in the cloud is best. Hard drives fail too. For no reason. So backup your backup. This scheme covers a Modified Two Solution
- Backup Frequently. Frequency depends on a) how often you change your data and b) how much data you are willing to lose. For years I backed everything up daily. I’ve adjusted to only backup certain folders daily and the rest every three days.
- Your music and software are part of the scheme. To get up and running fast, I keep all the uninstalled editions of my software on my system. That way I don’t have to nurse CD collections through re-installation. Ditto music.
- Accommodates Mobile Activities. When I’m on the road, I need the same level of recovery and access. On the road I still don’t put data on my local drive. This is physically cumbersome, but better than being stranded the day before a presentation.
- Each Backup Is an Exact Replica If you want complications, do partial backups. I don’t know about you, but in an emergency I want effective, clean resolutions. And because I can, I also don’t want to have to “clean it up later” because frankly I’m unlikely to get to it once I’ve recovered enough functionality to get moving.
What You’ll Need
- A Rough Capacity Calculation
- Start with a rough calculation of how much space you’re currently consuming. The file system can report this or JDiskReport is an outstanding utility for this.
- Add 50Gigs for software for starters. Adjust as required.
- Add your music
- Double your answer for a three year horizon, triple for a five year. This is how big all your external hard drives should be
- Three external hard drives. Yup. That’s what I said. Three. Too much money? Apparently you haven’t suffered enough. One as your primary storage and two backups. I will not get into hard drive specs. Way too much information that all borders on the Ford-Chevy pastimes. Just get some drives.
- For PCs, Windows Task Scheduler and a lack of fear about DOS. I will show you how to use both, so you don’t have to know them right now. I just need you to be unafraid of them. Someone can take me to school about automated file copying in the Mac environment.
- A touch of desk space for external hard drives
- Enough USB ports for your drives. If you need to, get a USB hub.
- Labels for your drives. Mark each one with it’s volume name and drive letter. That way you know which one is which.
Set It Up
- Plug in your drives.
- Name the volumes, note the drive letters. Next Level: Change drive letter so desktop and laptop shortcuts match at home and in the field.
- Set up your backups.
This gets lengthy. Come back in a while I’ll have it written up. If my version of “a while” is too long, poke me and I’ll pick up the pace.
- Next Level: Organize Your Folders
We have four classes of folders: Personal, Archives, References and Software.
- Personal: for each person in our system, they have their own folder. They can organize it any way they wish.
- Archives: organized by person and year, these are documents no longer regularly accessed.
- References: We have three: Library, Music and Folios.
- The Library is for cool stuff we like that made by other people or should be available to everyone. ADVANCED: I’ve tried to use this also as the Windows Program Data for certain applications. I’ve had limited success.
- Music is, well, music. It’s a common repository for everyone to use.
- Folios is stuff we create that’s for sharing. It’s organized by subject and year.
- Software: There’s a folder for every product line in current use. When we upgrade or replace, we retire previous editions if we can. Some upgrade sequences require the previous versions be installed. We keep our serial numbers and keys here too. This is a security risk by the way. Not much to be done about it if you want the functionality.
- Load Your Primary Drive Copy all of your data, music and uninstalled software to your primary drive.
- Run Your Backup to load the other drives and test your backup.
Come back in a while I’ll have it written up. If my version of “a while” is too long, poke me and I’ll pick up the pace.
- On Crash
- Downloads from the web, your camera and your mobiles.
Improvements I’d Love
- Cloud Backup. So … You can pay Dropbox or Carbon Leaf an annual fee. But wait. Google says I have oodles of space. Great. Can I use some for my backups? I also have a web hosting service with unlimited storage. Uploading 500G is gonna take me the better part of a year via the FTP Put command. HELP!
Take Me to School
I’d love a simpler way. Show me.
Copyright 2012, Frank Ebbert, Landwave AE. If you have developed this idea and hold rights to it, please contact me for proper attribution.