Monday, June 22, 2009

Backing Up Your Computer -- OR -- Do you know what your computer is doing tonight?

Maybe it's, aakk!, dying!

Outside of my computer consulting business, I do local computer assistance for people having one problem or another.

I see people with dead computers or dead drives all of the time.

And beyond that, in the past week, Christine and I have had 3 friends who have had computer disasters which resulted in replacement of their systems.

Did they get their data back?

Most did not.

By far the most frequent and most serious computer problems people have come from NOT BACKING UP their computers.

I see real tragedy when someone loses 5 years of digitally stored family photos, or irreplaceable business documents.

We just do not think of backing up apparently when we get a new computer, and as time passes we don't realize how much personally valuable STUFF we have accumulated on our machines ... until guessed it ... all of those photos and letters ... just go away. Gone, kaput, into the big bit bucket in the sky.

It happens in different ways.

Sometimes we accidentally delete a directory that we thought was for something else, unused or irrelevant, and when we are asked, "Files are too large to send to the Recycle Bin -- Permanently Delete?", we say, "Yes".

Oh, to take back that last "Yes".

Or sometimes we do not realize that time has passed and our new machine which has been working just fine is now a 4 to 5 year old dinosaur, still chugging along, but actually on the verge of DEATH.

And we often just procrastinate backing up -- we mean to do it, really -- it's just that, well ... we don't.

If that hard drive fails, it may still be possible to get that precious stuff out of the disk -- IF you are willing to spend $3500 or so by sending it to a hardware recovery specialist who will then return your data to you on the media of your choice.

Otherwise the (semi) permanent record of your memories is gone, gone, gone.

I also see methods of backing up our computers that fail us or leave us open to painful and time-consuming operating system restores. We have some applications stored on a flash drive, or copied to a CD or DVD. But we forgot all of those photos.

In this case when the system or drive goes, we have to painfully restore the OS and applications to the disk and then our data, and hope that we have it all. What about all of our system settings, passwords, logins, mail account setup info, email addresses, and so on?

That stuff is probably not backed up.

And I see the popular and commercially available backup methods people use fail, too. Or cause other problems.

There is one popular solution from Western Digital, a drive maker I respect and like, which installs so many little programs onto your disk that run in the background checking on what you do and what documents you change so it can all be backed up to an external hard disk, that YOUR MACHINE SLOWS TO A CRAWL under the burden.

Plus, it's so complicated that one person, when attempting to delete what he thought was a useless desktop icon, deleted his entire documents directory!


OK. What should you do?

I will tell you what I think -- it's just my opinion, but it works for me. I myself have done many of the things I'm warning against, but, because I have:


I have usually been back up and running within in an hour of disaster. An hour or less. Yes.

It's not rocket science; you do not have lots of complicated little backup programs running around messing up your system, and you do not choose what to back up.

You back up the WHOLE THING to a pristine image of your boot hard drive, which is on a new bootable hard drive.

And which, when disaster strikes, you just boot from, in place of your original hard drive.

Or you copy your photos and documents from after you accidentally deleted them.

It's a wonderful thing.

It's very simple; the software only runs when you want it to; you are up and running, in case of disaster, right away.

You schedule it to run once a week or whenever you want.

You check the external drive now and again, just to see all of your stuff there.

The cloning software reports after every successful image backup.

You feel good.

So how do we do this?

We need the cloning software, a boot CD with the cloning software on it (in case of catastrophe), and an external hard drive, or internal for that matter, that is as big as(or bigger than) your existing boot drive and with the same interface, SATA, IDE, whatever.

There are a number of software products out there which do this, Symantec's Ghost, Acronis has a product, but my favorite is Future Systems Solutions' Casper 5.0 and Startup Disk.It's easy to use, simple, cheap for what it does, and it works.

At $60 for the software and something less than or a little more than $100 for the drive, you are in business.

Sleep tight. I know I will.

~ Ted

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Robin said...

This is also the backup plan I settled on a few months ago. I use XXCLONE (from free for the simple version cheap for the full version). It works great! It copies the full disk to a second bootable disk that automatically boots if the first one doesn't. I also use to backup file changes to the internet every night - this lets me restore prior versions of files if i need to - if I delete one in error or screw one up (also free). This also gives me a full copy of my data off-site on the internet in case there is a real disaster like my house burning down.

BackpackBaseCamp .com

Ted Whittemore said...

Cool! Thanks for the info and comment.

In the immortal words of the just departed Ed McMahon, "I did not know that!" About XXCLONE that is.

I've just gone to take a look at the XXCLONE website, and it looks to be a great product. One limitation it, apparently, has is only working with 32 bit versions of Windows, which means all of you folks who have migrated to XP64 or Vista 64 will not be able to use it. (That's all of you who have systems with 4GB or memory or more and chose an OS able to use those 4GB -- which 32 bit Windows cannot).

Backing up data offsite to or another such site is also a great idea.

It's nice to be able to protect yourself against the loss of data as close to the time disaster strikes as you can.

I'm going to play with the freeware version of XXCLONE and see what I think. Details later ...

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