Never Enough Backups – Part 1

Have you ever thought about what would happen if you suddenly, without warning, did not have your desktop computer, your tablet, or your smart phone?

I know that there are exceptions out there, but most of us live in a symbiotic love/hate relationship with our computer devices and our online vendors. Most of our lives are online these days.

  • Do you still receive paper bills and pay with paper checks? When you run out of paper checks, do you renew online, or did you save those little paper slips that let you reorder without going online? Do you receive your bank statements on paper or online?
  • Do you take photographs with your digital camera or phone? Do you store those photos on your computer, or “in the cloud?”
  • Do you have any important documents; receipts; family documents stored on your computer? Do you need the data on your computer to file your next tax return?
  • Do you need your computer to reproduce your resume, find details of your security clearance applications (you really want to answer consistently every time), remember dates of birthdays or anniversaries (perhaps even your own)?
  • Do you have hobbies that have significant work product that is stored on your computer. I have been thinking specifically about genealogy, but unless your hobbies are completely offline, you probably use the computer.
  • Do you store names, addresses, your creative writing, your shopping lists, etc. on your computer?

You get the picture. If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, you need the data in your computer. If you lose your computer, or you lose access to it, you lose your data. Then you lose your mind. If you need your computer, you need a good backup strategy.

In my thirty-something years of work in Information Technology (IT), the most heartbreaking situations that I have had to deal with is when a scholar or a student brings their dead computer to me (usually on the night of a deadline).”My computer stopped working.”

Sometimes a family member or friend will bring me a dead computer. They say “I can’t get in. I have ten years of family photos on here. Help me!”

My first question is always “Do you have backups?” My second question is “When was the last time your actually ran the backup or plugged in the drive?” This is usually when the tears begin.

Computers have become more powerful and less expensive at an exponential rate. Technology has made remarkable strides, but computer technology is fragile. If you use a multi-million dollar fully-redundant super-mini-computer node like a Stratus or a Tandem, you might feel safe not storing your backups reliably offline. Even then, there are disaster recovery scenarios that justify backing those nodes up.

Here are a few things that can go wrong with any computer:

  • Motherboard failure. This might not directly cause data loss, but it could take you a few days to get the motherboard or the entire computer replaced.
  • Fixed disk drive failure.  This is very common. Very common! Sometimes the data can be recovered, usually at a cost of about $2,000 per drive.
  • Flash / solid-state memory failure. Even more common than disk drive failures. Usually there is no consumer-level recovery possible. The useful lifetime of consumer flash / solid-state memory is three (3) years
  • Physical accident: spills, drops, pets, kids, etc.
  • Environmental events leading to destruction or unavailability: floods, earthquakes, mudslides, fires, explosions, quarantine, explosion, zombie apocalypse, etc.
  • Hackers, malware, including viruses, cryptolockers, Trojan Horses, etc. deleting or making your data unavaible.
  • Human error. It is remarkably easy to accidentally and unretrievably delete critical computer data. Try it. No … don’t … take my word for it.

Remember, even if much of what you do is “In the Cloud” … your usernames, passwords, email addresses, account numbers, etc. are probably stored in your web browser’s memory (you do have that password protected, no? Different topic though).

A computer is a tool, but unlike a hammer or a saw, which you can buy in any hardware store, your computer is your tool, customized with your settings and containing your data. If something bad happens to your computer, nobody can bring back your data unless you have backed it up.

Here are the three “Rs” of backups: Redundant, reliable, restricted and repeated. OK, four R’s.

More soon …

Meanwhile, if you have a backup disk that has not been introduced to your computer in a while, why don’t you do that right now? You might thank me later.

 

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