Call Me A Redundant Fool, But I Feel Like My Data is Safe

hardrive_000The recent spate of data loss issues is causing quite a bit of good conversation about preserving your data. With Windows 7 on the horizon, quite a few folks will be upgrading older machines or wiping the slate clean and starting afresh with new installs. Before doing either you need to make sure your data is backed up and protected and easily retrievable. I make no bones about the fact that I think it is the responsibility of the user to make sure the data they hold near and dear is backed up and secured. I’m probably overly paranoid, and I’m probably taking more precautions than I need to, but I swear by redundancy when it comes to protecting my data. Hard drives will crash. Network services will go down. And the world will continue revolving on its axis. The question is will your data be there when you need it to. Here’s my current strategy.

I have four primary devices. They include an iMac on my desktop at work. A Windows XP box at home. An HP 2730p Tablet PC and my iPhone 3GS.

For the iMac, the Windows XP box, and the Tablet PC, each of those devices has an external hard drive attached. Everything from each machine is backed up to those external hard drives on a regular schedule using incremental backups. Once a month I’ll do a new full backup. For the Windows machines I use Acronis products. For the iMac I use SuperDuper. I do not use Time Machine on the iMac.

I also make a new complete image of each machine each month or more frequently if I’m going to be installing something that might gum up the works. These images are stored on a separate portable HD.

My main two machines are the Tablet and the iMac, but all the devices can access an external HD that I can access via my little personal cloud using a PogoPlug. All of my media, and any important files I’m working with are stored there as well. This is not only a backup solution but it allows me to move between multiple machines with ease, depending on where I’m working (or playing.) The PogoPlug is one of the best additions I’ve made to my entire arsenal in some time.

So, as for most of my data, (documents, media, etc…) I feel pretty comfortable that things are safe and always retrievable in the event of an emergency from hard drives. I will replace those external hard drives every 12 to 18 months or so. I won’t remove the data from a drive that is being replaced, but I will store the drive, in hopes that if I ever need to access it again, it will still function. Once I have two “replaced drives” of the same machine I’ll donate the oldest one to the theatre where I work or to some other charity.

But I also use cloud solutions for some (not all) of my data as well.

Between DropBox and Windows Live Mesh, I can store most of the files I am currently working with at any given moment up in the cloud. I don’t put all of my documents there, just the things I am currently using. It’s a simple matter of accessing the PogoPlug if I need something I don’t have in one of those two places. Windows Live Mesh has been fading for me lately as they had not released an update for Snow Leopard, but that just happened this week, so we’ll see how that goes with further testing.  Everything that goes into the cloud also exists on a hard drive somewhere.

With my media (mostly music and pictures) I’ll also do a file by file backup as well. While I trust the backup and restore software I use to keep that media intact as I mentioned above, I don’t want to take any chances. So, once a month or so, I’ll backup up my music pictures to a separate drive by simply copying them over.

As for email, GMail is my primary tool. I mostly use the web interface, but twice a week or so, I’ll fire up Outlook and let it sync up with my GMail account. I then archive that email using Outlook’s archive function. Once a quarter I will move those Outlook stores to a separate drive for safe keeping.

And if that wasn’t enough redundancy, I will back up some of my data to DVDs as well. I write plays and do a lot of projects with great collections of data and research. That data will get backed up to separate DVDs for each project and stored for safekeeping.

Again, I’m probably more paranoid than most folks, and as a consequence I take more precautions than the average person. But, I’m comfortable that the data I need is safely backed up somewhere and retrievable, even if a disaster were to occur. Automation makes most of this a no-brainer. The cost of external drives is dirt cheap these days. And, believe it or not, the once a month or once a quarter sessions I spend checking things up and moving data provides me with some very relaxing piece of mind.