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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.



  1. cybertactix

    10/21/2009 at 9:13 am

    Not a fool, just sufficiently paranoid. One suggestion, for critical data, particularly the stuff you don’t want to entrust to the net, encrypt it and write it to DVD, then use good old fashioned snail mail to send it somewhere at least 50 miles away (in your case perhaps family in Chicago). Encryption deals with prying eyes in the event that the post office should mis-direct your package, and 50 miles should be enough distance to ensure it is safely out of harms way in the event of some form of natural or man-made disaster.

  2. davv

    10/21/2009 at 10:20 am

    thanks for making me discover dropbox, thats some nice stuff

    gonna use it in conjunction with windows live foldershare ;)

    (its the same thing as live mesh, isnt it ?)

  3. Furkan Khan

    10/21/2009 at 10:51 am

    Warner, I use a similar backup strategy as yours albeit with two machines.

    I have questions for you, I have been creating mirror images of my 2730p using Acronis on an Seagate FreeAgent Go USB drive. So far I have not been able to boot from the backup, I get blue screen of death. This is with Windows 7.

    Have you encountered a similar issue. Remember unless one can recover from the backup, the backup is of no use. So testing that the backup works should be another recurring task :-)

  4. GoodThings2Life

    10/21/2009 at 11:40 am

    Nothing wrong with having backups… especially if you have more than one! :)

  5. mrpacs

    10/21/2009 at 12:57 pm

    I have 3 HD’s on my PC; OS, and Dual back up drives. I also back up using SugarSync.

  6. Rob

    10/21/2009 at 3:37 pm

    ok, I’ll bite – your a redundant fool ;-)

    davv – foldershare is peer to peer syncing, requiring one or more of the other computers to be online. live mesh is syncing with the cloud – no need for the peer to be online

  7. Mark (K0LO)

    10/21/2009 at 4:57 pm

    If you want to take the drudgery out of backing up by automating the process, check out Windows Home Server. It will back up all of the PCs on your home network automatically while you sleep. The backup technology produces a compact and efficient data store by not storing duplicate copies of disk clusters that are the same on multiple machines. I have 3 months worth of daily backups of 4 PCs in 90 GB of storage space.

    You can build your own server; hardware requirements are quite modest, so you can put an old PC to work. Or, you can buy a pre-built server from HP or others. Couple this with a central repository for storing photos, music, videos, and documents, as well as remote access to your network and you have a great solution for the backup dilemma (if it’s hard to do it doesn’t get done).

  8. Bob

    10/21/2009 at 6:06 pm

    I am a second vote for Windows Home Server. The HP versions of the server hardware are quite nice and have great PC and MAC support.

    I also am a fan of Crashplan. The backup to the cloud has gotten quite inexpensive. The family plan is unlimited storage for multiple PCs and MAC and is very cost effective (in my opinion). It also has functionality to backup between your machines and with external drives on a daily basis. You can also give a hard drive to a friend and do your backups to the harddrive at his house.

    An no, I do not think you are paranoid to have this many backups.

  9. Xavier

    10/21/2009 at 10:29 pm

    Sounds like you’re pretty much covered Warner. I’ll echo K0LO though- I think someone with your enthusiasm for backing up would benefit form a Windows Home Server. The only challenge there is that you have your primary machines split between work/home.

    Do you have an off-site backup strategy for your media files as well ?

  10. Frank

    10/22/2009 at 3:01 pm

    Warner, thanks for the PogoPlug tip, seems to be a really nice tool, especially because it’s easy to use and accessible as a normal HDD.
    I also like the idea with the HomeServer. However, I would like to build my own. Sadly, I only get the full MS Server for free, which will be more complex to configure.

    I think I should just take an older PC, install Win Server on it, and play around with it to create the perfect backup/cloud tool for me, sadly this also would require an upgrade in my internet connection, to get a better upstream. Mh, decisions, decisions.

  11. davv

    10/22/2009 at 11:48 pm

    @rob: thanks, at first i thought wth, this is redundant.

    just now i was unable to connect to mesh – and so unable to sync my onenote folder

    so just got an idea : i do a sort of cross-sync now, with dropbox and mesh
    let me explain shortly

    i have a pc and a hp tx tablet
    i have a onenote folder in my documents and a copy in the dropbox folder
    the 2 dropbox folders are of course syncd with each other

    now here comes the trick :

    mesh syncs the following :
    PC/my docs/onenote with HP/dropbox
    HP/my docs/onenote with PC/dropbox

    so if one of the 2 services is down, my stuff is still synced

    oh and ive got both mobilenoter and dropbox apps on my iphone :P

  12. Bill

    10/24/2009 at 9:17 pm

    Warren, why don’t you use Time Machine? My wife uses it with her MacBook. Thanks.

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