Thursday, 24 January 2013

It's Backup Time!

This is a friendly reminder to Back. Your. Freaking. Data. Up.

Have you backed your files up today? 
Do you do it every day? 
Does your computer automatically do it for you? 
Are you _SURE_ your backups are working properly?

Because if you don't keep regular backups, your puny backup-less computers are all going to die horribly and all your precious unsaved data is going to hell. Well. computer hell anyway. 

They will die, not due to random chance, manufacturing faults, power surges, lightning strikes, Mean-Time-Before-Failure, solar flares or from being physically dropped, but because I said so! Yes I'm an evil b'stard willing hard drive crashes on all you backup-less philistines! :-P

(actually, your harddrives quite possibly might be dying from those other things too, in fact I'm pretty sure my ill-will towards your un-backed up data doesn't have that much sway in its demise. But I still find it funny when it happens, because I warn people all the time and they don't listen.)

If you're currently feeling all smug because you're already prepared, go check your backups are still working, and then go back to feeling smug.. Then you can snigger along with me over the fates of all those silly sausages who don't listen ;) 

The Consequences

Save yourself from shame, embarrassment and dispair in front of the IT geek at the repair store (or your ever-so-patient nerd friend), when he asks where your backups are. And stop getting mad at them for YOUR failure to be prepared, or them not being able to resurrect your data from the unpleasant depths of satans colon! 

How sad would you be if you lost all your precious photos of Junior and the antics of your cat? The home movies of Sally making her first steps, or of her barfing up on Granddad. 

What if you lost all your MP3's along with other piles of preciously hoarded crud scattered over your hard drive?  

Need I even mention how much it would suck to lose that assignment that's due in 3 days?

I'm sure you are all familiar with Murphy's Law (<--a good read by the way) and it's variations. With computer hard drives, you can pretty much absolutely freaking guarantee that all hell will break loose at the exact time when it is absolutely worst for you.

You'd be amazed as to how many extremely computer savvy people I've talked to that still forgot to ensure they had adequate backups, and were forced to do the walk of shame. And yes, that includes quite a few programmers and techies. (admittedly myself a couple of times, I was too dumb to learn the first time) 

It's one thing to know how reinstall your system and even recover files from a dying drive, but another to get back the hours wasted trying to restore that one damn super-important folder you forgot to keep a copy of. 

Time is precious. Disk space is cheap.

Backing up your data is not hard

Now please note that I'm not talking about business solutions, I'm talking home use stuff. But if your computers at work haven't even got the basics, you better take notes here and go have a serious talk to your IT support guys about it.

I'm not going to explicitly show you how to set anything up.. I'm just going to give my best recommendations here, and hopefully encourage some people to take action.

If your still unsure of what to do after this, have a talk to your techie friend/neighbourhood computer whiz/repair store guy for the full story. 

And also note I'm not talking about solutions for massive (but of course legally obtained) "media" archives. It's best to keep these larger files on separate hard drives dedicated to media so they don't clog up your normal backups. I have observed the most common and cost effective practice is to keep a spare copy of these media archives at a mates place... if you know what I mean. ;)

How much space for backups?

A rough rule of thumb is you need enough storage for 2-3 times the internal disk space of each computer you need to backup. So for example, a single computer with a 500Gb drive, a backup disk of at least 1Tb in capacity space would probably be enough for average users. Having more disk space available for backups allows for further backup history.

With bigger drives, you can use some of space on the backup drives for other things, but it's a good idea to partition the backup disk, so you don't go wondering where'd all the space go when the backup software fills it without telling you.

Backup Hardware

There are quite a few good solutions for backups storage, some even come with backup software or other nifty tools when you buy them, not that I've noted any of the included junk was any good.

External USB Storage
If you just have one computer, go get yourself a nice big external USB backup hard drive. (they are damn cheap) At the start of 2013 they came in sizes up to 4Tb.

Brands? My personal preference is Western Digital, but I know many geeks will spit vile hatred at me for suggesting they are acceptable. I've had my own plethora of bad experiences with other brands.

In reality, it's much of a muchness, buy whatever the heck you like and can afford, just don't expect it to last forever.

Windows XP may choke on drives bigger than 2TB. But that serves you right for running a 10 year old unsupported operating system. :-p Upgrading that old computer to Ubuntu or something costs nothing and allows you to run bigger drives.

I use a 3TB WD My Book Studio drive on my Mac, partitioned into 1Tb chunk for backups, and the rest as a data store for crap I don't really care if I lose. I'd have used a cheaper USB3.0 drive if Apple bothered to take standards seriously, but it definitely looks pretty next to my iMac.

Network Attached Storage
If you have multiple computers or just need something more clever,  get a NAS (network attached storage) server and plug it into your router. These are basically small computers that are designed to share data storage space on your home network.

They even have off the shelf external drives with ethernet ports or wireless now. Handy, and surprisingly cheap too. 

There are many brands to chose from, and none I can confidently say is better than another.. I suggest to a quick google for "NAS" and see which ones get the best reviews.

I've noticed some of the cheap single drive network drives don't have the capabilities to allow you to repartition the disk space. This may cause some problem if you want to use them with multiple computers, or want some extra space for other things too.

For the rest of my computers and devices at home I have a DLink DNS-320, equiped with 2x 2TB 3.5" SATA harddrives. It's a bit slow transfer-rate wise, and can't do as much with a decent sized external drive as it should be able to, but it works well enough for what we need here. 

Cloud Storage
You could always spend loads of dollars for extra space on a cloud storage account like DropBox/Google Drive/Amazon/etc. These services are like having a NAS box on the other side of the world, except someone else does the yucky maintenance for you.

Most encrypt your data, and provide a secure method of accessing it. You may need to take a manual approach to backups using cloud services, but I'm sure there is software that automates it. (Ubuntu's native backup solution Deja-Dup, integrates with Ubuntu One cloud service nicely)

I personally find cloud solutions better for "in case of fire" backups, like family photos and other precious documents and stuff. There are plenty of free ones that give enough space for most people for those kind of purposes. (By all means, keep the important stuff backed up at home too!)

Be aware if you keep files on a paid subscription cloud service, and you let your subscription run out, those files are gonna go bye-byes.

Drive lifetime?

Backup drives up and die just like regular harddrives. So it's a good practice to replace them every couple of years.. Your mileage may vary, some have to replace yearly, others get lucky and not so much. 

Old backup drives that are still in working order make good media backup drives.

This is probably the one advantage of Cloud Storage, because if the provider is doing things right, they factor all that into the cost and do the maintenance for you. I guess it comes down to whether you can trust them to take care of your precious backups.

Backup Software

A shiny new backup drive is not as cool as it could be if you don't have some decent backup software to go with it. It's best to have something that automatically deals with this for you.

You may find you only need your home directory backed up, but if you aren't the kind of person to keep all your goodies under one folder, or haven't the slightest clue where all your stuff is, it's best to look for whole system backup options.

Apple's Time Machine is so gooood and it's built in on all recent macs. 

Make sure to give it a dedicated partition on your new backup drive of at least 2 or 3 times your internal hard drives total space. More if you wanna keep longer history. 

You don't have to partition, you can give it the whole backup drive if you want to, just don't go wondering why it fills the whole 4TB or whatever up in a month or two, leaving no room left over for junk you don't want to store on your hard drive. 

(Partitioning is done in Finder->Applications->Utilities->Disk Utility)

Acronis True Image is good for all you (sad, loney, pretty UI deprived) windows users. From my days as a computer techie, this is one program that just WORKED as intended.

The latest two versions of windows may have enough backup capabilities built in, provided you take the time to learn to use them.

The majority of modern decent Linux distributions also have backup capabilities pretty much standard. If you don't find one already installed, there is a plethora of backup software in the package management tools. Search your distros software center for "Backup" and pick the one that works best for you.

Ubuntu's Deja-Dup looks pretty cool. (Pity the rest of the Ubuntu doesn't look so cool anymore. Unity sucks! :-p)

If your a geek, rsync your critical folders to your backup drive, but then again, I shouldn't even have to tell you this. In fact, turn in your geek card if you haven't got decent backups setup already.

And if your a software developer and not using a source revision control tool with an offsite server, I laugh at your hideously depressing loss of code. Muahahahahaha. 

In Summary

A properly configured backup solution requires little maintenance or thought. Just check it's actually backing up regularly, and don't forget to monitor your backup drives for errors along with your system drives.  

Do it right this year, and you too can snigger along with us other prepared people next year, at all those poor dumb schmucks who still don't get why backups are so important..

1 comment:

  1. There are lots of available backup software, hard ware devices or cloud-storage out there. And if you don’t have any backup system on your computer, you’re definitely putting all your important data into nothing. Among the types I mentioned above, a cloud-based storage solution is the most recommended. It’s hassle-free to use and you can have unlimited storage if you want.

    >Ruby Badcoe