Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Some general comments on backups

Given my last post about mozy doing away with their unlimited plan, and seeing all the reactions from people, some of which seemed to be in a panic at the thought of possibly not having a full complete backup for a few weeks, I thought it would be good to make a few suggestions about backing up data.

The first thing to realize is your backup is exactly what it says - a backup. It should be a secondary copy of your data, not your primary storage. Forgive my nerd analogy (you did read the title of this blog didn't you?) but it's like being on the USS Enterprise while fighting the Romulans. Captain Kirk doesn't use the backup systems first, he uses the primary systems. He only asks Scotty to engage the backup's when the primaries are in trouble.

That's what your online backup should be like. They should mainly just be used for when your primary data storage - your hard drive - is in trouble. So if your online backup goes away, it shouldn't be cause for panic. Because your primary system should still be in relatively good shape and the chances of the primary going down while the backup is down should be pretty small.

The thing to keep in mind here is making sure your primary is always in relatively good shape. There's a few simple things you can do to ensure that.

  1. Run a disk monitoring program in the background to keep tabs on your hard drive. A very basic, and free program, is HDD Health from panterasoft. It'll monitor your drives and let you know if they report any problems.
  2. If you want to be even more proactive, you can schedule windows to run a chkdsk every week or month. You can either schedule this as a task in windows, or you can run it yourself. You have a few choices as to how you want to run the command, as it can drastically effect how long it takes to run the check, and also whether or not you can use your PC while the check is running. You can run it as chkdsk c: /F /R /X. replace c: with whatever drive you want to check. This command will take the longest and possibly require you to reboot the pc and wait for it to finish before you can use your PC again. Having to reboot is almost a certainty if you are going to check drive C.  If you want to speed things up a bit, leave off /R, which does a more intensive scan of the disk looking for bad sectors on the disk. If chkdsk starts reporting bad sectors, it's time to replace the hard disk. You can look up the warranty on the hard drive to see if it's still covered.
  3. The other suggestion I have is to replace your hard drive once it's 2 years old. Hard drives are pretty reliable - i can't remember the last time I had one fail. But if you replace them every 2 years or so, you are even less likely to see a failure. Given how cheap HD's are (and they keep getting cheaper), you'll more then likely be able to be a hard drive twice as big as the one you are replacing, for less then it originally cost you. So not only will you be ensuring the reliability of your data storage, but you'll also get more space out of it. 
  4. If you replace your hard drives like I suggest, you can then use those hard drives as backups, in addition to any online backups. You can buy an external enclosure for the drive on newegg or amazon for $20 or so. 
One thing to remember if you replace your drives and you are not going to keep them or re-use them - make sure you wipe all the data on them, especially if you plan on selling them or giving them away to anyone else. You can use Eraser to securely delete the data from your drives. It's also free.

And for some more free and useful sofware, check out my post about gparted, which you can use to partition those new hard drives and copy data from one drive to another.

One last suggestion when it comes to replacing hard drives - keep your original drive on hand for at least a week or two before you erase it or do anything else to it. The most likely time for a new hard drive to fail is right when you first start using it, if there's was any sort of defect to it. Otherwise, any decent hard drive will most likely last you several years. 

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