Stephen Newton – (MC2003)
Those who heard me speak at the MC Bootcamp in March may recall that I mentioned the need to back up data from computers. The following is a real-life example of why this is necessary, how to do it easily and how rapidly one can be working again following a computer failure.
Over the last eleven years I have experienced four major computer failures: one motherboard failure and three hard disk failures. I am told that this is not out of the ordinary, nor is it less likely to occur with a Mac than with a PC, given current technology.
Many (probably most) computer failures are due to a problem with the hard disk. That is not surprising given that a standard hard disk is mechanical, with data held on magnetic disks that spin at speeds up to 7,200 RPM. (In the future, solid-state hard drives with no moving parts may obviate many of these problems but even so that will not invalidate the point I seek to make here).
My most recent computer failure occurred last Thursday. My laptop suddenly stopped responding. I switched it off and then back on again (a “hard re-boot” for the cognoscenti) and obtained only a black screen with the error message “cannot find operating system”.
As I have a backup laptop, I was able to keep working until the following day, when I could take the main machine to the local PC shop where the technician confirmed that the hard drive was dead. He installed a new drive and reinstalled Windows 7. I now had what amounted to a new laptop fresh from the factory.
I back up all my data regularly to an external hard disk and also have an online backup that runs automatically each time the machine is connected to the Internet and picks up any new or changed files. The backup to the external drive is made using Acronis True Image software (http://www.acronis.com/homecomputing), which is not expensive – only around £30.00 at Amazon.
I use the option to take a complete image of the hard disk. That takes more space on the backup drive and more time initially but pays huge dividends. In this case, I was able to load the Acronis software onto the new drive, connect the external backup drive and go through the Recovery routine in less than 90 minutes. That produced a replica of my laptop as it had been at the date of the most recent backup; even the desktop icons were in the same location on the screen. There was no need for me to reinstall any programs: just back to work immediately.
I did not of course have the files I had created since the most recent backup. However, I was able later to log in to my online automatic backup (Carbonite), locate those files and recover them to the machine. That is a somewhat laborious process and not one I would like to use to recover a complete hard drive but it works well enough for small amounts of data. Carbonite holds data on servers located in the USA and that may be an issue for some people. A UK-based alternative is SquirrelSave: http://www.squirrelsave.co.uk.
There are other solutions out there and indeed Windows 7 offers its own version free of charge: http://windowssecrets.com/top-story/build-a-complete-windows-7-safety-net/
Other alternatives which may be more elegant and robust include the use of a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device. If this is set up with two or more drives, it can be configured in RAID format to create mirror images between the disks. This means that if one of the drives in the NAS fails, the other will still hold the data and continue to work solo until the failed drive is replaced.
You can also set up your own server, either at your office or hosted elsewhere. That server could be virtual or dedicated. You could use the Cloud. These types of solution will probably be needed for a business involving more than one or two people. However, they are somewhat more complex to set up and manage.
Being a simple soul with a very simple business model (and a good Yorkshireman to boot), I like to keep things uncomplicated and cost-effective. I am also unconvinced as yet about the security aspects of Cloud computing. However, the article by Kate Craig-Wood (CEO of web hosting company Memset) makes a case for its use by SMEs:
The key point is that your computer will fail sooner or later – regardless whether it is a PC or a Mac. Failure to have a full backup of all your data amounts (almost) to criminal negligence, when it can be achieved painlessly and at low cost.
Quite separately, I favour encrypting the hard drive on my computers to protect data in the event that one is stolen or lost – but that is another story.