Backups & Redundancy for Your Life and Your Data

17 06 2008
651.gif In the Fall of last year, Francis Ford Coppola’s computer and backup hard drive were stolen, and he lost 15 years worth of data, including writing and family photographs. He offered a reward for its return, but he never did get it back.

On a much smaller scale, last month I had a backup hard drive fail, which under normal circumstances should be no big deal. I should be able to buy a new one and just replace it, but the problem was that I had stored some data on it which was not stored anywhere else – so it’s now gone for good. I have the option of spending a few hundred dollars on data recovery to see if it can be recovered, but I haven’t been able to decide if the data is worth the price.

What About Your Websites?
Just 2 weeks ago, there was a terrible fire at The Planet, one of the largest web hosting providers in the world. The fire interrupted thousands of servers, but supposedly no servers or networking equipment was damaged. Let’s suppose there had been damage. Suppose that your web server and its backups at your hosting provider were destroyed. Most people who work on static websites have copies on their local machine that they FTP. But how many websites these days are database driven? Are you backing up your databases? I don’t know many people who do, unfortunately.

Here’s What I Do.

I’ve learned the hard way. I’ve lost too many irreplaceable files over the years. I now have a library of digital pictures of my growing family from the past 5 years on my computer. Losing these files would be a great loss for me. So here’s how I’ve come to handle local data.

The local data is the stuff on my computers in my house. I have to think about things like “what if the house catches fire?” or “what if a computer goes down?”

The computer going down is the easy part.
Have a backup hard drive for each computer. And when a computer gets old and goes into retirement, so does the backup drive. I no longer keep reusing old backup drives because they eventually fail, and the older they get the more likely they are to fail. The other reason is that if you reuse it you might not have enough space to backup two computers with it and have to overwrite some of your older files. (Been there, done that, and regret it) Get a new backup drive, they are relatively cheap these days.

For my wife, who uses her laptop in a lot of different places, I got this neat, portable WD backup drive, that uses USB, and doesn’t require another power source. It’s really amazing, at about the size of a PDA, it stores 320 GB of data! A little pricey, but I was hoping that the convenience factor would encourage her to backup more often…the jury’s still out on that one.

The house catching fire is more of a problem.
(For obvious reasons…but not necessarily because of data loss) Keep all of your most important files on your computers you use daily, and use remote, offsite backup that runs on a daily basis. If your house catches fire you risk losing computers and backup hard drives, including those retired ones described in the paragraph above. Believe it or not, remote offsite backup is actually affordable nowadays. I’m now using a company called “Mozy” (thanks to DazzlinDonna) who offers unlimited storage for offsite remote backup for only $4.95 per month, and I use it on both of my computers.

Don’t “set it and forget it though” with offsite backup or any backup program for that matter. Check all of the settings and options they give you. Make sure that you are comfortable with how they are handling your data, and how it is being stored / updated / or deleted. Yes, many backup programs and services delete old files that are no longer in existence at the backup source. Try a test “file recovery” to see if you can get one of your backed up files. When I first started using Mozy, I found out I wasn’t backing up everything I thought I was. I’m glad I tested it!

Web Hosting Data

What if your web host catches on fire? Or floods? Did you see Cedar Rapids, IA go under water the other day? Apparently New Orleans isn’t the only place susceptible to this type of disaster. Such a disaster could easily destroy a datacenter. Here’s how I handle website backups:

WS_FTP, one of the oldest FTP programs around, is still going strong and has a backup scheduling feature. I have an always_on desktop machine setup specifically for backups and web browsing. With this machine I backup all of my important websites, some weekly, and some nightly, depending on how often files change and who changes them.

As for the databases. I’ve posted about this program before because it was such a blessing; I really like Navicat. With Navicat, I schedule backups of my websites’ MySQL databases weekly and nightly, depending on the frequency of change.

This all gets done on the always_on machine dedicated for backups, and all of those backups get backed up to the remote, offsite Mozy backup as well. I also have backup web hosting, but that’s another topic that I’ll probably talk about more in the future.

Time to Think.

It’s a lot to think about, I know. Is it overboard? No, I don’t think so. There have been too many times I’ve needed to have “backups of backups” in the past. I’m not paranoid, it really happens. Suppose Mozy catches on fire? It could happen. During Hurricane Katrina, a lot of people in the City of New Orleans learned some important lessons about planning and emergencies. You’re never too prepared when it comes to this stuff.

Think of all of the possible scenarios that could happen with your data or connectivity, that could significantly impact your business or personal life. Where’s the weakest link? For business especially, there should be no single point of failure that can leave you inoperative for more than a few minutes or an hour. If so, it’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed.



One response to “Backups & Redundancy for Your Life and Your Data”

27 03 2009 Gets Hacked, Loses 6 Months of Data | New Orleans Internet Marketing (07:10:41) :

[...] server from there. Apparently the reason they lost so much data was that they weren’t making “backups of backups,” something I posted about the importance of a while back. Just more evidence that you can never be too [...]

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