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Where to start?

Ah, I know. Imagine that you've had your computer for a few years, read and kept email, wrote some witty and wonderful things that you saved in Word, downloaded and purchased applications, or maybe did some dandy graphics things. And of course you've got your photos "saved" to disk, along with that MP3 collection that you love to listen to. Oh, and the 2001 TurboTax return that the IRS is calling you up to talk about...

Then, one day, you hear a funny kinda clicking sound from your system. You keep working, and everything seems fine, except for an occasional crash or hang. But this is Windows (or, name your OS of choice), so that's not too unusual. A few days later you wake up, make some coffee, start to get the kids to school, and wander by your computer to see it's ... gone. It won't boot, gives some odd messages about "In_Page Failure" or some-such, and no matter what you do, it's dead. You think back to those little clicks and noises you heard earlier, and it comes to light: your disk, with everything you've done for the past few years, is a paperweight.


Yeah, you can buy a new disk, dig around and find your OS install disk, install your applications (aside from the ones you downloaded to disk), and get a login screen. But it's all gone, if you haven't backed up.

I went through this with my work laptop a while back. Found a blue-screen (Windows XP), rebooted and all seemed "ok." Later, a day or so, another blue-screen, and I noticed those little clicks coming from where the disk drive was. Panic. I had NEVER backed this system up, and it held more than five years of work, email, and documents. I managed to slip the hardive out, install it onto my home system and after a struggle, was able to copy my most important data to DVD, run chkdsk (no problems found), and defrag the drive. I reinstalled it into the laptop and everything seemed fine now. Except for those pesky little noises...

A week later, it was over. More blue-screens, hangs, and finally, numerous error messages that in total simply meant the disk was dead. I tried the "slip the drive into my home system to recover" thingy, but it was no-go.

Fortunately, I HAD done that backup earlier, "just-in-case," and when the new disk arrived and I installed it I was able to copy those five+ years of data to the new disk.

Whew! Saved. But just under the wire.

Several years ago my home system started doing that same thing, little clicking noises, hangs, crashes, etc. I ignored it.

Two weeks later, after an overnight delivery of a new hard drive, clean install, and digging through random CD copies (this was prior to my owning a DVD writer) I got back "much" of my data. Now, as it so happens, I work for a group in my company that provides storage products (JBOD, RAID arrays, NAS, etc.) and I should know better than to trust a single disk to eternally retain my data. But apparently not. So, after restoring what data I could on the new disk, I bought a RAID card, bought another disk, hooked it all up, set up a RAID 1 configuration (mirroring), and settled back with a sigh...

Now, my system has "evolved" in that the motherboard provides RAID via SATA drives. I upgraded the disks over time to a couple 200GB drives, and feel relatively comfortable about my data. But not comfortable enough (I leave my PCs on all the time, something that eats away on consumer-level ATA drives as opposed to enterprise SCSI). I decided to make backups via my home network to little-budda on a regular basis. Backing up to DVD is something I occasionally do, but 4.7GB of storage just doesn't hack it: I have over 130GB of data on my system now (do the math, that's almost 30 DVDs of data. "Gimme-a-break." Blue-Ray HD DVD, where ARE you??). That's data, not applications or OS. So now at least once a week I run Karen's Replicator (freeware) to copy my files to sitting-budda. And, I bought another 160GB removable disk for sitting-budda that I make monthly copies to, just in case the main disk dies (which it will).

Pretty safe, hey? I have a RAID config to duplicate my data and should one disk fail the other takes over. I have backups to a separate system, and in that system I have a backup disk as well. And I do make those occasional DVD backups.

However, despite all this, see the still-existing problem? It's this: All of those backups are largely sitting in my living room. One room, one "space." Enterprise computing systems take into account a "Disaster Recovery" mechanism. That is, they use Really Expensive RAID storage, daily backups, Remote Replication (copy the data from Houston to California), and have off-site storage for those tape backups (they use tape, the capacity is large, especially with tape libraries). They keep backups of those tape backups "offsite" in a fire-proof storage locker.

So, should a bomb hit in their data center, they have those tapes stored in a vault somewhere else, and have the data stored in another state in case someone drops a nuke and wipes out the entire county of the primary data center.

Now, my "stuff" is hardly "enterprise-worthy," but it's nonetheless important to me. And the problem I still have is two-fold: 1) The RAID system I have (SiL) is cheap and hardly trustworthy, although it's better than nothing; 2) Since my data and backups are in that one room, should, oh, say a FIRE take place in that one room ... all gone.

What to do ? I have a fire safe in my garage. I bought a USB 2.0 shell for a 3.5" disk (120GB) that I back the data I need to. Then, I slip the USB drive into the safe, and viola! Pretty safe.

I might lose the house, but my data's going to be intact. Am I paranoid? You bet, but that's based on 20+ years of seeing what happens when storage fails. And it will fail at some point. Not to mention recently seeing what happens when my little laptop drive fails. "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you." That sorta thing.

So, after you get done shaking your head over this craziness I'm confessing to, think about what you'd do if your drive crashed, and uncaringly throws all your bits on the floor. You have only a few options then: 1) Recover the data using some service (usually not totally successful, and always frighteningly expensive); 2) Start from scratch, reinstalling what you can and wiping the tears from your eyes thinking of all that lost data; or 3) Recover all your data from your judicious backups.

You do backup, don't you?...

(One more point: Use "Control-S" (the standard "save" command for Windows apps) early and often when creating documents (e.g., "Word" or "Excel"). I had a co-worker/friend spend six hours working on a Power Point slide, and never once saved it. His system hung, and it was all gone. He left the office that night around midnight, after redoing all of his work)


copyright © 1997-2010 dean cashen    06-22-2010 

Copyright 1997-2008 Dean Cashen