This blog is mostly about protecting your company's IT related assets. I thought today I would do something a little different. I would talk about / write about protecting your own personal data. I have recently been through this with some co-workers and I think it is worth sharing. I have twice lost hard drives, once in my laptop, and once in my desktop, and in both cases I did not lose data. This is not that hard to manage. Plus, I know a guy who has lost his house to fire. He has several children and they no longer have any of the pictures and movies of them growing up. That too can be managed and I can assure you that you do not wish to ever be in that position – even losing personal data can be a serious issue.
So, if you want to improve the protection of your own data, read on.
- You need to be running a modern OS. This means for Windows users you need to be running Windows 7. For Mac users you need to be running at least 10.6. There is no excuse to not be doing this.
- For both Windows and Mac users you should purchase an external hard drive, and it should be larger than the size of your internal hard drive. So if your desktop / laptop has a 320 GB drive you need to have an external one, dedicated for backup, that is at least 400 GB or larger and I recommend twice as large.
- On the Mac there is some great software called Time Machine. It works great. So turn it on, configure it, and point it at that external drive. This will allow you to easily recover files if you delete them.
- On the PC there is also some great backup software. It is easiest to find by using the search function and looking for Backup and Restore. Configure it to do scheduled backups to the external disk.
- In the two previous steps, we have configured protection for Mac's and PC's that will protect you if you lose a file or two or even more. But neither recommendations will protect against a complete loss of your hard drive.
- When you lose a hard drive in a Mac, and when the store replaces the hard drive, they will install the Mac OS for you, and your Time Machine can be used to put everything back the way it was. However, if you might replace the hard drive yourself, and I consider myself unlikely to do that, but just in case I am prepared. I use software called SuperDuper and once per week I do a image backup to my external Time Machine hard drive. SuperDuper knows about Time Machine and will not impact it. This will allow me to replace my own hard drive, boot to the external hard drive – thanks to SuperDuper, and than use SuperDuper and Time Machine to recover my machine and end up using the new hard drive with my old data.
- On a PC, when you get a store to replace the hard drive, it will not have an operating system so your file based backup will not help you. You do not have to buy something like SuperDuper as Windows 7 has something like that built in. On the Backup and Restore screen where you configured a schedule backup to your external hard drive you can find an option to Create a system image. You can use that to create something you can boot from to recovery your machine. Once that is done, you can use your scheduled backup to recover to you most current backup.
- We now have configured backups of our files to external hard drives. We have image backups copied to our external hard drive. This will allow us to recover files if we need to, but also, if we lose our whole hard drive, we can recover it, and do a restore that will make sure we lose the minimum data.
- But, we are not protected if we lose our house where this is all stored. For this I use Mozy which does a backup each night when I am not using my computer and it stores the backup off site. The first backup takes a long time, but after that backups don't take long. It has a nice wizard on your computer to help restore, but you can do it via a web site as well. Mozy has clients for both Mac and PC. As well, there are others like Carbonite, but I use and like Mozy.
Now you can recover a file, or a hard disk, and you can even do it if you lose the house. Not bad. Of course, this assumes you prepare and get things ready!
Some important things to think about.
- I use Fusion on my Mac as sometimes I need a Windows VM (virtual machine). Very little might change in my VM, but it will still mean the whole VM must be backed up – which is big and takes a while. This will cause a lot of extra work for Time Machine – since by default Time Machine does a backup once per hour, and each time that virtual machine – which is one file – will need to potentially be backed up. So I exclude my virtual machines folder from my Time Machine backup, and from Moxy too. However, my SuperDuper weekly backup catches everything. So I can recovery my VM, but it will be a week old. Which is not an issue as I don't normally save info on that VM.
- The frequency of backup is key. If you do backups once per day, you will lose some amount of work when you do a full recovery unless you lose your file / disk right after the backup. So pick a schedule of backups that work for you. I like how Time Machine defaults to once per hour. That means, worst case scenario, I lose one hours work. Sometimes when I am working on important things, when I pause, I select Back Up Now from the Time Machine icon. It only takes a minute and I can than restore as of that minute!
- Another thing to think about is making your computer solid and reliable. That means sometimes buying a good name of a computer, but it also means keeping your applications and operating system current. Meaning you need to patch. Your backups will protect you if you need that protection but it is better to avoid that, and IMHO that can be done by keeping your machine healthy and part of that is updates. For Mac's, this means you need to let the maintenance scripts run at night as they are designed too! If you turn off your machine all of the time it can stop those scripts from running.
- In one of my jobs once, I toured some of our customers and tested their backup strategy and found in most cases it didn't work. In a few cases it didn't work at all, and in most cases they could not restore what they thought they could. So guess what? I strongly urge you to test your backups!
- If you and your laptop travel a lot, like I do, while Mozy will still protect you, I like to carry a small external hard drive in my suitcase that I do SuperDuper backups with every few days. This will let me handle a complete recovery on the road if necessary. Not perfect as I might lose a little data, but the odds are between my SuperDuper and Mozy backups I should be OK.
- I suggest for your off site security blanket to use a service like Mozy. While that is the best choice, it does cost a few dollars. Another option would be to have another external drive that you leave off site, perhaps at work. You roate it weekly with the one at home. This will work, and likely be less costly than Mozy, but Mozy works all of the time without you moving things around.
I know that this blog doesn't usually cover off user stuff like this, but I thought it was a good idea to share today. I will not say I am goofing off today, but I am working on interesting things that I choose!
If you need more details, just leave me a comment, or if you think there is something else that the UpTime blog should cover, let me know.
Have a wonderful holiday season, and a great New Year!
(Updated for two external drives idea.)