Saturday, February 11, 2017

Practical ideas about backing up computer files

I read a thread on an audio forum about backing up audio files.  Many of the posts seemed rather theoretical rather than practical.

I was self employed for ~20 years and had to be sure that I didn't lose data that mattered to my business.  I'm retired now but now I have an even increasing collection of music files and photographs to worry about.  Some practical ideas from my experience:

- There are different scenarios for needing to use your backup data: Human error, equipment failure or s/w bug, theft, malware attack, fire/flood for example. An area wide disaster like an earthquake is a rather different scenario.  You need to think about each threat and evaluate whether you plant addresses those scenarios.  You may choose not to address some scenarios because of cost or feasibility.  Do your thinking now.

- If you don't know in detail how you'll recover from an event that requires recovering data, you are asking for trouble.  You need to think about the hardware, any software needed and any information like URL's and passwords.

- Anyone who has dealt with disaster recovery knows that you need to rehearse the recovery process.  Even if have thought the process out very carefully, you'll find some glitches when you rehearse the first time.  And the second.

- Think about the time you will need to get up and running.  If you need to order new hardware (like a tape drive, hard drives or a new computer), how long will it take to get it in your hands and installed?   For me, the weak spot of online backup is the time needed to download all my data to my local system when I have to restore it.  Sure, backing up a single hi-res file to the cloud is fast enough but how about downloading hundreds or thousands? Using any exotic hardware for backup creates extra burdens during recovery.   Is the tape drive you bought 4 years ago even available for sale now?

- Don't count on any storage device to be usable if you haven't tried it out in years.

- The more automatic you make your backup process, the more likely that you will have what you need when trouble arrives. 

- Backup your system disk as well as your data.  Create a recovery drive on a USB thumb drive and an image backup  of the drive that contains the operating system and applications.  Reinstalling all the software takes time and if there are licenses for purchased s/w, it can get messy.  Do you have a record of the licenses or product keys for all the software that you bought?

- If your data backups can fit on a single USB hard drive, that is the basis for a simple, practical solution.  Right now, I'm using 6 Terabyte backup drives.

- That solution: Keep one backup drive nearby for daily differential backups.  That exercises that drive.  Keep a second backup drive offsite and swap it with the onsite drive at convenient intervals.  Both drives will be used often enough to warn you of any problems.  If you have trouble with a backup drive, get a replacement immediately.

- After a few years, you data backup needs may have grown.  By then, you should be able to buy larger capacity devices.  That takes care of increasing storage needs and it replaces 3-4 year old devices with new ones.

- You can't count on being able to read data from old storage devices after 20-30 years.  Technology moves along and old interfaces may not be supported.  Plant to move your data every few years so that it is always on devices that can be read with current computers.

- Moving to a new generation of computers is a good way to learn about the recovery process.