IT Solutions

I have had quite a bit of experience with backups; more specifically, the lack thereof.  It can be frustrating when a hard drive goes sour. It always happens at the most inopportune time.  My first experience with hard drive failure was while I was in college.  While my wife was pregnant with our first child we acquired our first digital camera.  I had set up an organization system for the files on a newer hard drive, but failed to take in to consideration the need to back up the pictures and videos.

After about a year of taking hundreds of photos of our precious child each month, one day I came home from class and my computer was groaning.  After opening the case I discovered that it was the extra hard drive where we stored all of the pictures and videos from our camera.  This hard drive had all of our cherished baby photos; her first Christmas, her first birthday, and all of the changes and growth that happens that first year, and now the drive was dying.  I knew I had to act fast to save everything.  I quickly shut the computer down, pulled the drive out, and put the hard drive in the freezer.  I had enough sense to know that the groaning noise was a bad bearing, likely in the drive motor.  If I could get it really cold then the bearings would shrink a bit and I could hopefully save something.  The next day I moved the computer into the kitchen and set it up on the counter next to the fridge. I put the tower on top of the fridge with wires extending into the freezer to the hopefully, very cold, hard drive.  I’m glad my wife was in class and didn’t see the freezer being used as an extension of the computer. It was quite a sight.  Luckily, the drive had just enough life left to copy the photos onto another hard drive.  Soon after drive was used for target practice.

Hard drive failure comes in two types.  Type one, which I have experienced many times, is hardware failure. This occurs when some moving part of the drive stops working.  The motor whines and groans when it is going bad. The spindle makes a click when it goes bad. It is typically very difficult to impossible to get anything off of a drive experiencing hardware failure. The second type of hard drive failure is a software failure; this has been less common in my experience. Typically this is caused by bad sectors on the drive that cause the operating system (Windows, iOS, etc) to be unable to understand the data on the hard drive.  This is fairly easily overcome with some help from some special software, a hard drive duplicator, and someone who knows what they are doing. No matter the type, hard drive failure is very stressful and if possible, it takes time to overcome.

With my first hard drive failure incident I decided I had better back up at least the important things that cannot be replaced.  I investigated the options and decided on an off site backup system. This takes the important files and backs them up to a server located somewhere other than my living room.  There are other options for backups.  Data can be saved on an external drive that is usually stored away from the computer it’s backing up. Or just having a two hard drive system that mirrors each other inside the same computer.  Both of these are viable options depending on the circumstances.  I opted for the offsite system because it was the easiest. I downloaded some software that would backup the folders I chose at regular intervals. It backed up by uploading them to a server system at Amazon. If my house were to catch on fire I would still have the data. If all of my hard drives were to go all at once, I would have the data.  If an EMP went off and fried all the computers and hard drives within a 27 mile radius, I would still have the data. The data I am referring to contains the pictures and videos of our precious child, as well as some sensitive documents which I had encrypted prior to backing up.

There are some questions that one must answer prior to setting up a backup protocol.  What do I need to backup? What am I trying to overcome with the backup? How much data loss am I willing to accept? How much am I willing to spend? What will happen if someone else gains access to my backup?

I had some very specific needs at that time.  I was a poor college student who only wanted to make sure his precious photos and videos never disappeared.  I lost a fair amount of hair on that occasion, which hasn’t grown back. I wanted to make sure I didn’t loose more hair on account of an $80 hard drive.  I went with the off site system because the cost was very low, less than $5 per month. Amazon is probably not going to disappear anytime soon. They use data replication, so there are 10 copies of my data on 10 different machines in different areas of their datacenter. Likely, there are 10 copies spread across multiple data centers.  If one goes up in smoke, they still have 9 copies of my data.  The backup software I chose allowed me to encrypt my data with an encryption system I was familiar with and trusted.  I wrote the decryption code on a piece of paper and stored it in a place I wouldn’t loose it and I’d be able to find it if I ever needed it. If I had lost the code anything encrypted with it would be unrecoverable.  That also means that if someone else were to figure out how to get my data from Amazon it would be useless to them without that code.

On site backups are great, and highly recommended, especially with very sensitive data. A hard drive system that automatically backs up data is recommended and is very easy to recover from.  In most cases this is sufficient. But there are some files that you will want to have, even if the house catches on fire, or is flooded. For those situations an encrypted off site backup is highly recommended.  I keep a few of those files on a usb drive in my desk drawer at work, ones that I want to keep handy, but I still encrypt them.  I believe that encryption keeps me safe from curious fingers and prying eyes.  I also believe that anything I wouldn’t hand out to everyone around town should be encrypted.  The important documents, the file with all of my passwords, spreadsheets with credit card and social security numbers, these files should be encrypted. I would really like to know why Target and Home Depot didn’t think they should encrypt my credit card information.  Pictures and videos can go without encryption, unless, of course, they are distasteful and you are a celebrity, then they should probably be encrypted as well.

If you would like help setting up a backup or just have questions about it, give me a call and I’ll be happy to help.