Backup!

13 10 2008

One of the least performed critical functions of a computer owner is regular and timely backups. Partly because we don’t remember to do them, partly because it is less than convenient. It’s a chore, and let’s face it, we don’t like chores, especially when the payoff is so nebulous.

But, sometimes the right tool will simplify the process, helping us get to the point where we are able to automate the chore and it gets done, finally, on a reasonable and regular schedule. These folks all have had that burden to get backups going along easily and simply so we don’t have excuses to not do them. The result? This collection of backup tools, free, and the collection covers all 3 platforms: PC, Mac & Linux.

OK, now your excuse is that you need to read through these and test them, which takes time, and you don’t have that right now. Fine. Here is a checklist, a project plan, so you can implement these. I have put dates on them so you will be done by New Years.

Project: Personal backup process

  1. Print this blog so you have a checklist to follow. (Alternately copy the project into a spreadsheet.) DUE today.
  2. Print out the related article and staple it behind this project list. DUE today.
  3. Document your system as being one of the following types (please circle or bold): PC Mac Linux. DUE today.
  4. Identify your system configuration as being one of the following types (please circle or bold): (A) Single computer; (B) Several computers operating independently; (C) Several computers on a network. DUE today.
  5. Read through this project so you know where you are going. It will help you be more efficient in some of these early steps, and give you time to ponder some of the issues listed at the very end. DUE 10/31.
  6. Go through each of the backups in the article crossing off those that do not apply to your platform type. DO NOT BOTHER TO READ THE COMMENTS AT THIS TIME. Some address multiple platform types, so if you support multiple platforms you can see whether any of these solutions will support all your platforms. DUE 10/31.
  7. You may be faced with up to 3 categories of backups: (A) Integrated burning, which burns the backups to CDs; (B) File copy, which makes backups of the individual files on another drive, usually an external drive; and (C) Server based backups which require a network. You need to decide which will be the best alternative in your situation, so we’ll give you some time to research and ponder, though a single computer or a collection of independent computers can use only categories (A) and (B); networked computers could use any of the 3 alternatives. Draw a line vertically through the category or categories that are totally inappropriate for your situation. DUE 11/23 (the Sunday before Thanksgiving).
  8. Research the programs left to you. These have been reduced because of platform constraints (Item 5 above) and by type of backup (Item 6 above). Go to the web sites of your alternatives and read or print off the information they have describing their approach to backups and the benefits of their applications. Read other material on the Internet about backups and the problems people have had with their backup processes. Put a star by each of the applications that seems reasonable to you at this point. DUE 11/30 (the end of Thanksgiving weekend, which could extend to 12/1 if you are travelling on Monday).
  9. Purchase any equipment you need to support your approach to backups. (Option B above – File Copy – works best with an external hard drive dedicated purely to the task of performing backups.) DUE 12/7.
  10. Download the backup applications that have not been eliminated already. These you will now need to install and play with in order to make your final decision. Questions you will be considering are ease of use for both backups and recovery, quality of documentation, intuitiveness of the application and controls. DUE 12/14.
  11. Begin playing with these applications. I know, you have a lot to do this time of year with gift buying, office and personal parties, year-end work to wrap up, travel, time with the family doing those traditional holiday activities (we cut our own tree and watch at least one part of LOTR, but there are also National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to watch among others), but you need some away by yourself just to keep your sanity, right? DUE 12/28.
  12. Now, a couple days to ponder. You’ve finished testing all the apps, so which is best? DUE 12/30.
  13. OK, it’s New Year’s Day, and definitely the day after the night before, so we’ll go easy on you here. Today you delete all the apps you have decided you don’t need. Progress, but a simple process that won’t tax those feeble brain cells too much. DUE 1/1.
  14. Now everything has been decided, everything is in place, you just need to turn it on – if you didn’t already do so back in Step 11. DUE 1/7
  15. One month of smooth sailing! But let’s do a restore just to be sure everything is the way it is supposed to be. DUE 1/31.
  16. Gotta make sure the ship continues sailing smoothly, so from now on we’ll do periodic restores to avoid problems of failed backups and admin oblivion. (It has happened before – just watch Computerworld’s Shark Tank and you’ll see the sad tail come up again and again.) So, restore and verify. DUE 3/31, 6/30, 9/30, 12/31 in perpetuity.

Things to consider:

  • Backups are fine, but don’t store them with your machine. At the very least put them in another part of the house; but if you can, store them off-site: office drawer, office vault, safety deposit box, etc.
  • If you are running a network and decide to backup the individual computers to the server, what are you doing to back up the server? This may be a 2nd layer of decisions and testing. And, depending on how much data is being backed up, you may need to make arrangements to backup off site to a friend’s or a business server.
  • I backup to an external hard drive and store off site.
  • Unless the off site facility is in your control, you may want to consider encryption – when the data is backed up, it gets encrypted before being written to the hard drive. You may want to consider doing that anyway. The problem, potentially of course, is that the key to the encryption scheme gets forgotten….
  • I also use JungleDisk to back up to Amazon’s S3 service – cloud storage. It is automatically encrypted, so you need not be concerned about other people reading your stuff from the cloud.

OK, you’ve got it all: applications, project plan, and things to consider. Now you just need to get ‘r done*!

*Used without permission, but seemed appropriate.

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