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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Backup Wednesday

It's the first Wednesday of the month, meaning it's backup Wednesday. I thought I would share with my readers my little knowledge about backups and how I do them

I have always advocated backup regimes. Like many geeks I was a do as I say not as I do kind of fellow. I had cataclysmic losses over the years A-Level dissertations, 30,000 words. Who can forget the great crash of 2004 - my on demand supply of MP3 (legal) that I'd spent hours ripping and organising. My collection of movies (no not porn and mostly legal) that I'd dubiously ripped from my DVDs or downloaded (assisting someone else backing up, often prior to going out and buying my own copy)

I had the occasional whim to put all my media on CDs, that's a lot of spindles of CDs.

You just know though if the next crash comes I'll be less inclined to re copy everything and just start afresh, maybe the odd bit of data loss is cleansing.

That is all well and good when all you're gonna lose is some CDs, maybe some movies (Some of which were crap anyway lets face it., you only got them to appear cool and hip. Come on who watches Tron anyway, or 2001.) What about when you lose the photo library you spent months scanning in or your digital photos that you have since wiped from the media cards you took them on. All gone forever.

I used to keep all my files off my main computer on a Samba server, because well Windows used to crash so much it became to much of risk for my documents to be on that machine. That was great, nice bit of software RAID - made me feel good, "Yes I'm backed up I've got RAID" I became smug, I stopped putting my media on CDs and just threw it at the server.

If you don't know what RAID is don't worry - what I'm going to teach you later is better for the novice reader. Less involved, maybe less efficient overall but that is always the trade off.

Then I became greedy, I saw all this space I was "wasting" by having my mirrored RAID array, I thought I could have a RAID 0 array and have this great big f'ing huge amount of storage. My backup fantasies went out of the window and in came my lust for an every growing pie chart in My Computer -> Right Click -> Properties.

Then one day the unimaginable happened, yes one of the disks went belly up and I lost an awful lot of data. I tried tools, I tried remaking the array, manually reconditioning the partition table - all to no avail. This was the great crash of 2004. Many a great track was sacrificed because of my arrogance.

Geeks are known for it, Robert Herron has the same hubris I once had. A troll I know is evil and whispers in your sleep "It won't happen to us". We believe it will never come to us.

Now all my work code is backed up nightly by our wonderful team of responsive tech support, stored off site. Using three series of tapes containing many hundreds of gigs of data. Which is great, but what about your home data. That music I mentioned, your photos, e-mails from Mom checking you're still eating OK.

Backing up was still, even after the 2004 incident, something I thought I should do but never really did properly, still convincing myself if the time came I'd be able to recreate most of it. DVDs here, CDs there - you know what it's like.

None the less with my conversion to Tao of Mac and my purchasing some music online, that if it my hard drive crashes and burns it's all gone. Music, photos, Calendars and the one no one ever remembers to back up (partially because with MS they're buried under five feet of crap, rock, stone and a Turkey leg from last years Thanks Giving.) e-mails. I always lose them in a crash, no matter what I do.

With all this I finally had an epiphany, my thoughts always revolved around, what would I do if my hard disks failed. Where would I get my application disks from if I deleted my partition. How could I get that amazing e-mail back from my boss praising me for being such an amazing l33t g33k if my Inbox tanked.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the question you should be asking is not what you will do if your disks crashes, but rather what will you do when the fires rain down burning a small golf ball sized hole through that shiny metal object you used to call your power book. OK I will calm down, lets just say your disk tanks and you need your stuff back.

The first thing I have done since having my mac is renting a .mac account. This affords me 1 gig of space online and the ability to use the Backup 3 program. Backup 3 wanted to take care of everything for me, it mainly got in the way except its daily schedule for backing up, e-mail accounts, rules, calendar, my keychain, and my internet favourites (another often over looked casualty of data loss) all automatically and online.

Whilst .mac isn't available to everyone, there are stacks of online providers of space that could let you upload your none sensitive backup for safe keeping... and some windows programs will let you ftp your backup to those spaces.

.mac is a great solution to the low volume high temporal sensitive backups, these are taken care of automatically now each night. Those pieces of data that are small but change often. Maybe just your inbox, your current todo list etc.

Backup 3 is great tool for creating a backup, full or incremental of x files and folders. Then these can be burned to a DVD or CD.

I am of the lazy sort as already discussed, the only reason my calendar is saved each night is because the computer does it for me with no intervention. This is the same reason that the monthly automated backup to a DVD by the same program is that I have to participate.

I have a solution to all those people who are the same as me, lazy, idle and feckless. I am the proud owner of an MacIntel, whilst the solution I'm going to outline will work fine on a PowerPC (Thank Christ for that or the Maltese one would have chopped my knackers off) If you have a power PC you just have slightly more restrictions on which hardware you can use.

The Intel Macs can boot from either a Firewire or a USB external disk. The older Power PC machines can only boot externally from a Firewire device.

I had a icybox kicking around that had USB interfacing to a SATA hard disk. I thought I would use that, so I bought a disk just bigger than my mac's internal and fitted that. Connected the USB cable and boom the new disk appeared on the desk top as an external USB disk.

Then using a piece of semi donation ware that you can use limited functionality of for free called Super Duper I cloned my entire notebook's hard disk.

Here is the blurb from Superduper's website "Have no fear. SuperDuper v2.1.2 is here!

SuperDuper is the wildly acclaimed program that makes recovery painless, because it makes creating a fully bootable backup painless. Its incredibly clear, friendly interface is understandable, easy to use, and SuperDuper's built-in scheduler makes it trivial to back up automatically. And it runs beautifully on both Intel and Power PC Macs! "

Here is where I think I lose out over the goat trader, using the USB icybox this took 3 hours 42 minutes - I reckon when we clone her machine on Firewire, it's gonna be a butt load faster.

What this cloning does is make an exact replica of your drive as it stands, files, setting, machine operating system the whole shebang. Then because the laptop can boot externally - hey presto you've got a complete machine when disk goes belly up. Or when your machine goes belly up and you can get to another you've still got all your work.

This is clearly a better solution for me that putting in an endless number of DVDs to backup to, and when the worst happens it'll all be OK the most you've lost is equal to the period of your backup cycle.

The backup cycle is important here - it is no use backing up once in January and not again until June, this is akin to putting a virus scanner on your windows box (I've forgotten what that's like) and not keeping it up to date - pointless. Like asking questions in a letter, why bother. It isn't a cheap way to feel proud of yourself and like a good computing citizen, nor is it a way of looking smugly down your nose of the less fortunate when they lose data.

If you're going to bother spending dosh and buying kit, damn well use it and keep using it. My .mac backs up that important stuff, that high traffic stuff nightly, in about 30 minutes actually... 0030 every night.

The other cunning time to backup is right before installing an OS update, whether that's Windows (Because lets face it, Rollback is about as reliable as numbers on the last stock take of Russian nuclear material) or OS X - as well as waiting the customary 24-48 hours before installing the latest big thing.

I would like to clone the machine daily but the time it's taking on my USB disk is prohibitive. It is likely to become a weekly thing, which is bringing me out in sweats just thinking about how much data I produce in 7 days that isn't going to be stored on a server somewhere where someone else backs up.

Ideally what you should do of course is have multiple copies of the backups, maybe rotating two or three of those external hard disks, cost here is prohibitive.

I hope this fly past insight into my backup schedule, then and now, has helped get across how easy you can make back ups, it is a chore - you'll never enjoy it, but I must say since taking my clones I have not been quite sorry worried about what I might do when my hard disk doesn't spin up in the morning.

You might be wondering since becoming this evangelist of the backup has it actually done me any favours other than, costing me money on disks or software or online storage.


Only the other week, I was in iCal tormenting my none enlightened windows pals by issuing iCal invites via my address book and Then all of a sudden Quick Silver bombed out, which I was using to send an e-mail. Quick Silver decided it was going to trash my address book - hey it shouldn't but it did.

I never said macs NEVER go wrong but I've been on them for about a year now and this is the first weirdness, where as we've been on Outlook for a matter of weeks at the Mill and numerous people are having Address book issues, but that is for another post.

Well after panicking ever so slightly, I thought "I wonder when my .mac account last copied all these wonderful goodies I'm preying for the safe return of ?"

Opening Backup 3, I asked it to look into restoring my address book, it asked me which one I wanted - "Oooo last night's please" and boom a small download later and it was back on form. I gave quicksilver a firm telling off and congratulated backup 3 on a job well done.

It is not just me. A colleague I know backs his system up, well a minimal install of Tiger to an old iPod and his docs somewhere and when his Hitachi disk crashed after a rather harsh encounter with the floor, he simply hooked up his iPod to the iBook and boom - back up and running he was.


Anonymous said...

An excellent overview, how about some more details about the actual process of making the clone ?

8:25 PM  
Anonymous said...

I second the complement.

I'd recommend paying the registration for SuperDuper. That will allow you to do what is called a Smart Backup. This does not take nearly as long as redoing the entire clone. It just updates the existing clone on your peripheral drive to match your internal drive. Kind of like an incremental backup. My smart backing up takes about 18 minutes (full clone took a couple of hours, I believe, using FireWire).

SuperDuper is fantastically easy to use. Just download it for free and try it out. All you need is a PC Mac and a peripheral FireWire HD or an Intel Mac and either a peripheral FW or USB HD.

10:47 PM  

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