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Monday, May 21, 2012

How do you back up your data? Do you back up your data?

If you don't back up your data, then you are headed for sure and certain disaster. It's a question of 'when?', not 'if?' 

By David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

Hard disks always fail. Sooner or later the disk upon which your most treasured data resides will become as dead as the proverbial ex-parrot.

But of course you have a backup plan, don't you? You can simply replace the disk, restore your data and carry on as though nothing has happened.

But the sad fact is that most people don't have a backup, and most of those who do have one or more of the following problems...

  • Their backup is no more secure than their primary data storage

  • They have never tested the restore procedure

  • The backup is way out of date

  • Data is prone to loss during the backup procedure
Let's look at each of these in turn...

Suppose you have a backup. Where do you keep it? Attached to your computer at all times? Well when the burglars come round to your house, they will take the lot. You have lost your data.

If your house burns down, you've lost the lot. Even if you hide your backup under the floorboards, the fire (or flood) will surely find and destroy it.

Your backup needs to be in a remote location so that if your computer is stolen or damaged, the backup remains safe.

Suppose you have a backup. When was the last time you tested your backup procedure? I once had a whole album's worth of tracks in progress. When my disk failed, I was so pleased I had a backup... until I found that it wouldn't restore. Fortunately I had some rough mixes stored elsewhere and I was able to use these (and actually the limitations of working with mixed backing tracks spurred my creativity, but that's another story).

Every so often therefore you must test your backup, to make sure it will work when you need it to.
When is the last time you backed up your data? At the end of yesterday's session? Really? My computer just flashed up a message saying that I haven't backed up in 20 days. Oh dear, it's so easy to forget.

Suppose you have a backup hard disk. Every so often you'll have to attach it to your computer to update your backup. What if the computer does something funny and wipes all of your data? It has been known.

My own plan for my personal data, family photographs and such, is this...

I keep my important data on one of my Apple Macintosh computers. I have Windows computers as well but the Mac suits my purposes for everyday use.

The standard software installed with the OS X operating system includes something called Time Machine. Basically, if you plug in an external hard disk, the computer will ask you if you want to use it for backup. Time Machine is very easy to use for backup, and I have restored files on a couple of occasions when I had deleted them in error.

But what about storing the disk in a remote location? Well, I keep my backup disk in the trunk of my car. I figure that either the house will get burgled or the car will. They are not likely to get done at the same time. If I go on vacation and leave the car behind, I leave the disk at a friend's house.

One thing that does still worry me however is data loss during the backup procedure. This can take a long time and I could easily want to go out of the house while it is in progress. What if the burglars strike then?

The answer to this, or so I thought, would be to use two disks for Time Machine backup and always have one in the trunk of the car. Er... you can only use one, unless you want to start the backup from scratch every time you swap the disk.

I store my most important files on Amazon S3. 'S3' stands for 'Simple Storage Service'. It costs me ¢15 per gigabyte per month, plus some transfer charges. This works very well indeed, although when you start to think about storing a terabyte of data, that comes to $1800 a year, just to keep it there. Ouch!

OK, over to you... tell us about your backup methods. If anyone comes up with a method of real genius and stunning simplicity, we'll feature it in an article all of its own.

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