Thursday, May 7, 2009

A dirty , but necessary word: backup

In a BBC Blog today, Rory Cellan-Jones questions applications on the cloud's reliability while writing mostly good things about Evernote :

"But will Evernote - and the memories it stores in the cloud - still be around in five years' time?"

"We are putting more and more of our lives into the internet "cloud" - and that raises all sorts of issues about security and trust. Companies offering these cloud services will need to provide plenty of reassurance to their users over the coming years."

His concerns dovetails nicely with concerns I have about data on the web. I learned in the last great Internet Boom that when the bubble bursts, data can be lost. I am very careful now to choose online providers that allow me to back up my online data.

You may assume they backup their data--and they might--but the free services do not offer any real Quality of Service guarantees, so I assume the data is vulnerable.

When I recently began using Evernote, I was pleased to see it had a database it saved locally. It has everything (I believe) that is stored online, plus my local folders. That database I can back up.

In fact, all my online cloud data is factored into my backup strategy.

I have a constantly evolving backup strategy. The newest one is two months old.

I've learned the hard way, its not IF a drive will fail, but WHEN a drive fails.

I wish there was a magical CD that was always bigger then all my drives put together. I could set it to burn a backup of all my data to a CD and then file it away.

Alas, a DVD gets just over 4 gig of storage. My online drives total a Terabyte and I have two more off line drives equaling 500 gig.

So it isn't valid to make a full backup of my system. And even My Documents is too big (91 gig today). A lot of that is video projects I'm working on.

You have to ask yourself, what could I not do without? Then figure out a way to back those files backed up.

It's easy to backup my wife and son's computers. They use their laptops for school mostly, and their My Documents folders fit on a DVD. I hope you are that lucky, but if not, you probably have given up backing up. Or...many people have never, ever backed up. I know from horrible experience, you are doomed!

I have a spreadsheet of personal finances, another a list of file folders and CDs/DVDs I've created, and a couple more files that have important often changed data in it. I wrote a Autoit script to back those up nightly to a new folder; kind of a poor man's version control. Each month I copy the most recent set, and a set from the middle and start of the month, to a CD.

I spoke in a previous post about how I am scanning documents using my Neat Scanner. It has an automated backup, so that backup file goes to the CD too.

My folder of work related documents goes on the CD too.

And I export my bookmarks from Firefox and Chrome.

After those local files, I backup my data from the cloud.

I backup my Google Voice Contacts, my contacts from my cell phone (synchronized by Sprint online), this blog, and my Delicious bookmarks. I forgot this month to get my Opera Mini bookmarks. They are synchronized with Opera and show up in my PC's Opera.

My paid Yahoo email account lets me archive emails, and for Gmail, there is a free backup utility, Gmail Backup. I tested it once for a few of my emails. It downloaded the emails as .eml files that can be loaded into standard email clients like Outlook or Thunderbird.

With the inclusion this month of the Evernote database, all this no longer fits on a CD, but it fit on only 33% of a DVD. I have room to grow. I'm suspect by year's end I'll need a second DVD each month. But 30 or 60 cents a month for backup is a real bargain.

Backup programs all seem to assume you're either got some magical media as big as the media you are backing up, or are willing to sit and feed in DVD's all night. I have this fear then most people are not backing up effectively. What I've tried to show here is that you can design a backup procedure that can protect your major files WHEN the worst finally occurs.

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