Backup! Backup! Backup! [UPDATED]

True story.

I once worked in a computer repair shop and a guy came in with his iMac saying that his computer wouldn’t boot. I took a quick look at it and discovered that the hard drive had malfunctioned and that was keeping his computer from booting. When I told him this, he then asked “What about the stuff on my drive?” I told him that I could do nothing to recover his data and that unless he went to a data recovery place, he has lost his data. He burst into tears at that point and then told me that he had digital pictures of his mother on that drive and she just passed away in the last couple of weeks. He was desperate to get those pictures back as “that’s all he had left of her.” I disassembled the computer on the spot (something I don’t normally do) and got the drive out and gave it to the customer along with referrals to several data recovery places (which he took advantage of).

The most important thing that you can do if you have a computer is to BACK UP YOUR DATA on a regular basis. Chances are, you have pictures, music, financial records, and all sorts of important data on your computer. What happens if your hard drive has some sort of problem? One of two things usually happens:

  1. The data is gone forever.
  2. You have to go to a data recovery service to TRY and get your data back. If they succeed, expect to pay anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

To avoid either of these, you should make backups on a regular basis. Here’s how I do it:

  • I use Acronis True Image 10 as my backup program. It has the capability of making an exact copy of your hard drive (including the hidden recovery partition that some computers have) and if you make a boot CD, you can use it to do what is called a “bare metal restore” to a blank hard drive. It backs up to CD, DVD external hard drives, or network attached storage drives. The best part is that you can schedule backups and forget about it as it will backup your data on the schedule you set. You may be asking, why am I not using Acronis True Image 11 as that is the latest version. I tried it and found that it had a serious bug. Namely, it didn’t always backup on the schedule that you set. People on the Acronis message board have been talking about it in posts like this, this, and this and nobody seems to be happy. So I will avoid True Image 11 until this is fixed. Seeing as the application has been out since the latter half of last year and there is no fix for this yet, it doesn’t enhance my confidence in Acronis and their ability to fix this issue. It is likely that I will be looking at a new backup program shortly, which is a shame as Acronis True Image is very easy to use. But at the end of the day the program has to work and right now that’s questionable with their latest version.
  • I back up to a D-Link DNS-323 Storage Enclosure. Basically this is a enclosure that holds two SATA hard drives (in my case, two 500GB Seagate Barracuda hard drives) and plugs into your network via a 10/100/Gigabit Ethernet connection. You can configure the hard drives to mirror each other for extra security. The unit seems solid and their latest firmware seems to have cleared up any issues the product might have had.

With this setup, all my Windows computers backup via my network every night between midnight and 7AM. Since all of my computers have Gigabit Ethernet ports, it only takes about three hours to backup each Windows computer. The other important thing is that I have tested the restore capabilities. I made a boot CD using Acronis True Image and I was able to do a full restore to a blank hard drive. That’s important as backups mean nothing if you can’t restore it.

Now you don’t have to do what I’ve done to have secure backups. A much easier thing that you can do is to get an external hard drive and use that to backup your computer. My personal favorite are the Seagate Free Agent Pro Drives as all you do is plug it into your Windows computer, install some software and it does the rest for you. Plus Seagate make the best hard drives in the industry and back them with 5 year warranties.

So in closing, I say it again: The most important thing that you can do if you have a computer is to BACK UP YOUR DATA on a regular basis. Don’t assume that your computer will always work and that you won’t have a problem that will cost you your data. After all, you don’t want to end up like the gentleman at the start of this post.

Oh yeah, as for that gentleman and the photos. He did get the photos along with the rest of his data. But it cost him $1500 (Canadian dollars that is). It also cost him $300 to have the computer fixed (I installed a new hard drive and did a restore of the original operating system and applications that came from the factory). He also bought an external hard drive to backup his data so that he would never be on the brink of losing his data again.

P.S. If you’re looking for advice in terms of backing up your Mac, click here.

UPDATE: I should note that Acronis True Image Home 2009 is out, but judging from this post and the fact that PC Magazine recently posted a rather negative review, it doesn’t seem to be stable enough to switch to. That’s a shame because True Image used to be a great backup program. I am still using True Image Home 10 and I have been recommending to my clients that they use this version as it is rock solid. I am currently evaluating several alternatives and I will post my recommedation when I find something that I feel comfortable with. At the moment, I am leaning towards ShadowProtect Desktop as a viable replacement.

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