Saturday, January 8, 2011

Back 'em up!

Apple betrayed me a couple of months ago, and in doing so laid bare some erroneous assumptions about my data backup strategy.

When I got my MB Air, which came with iLife '11, I bought the new iLife for my other machines as well.  When I upgraded my wife's machine, it blew up and corrupted the iPhoto file.  This, as it turns out, happened to a lot of people.  This was inconvenient, to be sure, as her iPhoto file was 80 gb, and so recovering it would take a while.

Well, it was worse than that.  I had what I thought was a foolproof backup strategy.  That turned out not to be the case.

My backup strategy is layered:

  • Google for mail and contacts.
  • Dropbox--primary working files go here.
  • Time Machine (on a 1TB Time Capsule) for incremental backups of everything.
  • JungleDisk backing static files like music and photos to an Amazon S3 account.
  • Super Duper! making a clone of my hard drive every month or so to an external drive.
So far, so good.  The problem lay in the fact that Kate only has the Time Machine component.  She has external hard drives, but neglects to back anything up to them.

Time Machine has some problems.  If you never properly quit out of iPhoto, it can't back up the library.  Kate usually closes the window and assumes that the program has quit.  This is how it works in Windows, but not on the Mac OS.  You have to actually quit the program.  So, iPhoto stays open, along with Mail and other frequently used programs, all the time.  She did not have a recent Time Machine backup of her iPhoto library.

Also, recovering files from Time Machine turns out to be hit or miss.  In this case, it was mostly miss.  I could see the file I wanted, and start the recovery.  But it would always fail before finishing.  Perhaps this was because the file size was so large.  And, to make matters worse, it would work on recovering for about 24 hours before failing.

So, 3 days later, I am in ever increasing trouble with the wife, and not sure how to get her photos back.  Apple, had, in the meantime, 'fessed up to the fact that iPhoto '11 was a cluster, and issued an update.

Using third party software to browse the Time Machine backups, I was finally able to get her iPhoto file from about 2 weeks prior.  The whole process took almost a week--ugh!

A second thing happened that had me thinking about data backup.  My 1TB LaCie external hard drive failed.  I did not lose any data, but I felt a bit naked for a week.  I took the thing apart to see if I could recover the data from the hard drive inside.  It turns out that there are 2 500 gb drives, and some sort of control mechanism that meant I could not get the data off of the drives.

I replaced it with a more industrial grade solution--the Drobo.  The Drobo is basically a consumer-level RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) device.  It has 4 slots for drives.  With multiple drives, it replicates data across the drives so that when one fails, you don't lose any data.  You just replace the drive and keep on truckin'.  I got the lowest level, which is still $400 without drives--ouch!

So now I feel pretty solid on my backups.  My email and contacts are in the cloud with Google, and replicated locally on my machines.  The files I work on consistently are on Dropbox and replicated into the cloud as well as across my machines in real time.  JungleDisk backs those up again to the cloud plus adds my media, every 24 hours.  Time Machine is backing everything up, and may or may not let me recover it, every hour.  About once a month I copy media files to the Drobo, and make a bootable clone of my hard drive.

If I lose my laptop (likely), then I just change my Google passwords (even though I run 2 factor authentication), get a new one and I am back to normal within an hour.  In fact, I just assume that at some point someone will steal my laptop and I make arrangements accordingly.  That was the impetus for setting up my original layered backup system, when my laptop was my only machine.  Now, I really have data in too many places--I need to go through and prune stuff off of older machines that I don't use.

If someone cleans out my whole office, including the iMac, Drobo and Time Capsule, I can still recover my important data files easily, but it would take me a bit more time to set up my computers with all the software I use.

Overkill?  How valuable are the photos of your kids?  Can you recover them if someone steals your computer?  Your emails?

Speaking of which, how secure are your passwords?  If someone has access to your computer, do they have access to your usernames and passwords?  If you save them in your browser then they do.  Use a secure password manager like 1Password, LastPass or Roboform.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for taking the time to comment! Anonymous is okay, but it is easier for me to respond if you at least make up a name.