Thursday, January 19, 2006

Back Up Your Data Already!

A client's main server crashed today. That is unremarkable, as their server is very old and poorly maintained. However, their most recent backup is 30 days old... they're in for some serious hurt. Remember to back up your data, friends.

I remember once, in college, when I helped a grad student recover her thesis paper. I think it was 1992 or maybe 1993. It was Winter, just before Christmas, and I was living on campus in a dorm. I'm not sure how it came about that I ended up helping this fellow student. I do not remember her name, and I have only a vague recollection that she was Asian and shorter than I am.

The cry for help was genernal, not specifically to me. Perhaps I heard her lamenting to another student, or read it on the campus BBS. The thesis she had worked on for so long and so hard was stored on a floppy disk. It spanned hundreds of pages, and now she could no longer read the floppy. I offered to help.

It didn't read in my drive, either, so it was the floppy. I explained to her that this floppy was old and worn, and she should probably go back to her most recent backup. Except, of course, that she had none. She was in tears, I remember that. I told her I would try to do something, recover whatever I could.

Payment was never discussed, and looking back, I suppose it did not cross my mind at the time. I used an old but trusty utility to read data at the bit level, did a hex dump and showed her what I found. Amazingly (very amazingly) I actually hit upon her thesis. Though her needle was in the haystack, somehow I had been guided to the correct sectors of the floppy. It was unlikely because the entire Bible fits on a floppy... so if you could flip open a Bible and just happen to land in the same book and chapter I am thinking of right now... well, you get the idea.

I dumped the entire contents as text to a file on my hard drive and showed her what we had. What we had was several copies of her thesis in run-on paragraphs. She'd have to do a lot of formatting, but all of her work was there. I gave her a new floppy (and perhaps an extra) and admonished her to make backups. She left in a hurry to get her thesis ready to turn in.

The short Asian graduate student and I never crossed paths again; or, if we did meet again, we did not recognize each other. Today, however, no such miracle is availble for this one client.

The moral of the story is simple: back up your files. If they are important to you, make a copy. For the truly important stuff, consider electronic storage off site, away from your primariy residence. If you have Windows XP, check out (if you use this link, I get an extra 250mb, thanks no, I don't get anything for this). At least make backups to a USB drive or burn copies to CD or something.

"What do you do, Lee?" you may ask. I'm a little nuts on this... I keep large hard disk attached to my home network. Cathy backs up all files from her laptop to a ZIP disk and to a USB keychain. Occassionally, I back that up to the external hard disk. Periodically, I burn the contents of the hard disk to CD. For really important stuff, I'm planning on encrypting them and sending them to my Mozy account. If you sign up for one, try creating a separate Gmail account first. If you need a Gmail invite, I have plenty.


  1. OK...OK!!! I've been MEANING to do this... My business partner keeps telling me I should.... I signed up for a Mozy account. :) I know I've said it before, but thanks for putting such USEFUL info on your blog! C-ya later gator!

  2. Update: I visited this client on Monday and was able to get their system back up. They have their data through 01/09/2006... so they'll survive. (Thank God)

  3. Hey.. you're about as much of a geek as Anders and I. We back up everything to disk every month! I even back up my work files b/c I don't trust the server backups that are run nightly. :) cheers, Amy