John Topley’s Weblog

Get Your Back Up

I read a theory once that said that data doesn't exist unless it is stored in at least three locations at once. Another theory, Murphy's Law, would say that the first theory would be proved true on the night before an important meeting and whilst finishing a report, when your computer dies and you don't have a backup!

I've always been paranoid about my data. I spend a fair amount of time thinking about how to safeguard it and make sure that I've haven't built up a vulnerable position. It's no secret that most computer owners simply don't bother with backups. I wonder how much data is lost a year because of this? I don't blame people for not backing up. It's a chore and not nearly as automatic as it should be, although things are slowly getting better.

A new gadget for my PC.
A picture of my SmartDisk Universal Media Reader

In seven years of home PC computing, spent using three different computers, I've not lost a single byte of data. Maybe I've just been very lucky; I've never had a hard drive die on me, for example. Perhaps Murphy will strike me now that I've written this article! My data was probably most at risk when it was stored on that first PC. I bought a tape drive and used to back it up over three tapes using the backup application that came with Windows NT 4.0. That never felt very trustworthy. Restores were very hit and miss.

The real breakthrough came with the advent of affordable CD–R and CD–RW drives. As an aside, a friend of mine bought a CD–R drive in 1993 and it cost over £3000! He also had to buy a one gigabyte hard disk to go with it—an almost unheard of capacity at the time—and that cost another £1000. My first CD–Rewriter was a Philips drive that gave up the ghost as soon as it was out of warranty. A trawl of the newsgroup archives revealed that this amazing feat of precision built–in obsolescence from Philips was a common occurrence. After that, I read lots of reviews and bought a Plextor drive, which was fast and never missed a beat. My current PC has an unbranded drive which is serving me well.

My present backup scheme consists of two handfuls of CD–Rs which contain Norton Ghost images of my Windows, program files and data partitions and a weekly CD–RW backup of my changing documents. I've just added to this plan because I've bought a SmartDisk Universal Media Reader, which is a USB gizmo that can read and write seven different memory card formats. I bought a 256 MB Compact Flash card, which is large enough for me to copy my e–mail message store and my most important documents to, but small enough for me to take to work with me so that I have an off–site backup. The device is simplicity itself to use because you don't have to install any drivers under Windows XP and it adds three removable drives to Windows Explorer. You can copy files using drag and drop as normal. My only criticism is that I would have liked to have seen a spring–loaded media ejection mechanism as my digital camera has, because you have to give the card a bit of a tug to remove it. This would have undoubtedly have added to the forty pounds cost though.


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Data doesn't exist unless it is stored in at least three locations at once.


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