'Backed up your mobile/PC data? It's useless unless…' blog discussion

Former_MSE_Sally Posts: 74 Forumite
This is the discussion to link on the back of Martin's blog. Please read the blog first, as this discussion follows it.

Please click 'post reply' to discuss below.


  • CoolHotCold
    CoolHotCold Posts: 2,158
    First Anniversary First Post Combo Breaker
    Proactivity is far less hassle than reactivity.
  • oldvicar
    oldvicar Posts: 1,088 Forumite
    MSE_Martin wrote:
    Therefore, the question I ask now is: “Do we have backup and restore plans in place?” Of course, the restore part is easier said than done for non-techies for their own PCs or mobiles. Testing whether you can restore data could be the very thing that predicates disaster.

    Absolutely. I could relate tales from the 1980s of an organisation handling roughly £1 billion of investments testing its off-site disaster recovery plans. Whilst recovering from the imaginary disaster was a success, restoring to normal operations was traumatic to say the least.
  • John_Gray
    John_Gray Posts: 5,819
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    Those ancient persons who worked with mainframes were very familiar with disaster recovery; it's the youngsters who know only PCs that think data recording media (and its data) last for ever.

    "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" - George Santayana.
  • irrelevant
    irrelevant Posts: 257
    First Anniversary Combo Breaker
    I think any of us in the industry have plenty of tales to tell - from the silly (backups of discs taken by photocopying them..) to the disastrous (backup tapes turning out to be blank, or perhaps worse, still containing very old copies rather than last nights.)

    The problem often is, how do you test a full restore? The ideal situation is that you have a completely separate set of identical hardware (be that a phone, PC, or multi-million pound cluster of mainframes) which you can restore onto without affecting the live system. Unfortunately, most of us don't have that option available.
  • Missli
    Missli Posts: 7,685
    First Anniversary Photogenic First Post
    I have different back-ups set-up weekly. A scheduled disk image, plus photos, documents, music, settings, etc saved to an external HD.

    I know this isn't fail safe, so also back-up between my desktop, netbook, and phone.

    The only type of fail has been my phone, when upgrading the firmware have lost certain promo apps/games, despite backing up. My personal stuff on my desktop/netbook, has always been fine with this method.

    I also back-up my photos, etc to DVD's every so often.
    New forum. New sig. Yes I still need to lose 2 stone! :smiley:
  • jamesd
    jamesd Posts: 26,103
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    edited 29 June 2012 at 12:46PM
    For the database part of the job the key easy solution is a replication slave at an offsite location. A replication slave with a deliberate delay can also be useful for recovering from some problems. A binary copy of data from the slave can be far faster than reloading a backup and a car can be a fast way to move bulk data between two sites. Low data volume sites can do it with a box in the home of the owner but you're beyond that now.

    Getting dual location redundant sites set up is more work and cost but can become worth it once the scale makes it useful. Most places, even at your moderate scale, won't bother with it, while the bigger ones quite often will start to head in this direction.

    The ability to point the web servers to either site can be handy. You could have two sites each with half of the web servers and a copy of the databases. Normally both sets of web servers point at one set, they switch as required between them if one fails. If one site loses connectivity you lose half of the capacity but none of the data availability. Heading gradually in this direction is the route that gets you the generally greatest viable level of availability.

    Be sure the sites are with different hosting companies and different backbones to the extent that that is viable for you. Hosting companies do have failed router issues sometimes and it'd be a shame to lose connectivity to both sites simultaneously. It's not fun losing connectivity to everything when you've taken care to have site redundancy.

    If you want a high profile example, Facebook has a machine per rack that is continually making backups using mysqldump of all of their active database servers to a disk storage box, and testing those backups with restores.

    Working out the lost revenue due to downtime can help to inform the cost/benefit tradeoffs, though do remember to do something to account for reputation losses, since there's usually reduced goodwill after any prolonged outage.

    Feel free to ask your web team to get in touch and discuss what you are doing and could be doing within whatever cost and site constraints you want. No charge from me for a socially worthy project and not worth the hassle for me to try go get permission to get paid even if you wanted to pay.
  • jamesd
    jamesd Posts: 26,103
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    edited 29 June 2012 at 1:02PM
    For personal backups of key information I tend to use USB memory sticks backed up to multiple hard disks. Use common programs to store the data on the disks and it should be usable on any likely machine that you plug the device into. Fast and easy but do back it up because these fail as well, that was my last personal data loss incident. Didn't cost me anything of great value because of the backup routine.

    For bulk data a pair of disks in different computers at different places far apart on a home network may be sufficient. Use a removable drive for one of them and swap that with an offsite one sometimes to get cheap offsite backup that's not too old. If lucky the fire or whatever will only destroy one of the on site ones.

    A wireless connection to a box under the floor can be viable protection from losing your bulk data to theft sometimes and might end up below a fire barrier, with some consequent protection from that risk. Should be easy enough for an electrician and building-related person to arrange power supply and suitable construction to provide access. Then stick a wardrobe on top of it most of the time. In areas with flood risk an attic may be better, though the chance of losing it to fire is higher. At many income levels it's inexpensive enough to go with both simultaneously.

    For the offsite protection, putting a removable drive inside a lockable cash box can be easy and inexpensive even if you don't want to risk the party holding it for you - say a family member - having too easy access to the data if they become curious or nefarious.

    Encrypted devices are available for those with higher risk concerns, like celebrities with home video habits. I've no idea whether this might apply to you, it's just another type of risk to protect against.
  • I posted this on the Grabbit forum a couple of months ago when https://www.Simplifymybackup.co.uk (the same company that look after the IT where I work work) were doing a 1 year £10 unlimited backup space offer.

    I started using it, put it on my laptop and the kids, it copies everything to the cloud: photos, itunes, even our camcorder movies and it genuinely works we have 255.27GB backed up. It took me a while to figure out how it all worked but after talking to them on twitter @simplifymy it became a lot more important to make sure the really important things like our family photos including those of members that aren't around anymore should be kept somewhere safe.

    Until I got this online account I was backing up essentials to my 16GB USB stick but this change when someone at work left his keys in the gym (with the USB stick on it) and someone found it, opened it up on their computer and found the details in a letter how to contact our work to return the keys! It really scared me cause I used to keep my banking login details on my stick, I shudder to think what would happen if I lost it..

    Anyway I've realised that £30 a year to me is a reasonable price to pay to keep all my stuff online. Especially because I don't even need the computer to re-access any of it I can just get it by logging into the website.
    Almost debt free - except mortgage, personal loan, and two credit cards... oh yes and car! Nearly there :beer:
  • MrsAtobe
    MrsAtobe Posts: 1,404 Forumite
    The recent RBS debacle is why everyone should not only have a backup, but also know how to recover it!

    Good enough is good enough, and I am more than good enough!:j

    If all else fails, remember, keep calm and hug a spaniel!
  • As I am now semi-retired my computer files/data are only”personal interest” although still very valuable to me. Loss would be annoying & time consuming but not job critical or survival critical.

    I use Windows Vista Operating system, Microsoft Outlook for e-mail and Firefox for the Internet.

    In my “Documents” I have a folder called “Email and Book mark backup”. Every 7-10 days I “Export” (in the “File” tab) my e-mails to a .pst file (Make sure you tick the sub-folders box when you do this) called something like Emails 04_07_12.pst, and put it in that folder. Once I’ve checked that it is there and looks about the right size, I delete its predecessor. I then back up the Firefox bookmarks (“Bookmarks” tab→ Show all bookmarks →Import and backup) – I alternate between backup (to a .json file) and “Export bookmarks to html”). This goes in the same folder and its predecessor is deleted. If there has been a change to my contacts or calendar in Outlook they are similarly exported to the same folder. I then have cycle of backups. About every 3-6 months I use Acronis true Image Home to make a complete backup of my C drive onto an external (USB) hard disk drive. In-between I periodically “Copy” the “Users” folder onto the external hard drive (there are 6 user accounts on my computer; 5 of them never change. Long story why; partial explanation below). Approximately weekly I “copy” the complete “Documents” folder from the one account that is really active and which contains the data and files I would need to resurrect if there was a disaster. This is copied onto a 32GB Memory stick which also contains all the photographs (these are copied on as new photographs are taken).

    It sounds involved, but it’s actually quite easy. This is all done –usually – on a Friday evening, whilst we are “flopped-out” in front of the TV; the laptop just occasionally asks for a bit of guidance or something to be “clicked on” and then gets on with the job. It does cost a bit – an external USB hard drive, a large Memory stick and a copy of Acronis True Image home. The point of the Acronis software(CD-ROM) is that if you have a complete disaster you could reformat the C drive or even put a totally new (blank) disk drive in the computer and the CD-ROM will recover the computer and get it started. You then connect the USB hard drive with the last Acronis image on it, and it restores everything – even the Operating system and the expensive music/software/applications/programs/irreplaceable photos you have– exactly as it was when you took the backup image. You then use the “copies” on either the Memory stick or the hard drive to update changes since the Acronis image was taken.

    Worst case; you lose everything you did since the last backup. If that is unacceptable, copy the precious documents/photos/software directly onto the memory stick or the hard drive. Weekly is OK for me. If your business/PhD/job/GCSE coursework/final year degree thesis/wedding photos depends on a document, copy it more often – daily, or after every change.

    Every time we visit our daughter, I do an Acronis true Image backup onto a USB hard disk drive (of mine) kept at her house.

    This follows the famous 3-2-1 rule of backup; 3 copies on at least 2 different media, one of them off-site.

    The one time I had to do a complete “replace and restore” using the Acronis system (total hard-disk write-off – new hard disk drive needed), it did work. However I am not a computer professional (just a user) and not in any way connected with Acronis and take no responsibility for the success or potential of their software. Caveat emptor –take your own professional advice.

    Although it is not essential for backup, I always search for and (where updates are available) do a full update of my antivirus, Windows, Adobe reader, iTunes, Firefox and my laptop maker’s website(for any new drivers). I then do a disk clean-up, defragmentation and an antivirus scan – before backup. Most of these things can be set to happen automatically, and you then find you are held up, waiting for the computer to do some backup when you want to be getting on with a job. I would rather do them manually – so the computer can get on with it whilst I am watching TV. (Friday evening software update, scan and backup can go from 6 pm to “gone midnight”, but the laptop only demands attention for 5 minutes here and 30 seconds there).

    After I am fully updated and virus scanned, I then do the backup described above. It all sounds very involved – once you are onto the third time, you’ll do it without thinking about it.

    Note to parents – if your children have critical work (e.g. GCSE course work) check that they save it every few minutes and that they back it up –at the very least onto a memory stick, or a USB hard drive or e-mail, it to another computer or have a copy on both the home laptop and the school system. I am told “The Cloud” may be an alternative, but I don’t use this system so cannot offer an opinion.

    Reason for some of my many accounts. You need two virtually empty administrator accounts and the account where you do all your work (including emailing and anything to do with the internet) – all with different passwords. Reason. Your active account should not have administrator privileges. This will not prevent malware from the internet doing damage, but it will limit how dire and universal the damage would be; the malware cannot get administrator privileges. The first administrator account is just for essential changes (e.g. software updates) and other matters that need an administrator account. But what happens if the administrator account crashes (this did happen to me). That’s why you need a second (otherwise empty) account with administrator privileges.
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