When most people approach their computer backup, they focus on how to create the backup and don’t really think about how to use it if it is ever required. I backup in several different ways, but in this post I want to outline the backup strategy that I am most likely to make use of in case my laptop is stolen, submerged, lost, dropped, kicked, eaten, or incinerated. I’m just going to outline the theory behind this backup strategy regardless of the OS. In a later post, I’ll show you how to actually implement it on OS X.
If we approach backup with the end in mind, it makes us take a different approach than. So lets define the desired outcome. In our case the desired outcome is to minimize downtime. I regularly talk with people suffering from a crashed hard drive. In my work, being down for even a short period of time can easily cost me hundreds of dollars in billable hours and thousands of dollars in future business.
So our backup strategy is going to be designed around getting back up and running as quickly as possible. If our computer hard drive crashes, we need to be able to be up and running without a lengthy restore process. We can’t afford to pull out our backup and go through a 2 hour restore process, it needs to be instant.
We need to be able to run directly from the backup in order to come back up instantly. This automatically disqualifies any type of backup that isn’t on a hard drive. We also need to be able to have access to more than just our data. We need to have our application, settings, files, desktop–everything backed up in a way that we can instantly bring our information back up.
The only way to accomplish this is to keep a hard drive that is an exact mirror of our working computer. That way we won’t be missing anything.
In order to meet our requirements, we need to eliminate the traditional restore process. This means our backup needs to be bootable so it can be plugged into another computer and booted, so the software and data are exactly like our original machine. We can’t take the time to copy our backed up version back to a local hard drive on our machine.
Benefits of this Type of Backup
The benefits of this type of backup are significant. If the hard drive dies on your existing machine, you have a way to immediately go back to work, while you wait for a replacement hard drive. If your computer has to go into the shop, you can continue to work without messing with the configuration on another machine without missing a beat. When your computer comes back, you can easily transfer all your data back to it without interrupting any of your work process.
In our next post about backup, we’ll look at how to make this work in OS X.
Gene Eichelberger says
I think it is a bit confusing to call your suggestion a backup. What your post is suggesting is fault tolerance. The risk your eliminating is a hardware failure. You are not protecting yourself from a software failure like virus or accidental file deletion which could go undetected and transfered to your backup media. A true backup creates multiple historical versions which can be restored.
A backup solution investment should be commensurate with the value of the data being protected. With that in mind you should be more than willing to adopt a system of both fault tolerance and historical backups. Fault tolerance would include computer systems with redundant components up to and including a hot standby system. Your backups should include data duplication to a long term media (3 years) like tape or DVD to protect you from lose, virus or data corruption which could go undetected for multiple days.
Indeed, if your notebook is as valuable to the extent that its lose would incur substantial financial harm, the minimum steps that should be taken are encrypted hard drives, nightly automated backups, and regular system images. Additionally, since you can expect to transition to a new notebook every 3 to 6 years, these measures should take in account that your next hard drive will be substantially larger than your existing secondary storage media.
If your career depends on the uninterrupted functioning of your computer. The investment in hardware, security for the data, and the support for data duplication should reflect its value. Insist that your IT department provide complete protection of your productivity and make them prove they can restore it. If you are responsible for your own protection, don’t go cheap. Ensure that the value you proscribe to your productivity is reflected in the steps and discipline taken to protect it.
Mark Shead says
@Gene – Good point about having backups from specific points in time. I do a file backup to DVD every month or so that eventually makes it’s way to a lockbox. But you are right. The process I outline here, will not let you recover a file that you deleted 6 months ago.