Charred SSD Hard Drive

The importance of having a Backup Strategy

Charred SSD Hard Drive - Backup or lose it!!I am constantly telling people and Business Owners of the importance of having a sound Backup Strategy. I cannot stress enough that if you have important data on your Computer, and if you or your Business lives or dies by that data, you need to have an effective backup strategy in place.

Well it’s just as well I followed my own advice, because yesterday I had a catastrophic Hard Drive failure.

I walked into my office only to be confronted with a room full of acrid smoke. It was coming from my computer, so I quickly removed the cover and immediatedly saw charred wiring, and melted power cabling that led to my SSD Boot Drive.

Having this happen could easily have been very detrimental to my business if wasn’t for the backup strategy I had in place. Happily, I was back up and running again in a relatively short time, and more importantly, without any data loss.

So what is my Backup Strategy?

Well I have various things in place to avoid disaster. The first revolves around the computer itself, and how often I upgrade to a new one, and what I do with the old Computer. I build myself a new computer every 3 years or so. Once I have setup the new Computer and transfer all the data from the old one, and install all the software and setup email etc, I retire the old computer and keep it. By doing this, if something happens with the new one, I have an existing computer with all the software pre-installed ready to go.

Backup or Lose it!!

But that doesn’t help with preventing Data Loss.

You also need to be backing up your critical data. There are many ways, means, and options available to do this. What I do is this. I have an external NAS (Network Attached Storage) device connected to my Network. The NAS box has two Hard Drives that operate in a Mirrored RAID configuration. In other words, one Hard Drive Mirrors (exact copy) the other Hard Drive. If one of those Hard Drives fail, I can replace it, and it will automatically “Mirror” itslef to the replacement drive. I have software installed on the Computer called “Syncback“, and Syncback it is setup to backup my data to the NAS Drive on a schedule specified by me.

In addition to this, I have an “Offsite Backup” using software called “Carbonite“. Carbonite will backup my data via the Internet to a secure Server in real time as files change, and has the added benefit of keeping revisions of the file changes so if I ever accidentally save a file and overwrite it accidentally, I can retrieve/recover a previous version of the file. Offsite backups are important to protect you from events like a fire or theft of physical backup devices. Let’s face it, if your office burns down, or someone breaks in and steals everything, it doesn’ty matter how many backups you have or how many devices your data is backed up on.

So after my calamitous Hard Drive failure, I fired up the old PC, did the appropriate Windows updates, Security Software updates, and accessed my data on the NAS Drive. Then I immediately ordered the parts I needed to build myself a new computer. The one that went up in smoke was due to be replaced anyway. I just wished I’d taken steps a week earlier to replace it 😉


Windows 7 Recovery Medi
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Create a Windows 7 installation disk using the Microsoft Software Recovery website

Windows 7 Recovery MediWell here is a handy website to know about.

I don’t know how many times a customer has come to us, either wanting their Windows 7 PC or Laptop wiped and reinstalled, or it has needed repairing using Recovery Media, but they do not have their Recovery Media or a Windows 7 Disk.

Now this isn’t a particularly big problem for us because we have access to Windows OEM Disks, but for the End User, not having the Recovery Media is a huge problem that means they have no other choice but to pay someone to do it for them.

What to do if you don’t have Windows 7 Recovery Media

Help is at hand. By visiting the Microsoft Software Recovery website, the End User can download the ISO file required to burn their own Recovery Media disk. The size of the disk will be somewhere between 2GB and 3.5GB, so if you are on a limited Internet Plan or a Mobile Internet Plan, just be careful you do not exceed your download limit.

Microsoft even provide a link for software to burn a DVD from an ISO file if you don’t have suitable software installed to do that yourself. Once you have the software and a valid Product Key, you’re off and running.

The website also allows you to create a bootable USB drive with a copy of Windows 7 on it.

All-in-all, a very handy thing to know if you never had a disk, or you have damaged your disk. As we all know, it is impossible to reinstall or even undertake some really easy repairs without a Recovery Disk or Windows 7 Media.

Of course there will be some End Users that will still have difficulties installing Windows 7 even if they do have the disk. For example, you will still need to download the Windows Drivers from the appropriate hardware manufacturers websites. But if that is the case, Spotty Dog Computer Services can certainly do that for you 😉


Should You Backup your Smart Phone?

Smartphone-backupThe short answer is yes!

Here’s why: Smartphones are increasingly replacing normal mobile phones. A smartphone is a phone with PC-like capabilities.

What’s great about having a smartphone is that they enable you to perform many tasks that previously would have required a full-sized computer. While a lot of these applications are “cloud based” which means that most or all of the data is stored on central servers (that you don’t need to worry about backing up except if the cloud provider closes down or you discontinue your subscription to a paid service!) there is still quite a lot of important information that may only be stored on your smartphone.

As with all backups, this information builds little by little over time and sadly you may not recognise how important it is until it’s too late. Some of the information that could be at risk on your phone includes:

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  • Photos and videos
  • Emails
  • Address books
  • Calendar entries
  • Documents, spreadsheets, presentations
  • To-do lists
  • Notes


So how do you backup your smartphone? Generally you back it up by joining it to a full sized computer periodically.

If your smartphone is an Apple iPhone, iTunes by default will do a backup of your device whenever it’s attached to your computer. It will also keep a number of backups. For these people it’s important to plug in your device regularly to back it up. Soon a new version of the iPhone Operating System is likely to provide the facility to backup directly to the cloud.

Blackberry devices have a similar computer-based backup and restore facility through “Blackberry Desktop Manager”. Again you need to connect your blackberry to your computer to complete the backup so it’s key that you do this regularly.

For other smartphones such as those running Android, you have to work a bit harder! While talked about for some time there is not yet an officially endorsed way to do a full backup of an Android device. This is likely to improve with time, but for now there are some third-party utilities that you can purchase which will backup most of the information on your Android. Just visit the Android Market and search for backup then try a few free/trial apps before you commit to purchasing one which works best for your device and needs.

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Back It Up or You Will Lose It

backupBacking up your data is a bit like going to the Dentist or Doctor for a checkup, or checking the air pressure in your car tires.

It should be done regularly, but because of forgetfulness, the unpleasantness, or just plain laziness, you put it off and before you know it, the hard drive fails and all your files, emails, music, and photos are gone for good.

Given that the consequences are so dire, why don’t we all back up more often?

Most people don’t back up their hard drives. The reason? Most people don’t know how. I am constantly being asked, “how do I do a backup?”

So what are the best ways to back up your data cheaply and easily.

The most common means of backing up data is to use a second hard drive connected to your computer, either internally or externally. Hard drives can deliver huge data storage capacities, from less than 100GB to more than a terabyte (TB), and at a very low cost per-gigabyte. When buying a second drive, it is a good idea to opt for one that is at least twice the capacity of your current hard drive, as this will give you room to grow.

A second hard drive has the capacity to allow you to create a “mirror image” of your primary hard drive, making an exact copy of the entire drive. That way, if your primary hard drive fails, you can easily restore your computer with all your current data, software and updates.

You can add an additional internal hard drive, which involves opening your computer and installing it. With an internal hard drive, you can also set it up it in a RAID configuration that maintains an automatically mirrored copy of your primary hard drive in Real Time. Note that RAID wasn’t designed with the average consumer in mind, so setting it up is not particularly intuitive, and can’t be setup after the fact. It needs to be done at the time of OS installation. If RAID isn’t an option because you don’t want to reinstall the OS, I suggest the use of a fantastic little program called Mirror Folder. It simulates RAID without the need for a RAID capable motherboard, drivers and reinstall of the OS.

If all that sounds to hard, then using an external hard drive connected via USB, FireWire or if available external Serial ATA (eSATA) interface may be easier. eSATA supports fast transfer speeds equal to those of internal SATA hard drives.

Another reason external hard drives may be a better option is that they are portable. That means you can transport your backup files by simply unplugging your external hard drive and taking it to another location.

To get the most from an external hard drive, you’ll also need to use backup software. Many external hard drives are supplied with a backup solution that allows you to schedule automatic backups, and Windows XP, Vista, and 7, have simple backup software built right into the OS. If neither of these options float your boat, you can download free backup software, or buy a commercial one. My favourite backup solution is SyncBack (free and paid for versions) and even the aforementioned Mirror Folder.

Whatever you use, look for software that lets you schedule your backups. If your data is sensitive, then data encryption is another feature to look for.

Backing up to CDs or DVDs is another option, but mainly for those who want to safeguard just particular files and folders, and not the entire hard drive. That’s because optical discs have much smaller capacities. A CD can store only 650MB, a DVD stores 4.7GB, and a double-layer DVD stores 8.5GB.

The benefit to backing up to optical discs is that every PC these days has a disc burner. The discs themselves are readable by just about any PC, they are very inexpensive when bought by the spindle, and if properly stored and of sufficient quality, an optical disc should last at least 50 years. The big downside though, apart from the limited capacity, is that you can’t schedule optical burners to automatically back up your files, and like an external hard drive, you’ll still need software to make the backup process as painless as possible.

Thanks to always-on broadband, backing up your data to an online storage is now a viable option. Online storage often enables you to access your data from any PC that connects to the Internet. Online storage services also offer automated or scheduled backup for “set and forget” ease of use, and unlike backing up to another drive or optical discs, your files are stored on a remote server and not in your home. This means that you don’t have to worry about theft, fire or natural disasters, your data is safe and will still exist in cyberspace.

But there are limitations due to issues with bandwidth and maximum upload speeds as determined by your Internet service provider and plan. Backing up files online will take longer than copying files to a second hard drive, and depending on the speed of your service and the data allowance you have, this method could end up costing a lot more than purchasing an external hard drive or using optical discs, especially since some ISP’s, count uploads towards your monthly quota. Online services can’t create a full-drive mirror image, like you can with an external drive, so they’re best for backing up files such as digital photos, music, and other documents.

Carbonite is my choice for online storage services. It will back up your files behind the scenes. After you install the program onto your Windows PC, Carbonite can back up all the data on your hard drive or you can specify which folders, subfolders, and files you want to store. As long as your computer is on and connected to the internet, Carbonite will continuously monitor and back up your data. Whenever you create a new file or modify an existing one, Carbonite records the changes. The only files it won’t back up automatically are Windows system files, although you can force Carbonite to save them but it is advisable not to because they could cause problems when restored.

To indicate which files have been backed up, Carbonite adds coloured icons on the file or folder icons in Windows. A green dot indicates that the item has been backed up, while a yellow one means that a backup is in progress. Your files are encrypted and stored securely on remote servers. When you need to restore your files, just launch the program, and Carbonite guides you through the process, or if you are restoring files onto a new machine, just download the application, and Carbonite will take care of the process. Carbonite offers a free 15 day trial, and the service costs US$49.95 per year or US$89.95 for two years, with unlimited storage.

USB flash drives are perhaps the most familiar and newest players on the ad-hoc backup circuit. Although a small-capacity 128MB drive won’t have the capacity to backup anything substantial, newer flash drives with higher capacities of between 2GB and 32GB provide significant storage space.

USB flash drives are extremely portable which makes them great for backing up files to take with you. You can use the same software for backing up to other media, but you can also use the backup tools built into Windows or Mac OS X.

Due to their small size, however, these drives are easy to lose. If you’re going to back up sensitive materials to one, make sure it offers data encryption.

Finally, whichever medium or device you choose to backup to, remember they can all fail and fail badly. So it is always wise to have multiple backups in multiple locations.