backing up your hard drive

I’ve often said it’s not a matter of if your hard drive will fail, but when, so following that logic, if your home computer has information that you don’t want to lose, it’s wise to back it up.

My first backup solution was to copy the files I wanted to save to my web server, which is backed up every night, but I can only store a limited amount of data there and I didn’t want to pay more for storage. I looked at online file services like XDrive, but I didn’t like the idea of having to pay every month for my backups, and the storage quotas were low enough that I’d have to pick and choose what I wanted to back up.

My second solution was to burn files to a CD every once in a while but that was no good because I would go months without backing things up and if the drive were to crash, I could have lost several months worth of files. It was also hard to remember what I had backed up and what I hadn’t and given that a CD can only hold around 700MB, I would run out of room very quickly.

Then I heard about network drives, which are hard drives that have a network interface and run an embedded operating system to allow them to be remotely accessed. It makes them ideal for storing files on a local network because they are easy to manage, but I couldn’t find any that were especially cheap and I wasn’t sure how well they would work with Linux.

My final solution was to buy a 300GB hard drive (it cost $99 after the rebate) and install Ubuntu on an old machine, thus fulfilling my plans mentioned back in May.

Using rsync was a breeze on Linux and my plan was to mount the entire hard drive of the machine running Windows XP Home edition so I could just rsync my desktop machine and all would be well. I later found that XP home edition doesn’t let you share the Windows and Program Files directories, and it doesn’t even share the home directory by default (you have to share it explicitly, and then the share from the root can see it). I used rsync for the files I could mount via samba and then I did a complete backup of the entire hard drive using the backup utility on Windows XP (I had to install it off the Windows XP CD), writing the backup to a samba share on the file server.

It’s taken a little time to get everything working, but it’s comforting to know that either of the hard drives could fail and I wouldn’t lose any data.

My brother just e-mailed me this article about making backups from the New York Times. They must have read my mind.


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  1. Good job. Way to be on top of things. I’ve been meaning to implement regular backups too, but I’ve been lazy since the majority of my data resides on a mirror.

    Question: What happens if disaster strikes and flood or fire manages to destroy all drives simultaneously?

    Comment by Abrogaticus on August 30, 2005 @ 11:07 am
  2. The easiest backup solution is RAID 1 (mirroring). Many motherboards have RAID 1 built-in, but you can also buy inexpensive add-in cards. RAID 1 simple writes all data to both hard drives. If the primary drive dies, the secondary kicks in until you can buy a new drive and sync it up with the other drive (copies all the data over). And once installed and setup you get backups without another thought. Sure, a power surge could take out both drives, but this is rare. With hard drives so cheap, and data so valuable, I’m puzzled why RAID 1 isn’t the norm for all PCs.

    Comment by Kris on August 30, 2005 @ 2:17 pm
  3. Abrogaticus: That’s a good point. I don’t have any offsite backups in place yet.

    Kris: True, but my concern with RAID is that if the machine were to go down (power supply, processor, etc) it will often take out the hard drive. I actually had a fan come unclipped and it toasted the drive, so while it may be rare, it’s already happened to me so I’m more cautious about it.

    Comment by dan on August 31, 2005 @ 1:26 pm
  4. I really needed some information on saving all my important files. I try to have a paperless home (I cannot stand clutter and it is so easy to accumulate) and backing up has been on my mind for a long time. Now, I know how to attempt doing so. Thank you.

    Comment by Crisy on October 30, 2005 @ 10:09 am

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