Back Up Philosophy

“Plato is dear to me, but dearer still is a good backup procedure”-Aristotle

I will confess to being a complete paranoid when it comes to backing up my files, and I take pride in the fact that I have not lost an important file in over fifteen years. Certainly a part of this is that I am quite technically literate, but mostly it’s down to my obsessive backup routine. Here’s how it works:

All of my important files are backed up overnight to an external hard drive and from my main desktop PC to a Laptop. This process is two-fold, the first copies ALL my working files to the external drive, the second is more selective and copies my absolutely vital files (mostly related to my writing) to the laptop to create redundancy.

That’s not the end of it though. I also have a large DropBox account. This is set to mirror those local backups onto internet storage, creating another level of redundancy. The idea being that both my desktop and laptop are physically at the same location. So, if something truly disastrous happened, like (god forbid) the house burning down, or Sudbury getting hit with yet another giant asteroid… those DropBox files will still be there. It also works the other way around, in a nice belt and braces way. If the DropBox account ever fails, or they go out of business overnight, I have my local copies to fall back on.

“I have redundancy; therefore I am safe”–Rene Descartes

As I mentioned this all happens overnight by scheduling a Windows “batch job” (executing a .BAT file)ia the built-in task scheduler. I run it at this time so that A) it doesn’t interfere with my working day, and B) all those files take a while to transfer so what better time to do it than while I’m asleep!

This process has brought me through several situations, which otherwise might have been complete disasters, and I’ve only suffered very minimal loss and certainly nothing of real significance.

Then last week something happened that really drove home the point of this slightly elaborate system. I (or rather my computer) suffered from a hard drive partition failure. When this happens, basically the hard drive loses it’s “memory” of what’s on the drive and thinks that the space is unused. The files are still there, but you can’t see them or access them. And, of course, the drive that failed was the one where I keep my main working files.

Initially, I wasn’t too worried. My back-up process should have saved everything multiple times. But, when I checked, the most recent files in my back-ups were about seven months old. And I’ve done a lot of work in the last seven months! To say I was “slightly annoyed” would be the understatement of the year.

“To forget to test one’s back-ups is the commonest form of stupidity”–Friedrich Nietzsche

After staring at the large hole in my files and thinking long and hard. I realized what must have happened. Some time ago I upgraded my PC, and as I was changing a large number of components, I was forced to reinstall Windows and all my software. Yep, you guessed it–it was roughly seven months ago. Certainly I’d re-installed Dropbox, and it was set to copy the correct file location, but I’d forgotten to add the back-up script to my scheduled tasks–so nothing was being copied, either to my external back-up drive or the Dropbox back-up location. Guilty as charged, Neitzsche!

Disk partitions can be recovered (sometimes) and I’d done nothing to disturb what was there, so I was able to recover the partition and my files. But it was a period of needless stress and frustration during the process. But boy, does it ever serve as a good reminder of a tenet of creating a back-up. “A back-up is useless, unless it’s tested!”

My files are now recovered, and as I was in there I reset my procedure to take account of some other hardware changes. So now I use a similar process, but it backs up my files to my 2 desktop PCs (on both, internal and external hard drives), then onto Dropbox, and via Dropbox onto my laptop. So now there’s even more redundancy. I’ve also added a little piece of script to create a datestamp file as an easy to check  confirmation. And with that, I remind you of the immortal words of Socrates, the greatest of all back-up philosophers:

“True knowledge exists in knowing that your back-ups are good”–Socrates

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