Tech Report: Are You Backed Up? Really?

By October 12, 2012

Hi all, Andrew back and bubbling with the most important question you can answer.

Are you backed up? Really?

Here’s the deal. As some of you have learned and some will learn, data storage is ephemeral, a will o’the wisp, a diaphanous layer of order we lay on the cruel entropic world. And Entropy, that cruel monster, he will eventually have his way with you.

Hard drives die. SSDs go geshfinckto. Gmail accounts get gone. It all happens, and one day it will happen to YOU. So get ready now, and learn that a good backup makes this trivial, and a bad one makes it cardiac.

A good backup strategy encompasses a few levels of protection.

First, HAVE A LOCAL BACKUP OF EVERYTHING. Don’t just drag-copy a few files to a flash drive and say you’re done. Go get an external hard drive and make a backup you can restore to bare metal if need be. Both Windows and Mac have excellent backup software built in, USE IT. You’re not just backing up your files. You’re backing up the time and energy you’ve put into making your machine yours – the software, the configuration, the personalization that takes hours, days, and months to do. You’re also backing up your ability to work when the inevitable happens. If you have to spend days getting your machine back in to shape when the drive dies, you’re not backed up.

Windows users, consider an image backup solution like Acronis or Ghost. I prefer them to the built in software for the granularity of restore options they provide. If you’re protecting multiple Windows machines, the Windows Storage Server 2008 is a very interesting option, and is soon to be upgraded to Windows Storage Server 2012.

Mac users, Time Machine is it for you. It can be finicky, but it’s a good solution and it will save your bacon one day. Use it.

Second, DO IT AGAIN. Have a couple of copies around, it don’t hurt nothin’.

Third, BACKUP OFFSITE. Get your data somewhere else. Fires, floods, theft, earthquakes, there’s got to be a place besides your place you keep stuff. There are a lot of online services, and they work well for smallish datasets on normal Internet connections. But if you’ve got a few terabytes of video, or 100,000 MP3s you care about, Internet upload isn’t fast enough. Get a cheap external, make a copy, give it to someone you trust.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Carbonite or Mozy are a substitute for local backups, either. If you need to get up and running fast after a crash, you don’t want to wait for a ton of stuff to download from the service. They’ll send you a disk, but it’ll cost you plenty. Local backups matter, and save time and money in the long run – do them.

Fourth, BACKUP THE CLOUD. We all have a lot of data in Google, Facebook, Flickr, etc. That needs to be backed up, too. Google has tools for downloading all your data, Facebook too. Use them – people have a lot of pictures and mail data that are not local to your machine now – photos uploaded directly from phones, Gmail accounts, etc. Don’t leave this info out of a backup strategy – if it matters to you, it should be backed up. There are too many horror stories of people being locked out of accounts, or accidental deletions, to leave this up to chance. Don’t count on Facebook or Google to care or even be able to help – they offer a free service, and they don’t have any obligation to you. Take steps now to prevent it from being an issue.

Here’s a picture of my fridge – all those little things are magnets from dead hard drives…

This is an overview – there’s a wealth of resources out there for people who want to be backed up. The worst thing I ever have to do in my practice as a consultant is tell people they’ve lost everything, and as bad as it is for me, it’s worse for them. Don’t be them.

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Andrew Solmssen

About me: I am a nerd. I nerd it up currently as an independent computer consultant and stand-up comic, but my nerd history is long. I started by typing in BASIC programs on a TRS-80, progressed to Apple IIs and then PCs and Macs. My first internet transaction was downloading the "Canonical Collection of Light-Bulb Jokes" from an FTP site on a line-printing terminal at the University of Maryland in 1984. My CompuServe ID was 73300,13, and my Slashdot user id is 9448. I still have some Apple DOS 3.3 disks somewhere, and the first USR Courier 2400bps modem I ever owned. I have been to three different Fry's in one day. I can build a new PC in an hour from stuff I have around the house. I started by administrating a Novell 2.15c network and now do Windows, Mac, and Unix. I'm not a comic book geek, or a Star Wars guy, or even a D&D guy, although I can speak those languages. Nerd, that's me. Visit me at,, and