A Computer Backup Story

In addition to regular maintenance and computer security, one of the most important practices that we preach is keeping your important data is backed up.  To highlight this, I want to share a story about one of my customers. 

I received a call, similar to many that I receive, “My computer won't turn on, can you recover my files for me.”  As usual I answered in the affirmative picked up the PC and began to analyze the problem.  It was easy to determine that the hard drive had failed as the cause of the issue. 

Unfortunately, the hard drive failure was mechanical and required special clean room facilities in order to repair.  For a data recovery facility to repair a hard drive and recover its data can be quite expensive.  I sent the hard drive to one of these facilities to evaluate the hard drive and estimate repair costs.  Evaluation is free, but repair costs start at $500 and go up from there.

My customer’s important data on the drive was personal, typical of what most people keep on their computers.  Some financial paperwork, a few documents and lots of family pictures, memories that are irreplaceable.  And there was no backup of any of the data.  The repair costs came back from the data recovery facility at over $2,500.  Now my customer had a price on their family memories.  How much were those pictures worth?  How much are you willing to spend to keep your family memories?

I want to take some time here to discuss hard drives and their specifications.  A hard drive is rated based on the technical qualities of the device.  Specifications such as its size, Ex 2TB (2 terabytes), its spindle speed, Ex. 7200RPM, and the transfer rate, Ex. 6GB/s (6 Gigabytes per second) may be familiar to us; but there is one that is reported on every drive that you may not be aware of. 

MTBF, is the Mean Time Between Failures.  This is the statistical average time between failures for the hard drive.  This specification is important because it highlights that at some point in time your hard drive will fail.  In fact, it is so certain that a hard drive will fail that hard drive manufactures actually measure the frequency of their devices failure rate and report it as a statistic on the hard drive’s white sheet.

Out of all the components that make up a computer, the hard drive is the only one that cannot be replaced with an off the shelf component.  That is because the drive stores information physically on the device.  Imagine if an office building burnt down, the building could be rebuilt and the furniture replaced, but the files in the file cabinets cannot, if there is not another copy of those documents they will be lost forever.  It is the same with computers, a CPU and motherboard can be replaced, but the data on a hard drive cannot unless there is a backup.

So, how should you backup your data?  To begin, I use the 3-2-1 rule for backup of critical files. 

3. There must be at least three copies of your data.
For the three copies, the first is the data on your computer, then two different backup locations.
2. That data must be on two different mediums
By two different mediums, do not use all external hard drives or tape backups
1. One copy should be in another physical location

One of the backups should be located offsite in the case of natural disasters or physical damage.

This can be quite simple to setup.  For example, my standard backup setup consists of a single external hard drive and a cloud backup service.  The external hard drive backs up data from your computer and is the second location of your backup.  Then the data is archived to the cloud which is the third location, the second medium and the offsite location.  All of my customers who have a backup system in place are protected from disaster and feel comfortable that their data is safe.

I cannot stress enough the importance of data backup for you and your businesses.  Pictures, movies, files and records are irreplaceable.  If you do not have any kind of backup of your data, the least you should do is purchase an external hard drive and copy important files to it.  Of course I can help you with this and would prefer to setup your data backup rather than try to recover the files after a disaster.

As we get together with our families and friends making memories and taking pictures, please spend a few moments thinking of what would happen you all of your files if your computer crashed.  Are you OK with losing that information?  Do you have other copies that you can use?  How much are your family pictures worth?