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Did you backup? Don’t Learn the Hard Drive Way


Some years ago I learnt the hard way (so many comments, so little time). I was trying to rationalise my flakey backup routine which was based around two external hard drives. Well that’s not sounding too bad is it? Yes, but the problem was that there was no real structure to the backup. Some files were duplicated on both, some weren’t. All a bit messy, so I decided to tidy it up by making one good backup with everything that I needed which I would then copy onto the second drive. Still not sounding too bad, but the problem was I securely wiped the second drive. No not with baby-wipes silly, I erased and reformatted the drive, and then we had a thunderstorm. I lived in a cottage where the electricity came into the house through overhead lines. One storm took out my modem and the other hard-drive, yep that’s right the one that I had just got neat and tidy, the one with everything on it. Abso-bloody-lutely everything that I had ever done on a computer was now inaccessible.

Gone But Not Forgotten

Hard-driveI say inaccessible because data is rarely irrecoverable. Of course it was on the other drive and not because I had reformatted it although that doesn’t help. No, I had securely erased the data, reduced everything to zero(s). You can do this on a Mac fairly easily and generally this is a useful security tool. So what happens, why can’t the data be accessed?

There are a number of reasons why you can’t get data from a drive. Some are to do with physical damage and some are to do with a failing in the code.

  1. The cable drops off. Sounds daft but once happened to me on my trusty Pismo
  2. The heads/arm fails. A hard drive is an incredibly delicate, and crude device, that paradoxically works to incredibly fine tolerances. It relies on a tiny head reading data across a series of platters spinning in excess of 5000rpm.
  3. The platter gets damaged by the head crashing in to it (see above)
  4. The directory that lets the computer know where and how all the data is store gets corrupted

The First Thing To Do? Do Nothing

If it’s physical damage that is causing the problem continually spinning the disk will not help although you may get a clue about the problem if your drive makes a funny noise.

How big is the problem?

Data loss regularly ruins businesses. It can totally destroy a company, take it seriously. Work out what is on the drive, could you get the data elsewhere easily? It may be as well to buy a new drive and rebuild the data.

If not do you need to consider bringing in the data recovery experts? Generally they have software to examine the drive if it still functions and the technology to dismantle the drive to get at the platters if it doesn’t. You will pay BIG-TIME for this service, but if it saves your business it will be a cheap lesson.

For the record I removed my drive from the computer and hooked it up to another one (and then another and another). Some were able to see the drive some weren’t. I tried using several data recovery tools including Disk Warrior. Ultimately nothing worked so I bagged the drive up with a view to paying the price when I could afford it. I even tried putting it in a freezer overnight. Finally though (years later) I plugged the raw drive into my MacBook using an external USB adaptor and miraculously the drive was recognised and accessible. At this point I didn’t risk upsetting it by turning it off but copied all of the files onto the MacBook’s drive.

Ain’t Macs Great?

Time Machine, now part of the Mac OS will automatically back your drive up to an external drive. Space is cheap now but that is no reason not to use it wisely. The Mac backup is great. Sorted? Well no, not fully.

To do the job properly the backup data could do to be away from the computer that you are backing up to guard against, theft, fire, flood, a plague of locusts in the office?

Don’t worry if you don’t yet have a new Mac SilverKeeper works very nicely on older Mac OS versions.

Some Learn From Lessons, Others From Mistakes

What has prompted me to write this slightly dry missive?

At the weekend I was clearing out some of my online files, tidying up the web space

(note to self “clearly still don’t have a life”)

A some point I noticed that this blog had disappeared. Silent internal turmoil reinforced by cold sweat. I quite like this blog I don’t have the resource to recreate it. Being a WordPress blog there are a number of tools out there to help. Be warned though, they don’t all come up with the goods. I have just cleared out about 2gig of redundant backup from one that promises much but was just wasting disk space. The plugin that gets most support is wp-db-backup. It’s simple and does the job. The ideal would be one that drops a regular backup into my DropBox but sadly the one that promises this doesn’t deliver.

This afternoon I made backups of all of the websites that I have recently created. They are in a folder on this computer, they will be on my external and ideally they will be in my DropBox too. I have invested too much not them not to look after them.

As it happens I had accidentally dragged the blog into another folder, believe me it is that easy. As is accidentally formatting a complete drive.

Yes, I am one of “The Others”.

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