Backup your data files
- 1 Backups: A necessary evil?
- 2 Data recovery scenarios
- 3 Example backup plan
- 4 Test your backup plan
- 5 Making backups
- 6 Recovery of files from damaged drives (Revision 1)
Backups: A necessary evil?
Backups: Seems like a necessary evil until the day we need it and then it becomes our savior and best friend. I use the word "until" because you WILL face a hardware failure at one point or another because all things mechanical will fail over time for various reasons.
There are many ways to backup your data and there are many times you can do this. You need to examine your environment to determine the best method with the least amount of risk that you are willing to take.
I use the word "risk" because that is what you are facing immediately after a backup occurs until the next time of your backup. The time between backups is your risk factor and it is up to you how much risk you are willing to take. If you backed up all your data a week ago, would you be OK if everything from then till now disappeared? How about a month or a year ago? You need to determine how much risk you are willing to take to determine how often your backups should occur.
Data recovery scenarios
Here are some possible scenarios that require data recovery that have different scopes of recovery to each of them:
- Computer component failure (other than the hard drive) such as power supply or motherboard.
- Hard drive failure
- Complete computer failure (such as lightning damage or small fire)
- Site damage (such as house burned down, tornado, earthquake, flood)
Each of the above scenarios can wreak havok on a backup plan that did not consider all the potential scopes of problems. Let us examine the impact of each scenario and the risk factor of each. (Risk Factor = Chance of actually happening)
Scenario #1 - Computer component failure
Your computer becomes inaccessible from use. Your data might still be fine on the hard drive but you cannot access it until you either repair the computer or pull the hard drive out of the computer and place it into another computer.
Risk Factor: High Time between backups: ___________
Scenario #2 - hard drive failure
Risk Factor: Extremely High Time between backups: ___________
Your data is now completely lost and the only hope of getting anything back are your backups (hopefully to something other than the same hard drive)
Scenario #3 - Complete computer failure
Your data is now completely lost and the only hope of recovery are your backups. Hopefully you have backups that were external to your computer and not plugged into the PC at the time of failure.
Risk Factor: Medium Time between backups: ___________
Scenario #4 - Site damage
Your data, your computer and everything at your house / workplace is now completely gone. Your only hope for recovery of your data is from a remove offsite location such as an online storage or an external backup at the bank or mom and dads house.
Risk Factor: Low Time between backups: ___________
If there are any events above that you would not mind loosing all your data, then go ahead and cross off the scenario from your list that your backup plan needs to cover.
The next thing you need to consider is how much data over time are you willing to lose between backups. If you had a good backup plan in place to cover the above scenarios, how long in terms of time are you willing to let go of data before it gets backed up? Are you OK with loosing 1 day's worth of backups? 1 week? 1 month? An entire quarter since your last backup? Once you have determined the amount of data you are willing to loose based on each scenario, record that number in each of the above scenarios in the "Time between backups" slot.
You now have enough information for your desired backup plan. You now need to figure out how you are going to make this happen and how much money you are willing to spend to make it happen.
Example backup plan
Here is an example of a backup plan that I use:
My Backup Data:
- E:\MyData = 65 GB
My Backup Devices:
- Extra internal hard drive (physically separate from my data)
- Two external hard drives (one always offsite and rotated regularly)
My Backup Tools:
- Synkron or SyncBack Freeware (takes about 3 minutes per sync on a normal basis)
- Organized and centralized data storage (all my files to be backed up are in E:\MyData\)
- Time between backups: 1 day
- Recovery Plan: Repair or replace PC and re-use the hard drive or the internal backup hard drive if data is the same.
- Time between backups: 1 day
- Recovery Plan: Buy new hard drive, replace dead drive, retrieve data from the internal backup hard drive.
- Time between backups: 1 week
- Recovery Plan: Retrieve from external backup hard drive.
- Time between backups: 1 month
- Recovery route: Retrieve from external backup hard drive from work.
Test your backup plan
If you are like me, you tend to forget some details until it is too late. That is why you should "test" a disaster scenario to give yourself a grade on your backup plan. You should pretend that a disaster occurs once or twice a year just to see if your backup has everything you consider valuable (Documents, Email, Finances, models, homework, artwork, family photos, videos, sound clips, web sites, etc.)
Maybe even have a family member do the random "emergency tests" by unplugging the power to your hard drive or motherboard and see if that big lump starts to swell up in your throat because you have not been backing up your data like you should have. ;)
Some people prefer to backup their entire PC (Operating System, Applications and Data) but if I have a dead hard drive or PC, I will likely want to re-format my PC and only install the apps and games I'm currently using (Windows does tend to slow down in performance after a while). So the only thing I backup are data files. I make sure that EVERYTHING I want backed up is located somewhere under a single folder such as E:\MyData\*.*
This makes my backup and restore a snap. It is up to you to go through your applications and ensure the data you create and depend on can be placed in a location you can find and backup. Some people may prefer the "Documents and Settings" folder but I avoid that location because backups can fail sometimes because of open / temporary files that Windows controls.
You might have to create a batch file to periodically run and copy application files to your data folder. One such file for me is the FireFox "Bookmarks.html" which is located in "Documents and Settings" so I copy it to E:\MyData\AppFiles\*.*
Once you have all your data and application-specific data copied to a central location, you can use a tool such as SyncBack Freeware or Synkron to make a copy of your data folder to a different location. The 1st time it runs will require copying the entire folder and might take quite some time. If configured correctly, all runs after that will only take a couple of minutes at most because it will only copy files that are new or have changed since the last backup.
If you have a 2nd physical hard drive in your computer and it has enough room, you can schedule SyncBack to write to your secondary hard drive and run automatically every day. This will cover scenarios #1 and #2 for data protection.
If you have an external hard drive, you can create an automatic schedule to backup the same data but to your external hard drive on a regular basis. This will cover scenarios #1 and #2 and might cover scenario #3 if you keep it unplugged until you do your backups.
If you have two external hard drives, you can have the schedule backup to one and then remember to rotate your drives that are plugged in and always keep one at a remote location where a single flood or tornado is not likely to destroy. This will cover all scenarios.
Recovery of files from damaged drives (Revision 1)
In some of the cases described above it is possible to recover some files from a broken hard drive or from a bad file system. Although the method is not foolproof, it may allow you to recover some precious or improtant files if disaster strikes. THIS IS NOT A PC REPAIR GUIDE! It will only allow you to extract some files from a damaged hard drive, not tell you how to fix it.
This first paragraph is if you cannot turn on or access your computer the hard drive is a part of. if you can access the drive, but the contents are missing or corrupted, please skip to the next paragraph. Now, if the computer your hard drive is part of will not start/crashes, the first option is to start your computer in safe mode. Normally this is achieved by repeatedly tapping F8, during startup BEFORE it says 'starting windows'. A menu should appear, and then you just select Safe Mode. (A quick note: If tapping F8 does not work for you, this is fine. The key you are required to press varies from computer to computer, so just try each function key until one works.) If you can then log on fine and get to your desktop, just continue to the next paragraph, if not keep reading. If your computer still crashes or you can't get it to turn on then unfortunately you will have to get it repaired professionally. (Note: a method of recovering from this point onwards will be added later, however it will require you to dismantle your pc. If you feel you cannot do this then see if you can get your pc repaired professionally)
This paragraph is for when you can log into your computer, but cannot find any files, folders don't open or multiple files are corrupted. The program we will be using to attempt to recover some files is the aptly named 'Recuva' (Website). Now, in order to use it, you must download (and install) it onto a memory stick or some other form of removable media. (This is to stop any new data being written to the affected drive, possibly overwriting recoveravble files.) Next, run it from the memory stick on the affected computer. The program will start and a window will appear entitled "Welcome to the Recuva Wizard", just click next. On the next menu just select other and continue by pressing next. if you are sure of where you want to recover programs from, (i.e My Music) then select 'in a specific location', browse to the folder you wish to recover and press next, if not just leave it on 'I'm not sure' and press next. Do not select Deep Scan as this drastically enlarges scanning time. If however, the search fails or files are still missing you will have to deep scan.
Once your scan has found some files it is best to press the 'switch to advanced mode' button, selecting 'options', and changing the view mode to 'tree view'. This arranges the results in a folder structure, allowing you to see where they came from. Now, simply select the files you wish to recover by ticking the box next to it. Once you are done, press 'Recover...' in the bottom right and create a new folder on a DIFFERENT hard drive from the one you are recovering from or a memory stick. Hit O.K and Voila! Your files are recovered.