Thursday, November 11, 2010

Testing my Backup Solution the Hard Way

P1020536.JPGThere are probably no sounds more terrifying to the heart of a computer nerd than the sound of a hard drive failing. Clunk clunk click click clunk.

That was the sad sound I heard the previous Wednesday night as I was copying an Aperture Photo Library off of my little white MacBook. That was the night before I was to fly out to Boulder Colorado for the Beer Bloggers Conference. Oh crap.

My stomach clenched and my heart dropped as I tried to remember the last time I backed up my computer. Maybe a week or two ago, but I wasn't sure. I had almost certainly lost something significant, but without pouring through my backup system I wasn't sure what.

My Old Backup Scheme

Jumping Sword
My old backup scheme involved using SuperDuper! to backup my startup drive every few weeks. The wonderful thing about SuperDuper! is that it creates bootable backup drives.

When my MacBook internal drive failed, I booted the same MacBook right off of the backup drive. At that point, the computer looked just like it did at the last backup -- an old copy of everything, but the computer otherwise worked normally.

I should say that the computer worked mostly normally. It now required a big, fat external hard drive dangling off of a firewire cable. My MacBook was anchored to my desk.

Most of my software development work is stored in a Mercurial repository. And most of those Mercurial repositories are regularly pushed up to Kiln. Even better, I had pushed my most recent changes in one project just five minutes before the disk bit the big one! Lucky, lucky, lucky me.

My photography and video work all end up on a Drobo after editing, and I was lucky that all my photo and video work were either on the Drobo or on the SuperDuper! backup drive.

There is a big hole in this old backup solution where I could have photos or videos on my laptop that aren't backed up anywhere. Alex Lindsay regularly says something like "your file doesn't exist if it doesn't exist in at least three places." By his standards, most of my files don't exist.

My documents and notes are almost all created using Google Documents or Evernote. Both of those services are "cloud" based, meaning that I worry less about losing them. I suppose that I really don't know how safe those solutions are -- I bet Alex Lindsay would worry more than I do.

What I Lost

Remember how I said that most of my non-photo and non-video work is in mercurial? The one thing I seem to have lost was about a week's worth of changes to my #BBC10 / unofficial Beer Blogger Conference Android app. I added a lot of functionality in that time frame, so it's frustrating that I didn't regularly push the code into a mercurial repository like my other work.

I'm not sure what I was thinking, but it probably was something along the lines of "Oh, I can put off opening a FogBugz account for Moving Average. Why, that would take a whole five minutes! What are the chances that the hard drive will fail in the next week or two?" Oh, cruel fates, I feel the hot gaze of your eyes now.

All things considered, I didn't lose too much. Losing the source to the #BBC10 app irks me, but I still count myself lucky. Very lucky.

The New Backup Scheme

Liquid Plasmoid Rocket
Obviously I've learned a few things during this incident, mostly that I need a automatic incremental backup solution -- one that is preferably stored offsite. I also need to ensure that all my software projects are regularly pushed into Kiln.

In terms of automatic update solutions, I'm currently looking into CrashPlan and BackBlaze. The both have inexpensive yearly cloud-based solutions. So far it seems that CrashPlan has better reviews, but I have a few concerns about the wording that CrashPlan is for "personal use only". Does that mean my photos or software on my computer won't be backed up because they might have commercial value? That's concerning.

In the mean time, all my software projects now have a home in Kiln. I run hg push a lot more often than I used to, and my Drobo will be getting my photos and videos at a faster pace. Thank goodness for my Drobo and it's terabyte of redundant storage. I'd still like to get the Drobo backed up to the cloud in case it gets stolen or my house burns down.

Final Notes

Ultimately I got what was left of my important data off of my Backup drive and into the cloud where I could get to it remotely. The outdated source for my #BBC10 app went into Kiln, as did a few other projects missing from the cloud.

I left for Colorado and the Beer Blogger Conference feeling completely naked without a laptop. I had an iPad, iPod Touch, and my HTC Evo 4G as data devices, but for software development and photo editing, those gizmos aren't very useful to me. Losing a hard drive hurts, and I spent a few days mentally kicking myself for not implementing a better backup solution.

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