As you might have guessed from the previous post’s title, I have more than one piece of wisdom to impart. I have a question for you: “Are you backing up your data?”
To cut the the chase, I recently had my 400GB Western Digital My Book external hard drive fail. I don’t know exactly what happened to it, but it got a number of bad sectors, meaning there were lots of files that I couldn’t read. It should be noted that I’m actually pretty good about redundancy and backups, but this was my working drive for video editing projects. In general, files on this drive are usually captured video from a tape, some in-progress work, and renders to be written to DVD. Most of these files are replaceable (by recapturing from tape, re-rendering, etc.) but not all of them. Basically, I didn’t back up this drive simply because I didn’t have the redundant storage space to do so.
Since the drive didn’t fail altogether, I was able to try a number of things to recover some of my data. The file allocation tables were OK, but some of the files were inaccessible due to “CRC errors” when trying the copy them. The first step in my recovery was to use Robocopy to move all of the complete non-corrupted files to another drive. Robocopy is a command line copy tool, but what makes it great is its ability to skip files that fail. After running Robocopy, I had a new folder on another drive with all of my safe files and the corrupted files were left on the failing drive.
Now that I had a drive full of corrupted files, I took a look to see which files were important to me. Some had been backed up to DVDs, other projects had been finished, and other files were available on other drives. I decided there was only one file worth trying to salvage: a 600 MB wave file holding an audio commentary that a few friends and I had recorded for one of our home videos. If I weren’t stupid, I would have backed up that file somewhere else, and to make things worse, I’d just tossed the marked-up copy of the “script” a couple of days before. At any rate, I wanted the data out of this file, even if it was incomplete. I tried a number of utilities such as Unstoppable Copier, Copycat, etc. but the ones I had the best luck with were called CopyItAnyway and JFileRecovery. As the names suggest, these utilities grab whatever data can be read and ignore those sectors that are bad. After all was said and done, I’d recovered all but a couple of minutes of audio from that file. The bad sections were just silent. I’d rather not have lost the file, but I can work with what’s left.
Here’s the advice section. If you have files you don’t want to use, you need to back them up! In my opinion, this backup needs to be automatic and scheduled, because most of us are lazy and won’t do the backups regularly if it’s a manual process. You can back up to another computer, an offsite server, CDs/DVDs or an external hard drive. Anything is better than nothing, but in my opinion, your first priority is to guard against hardware failure and your second priority is offsite backups to guard against a problem with your home (like a flood, house fire, etc.)
My backups are done to both a dedicated file server in my house (just an old computer I had lying around) and to an offsite FTP server. Here’s my process, for reference:
- Every night, my laptop, my desktop and Dusty’s laptop back up their important files (documents, mail, photos, etc.) to the file server.
- Every monday night, the file server backs up my photos and audio projects to my offsite FTP server
- Weekly, I have processes to back up my Remember The Milk tasks, Google Calendar events, and other online services to the file server.
- Weekly, I back up my web host (on which this site is hosted) to the file server.
Additionally, when I get around to it (see warning above), I burn my photos to DVD and keep a copy in my desk at work. The photos are already duplicated in three different places, but they’re the most important data I have.
If you need some software for automating your backups, check out SyncBack (for Windows). I purchased the full version for $30, but the freeware version is pretty good too.
Many many times people have brought me computers and asked for help in recovering their data. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Your best bet is to never find yourself in that situation. Do one of two things: do your backups today, or decide that you won’t miss any of your data. If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask!
Edit: here’s a good post on Lifehacker for backing up your Google apps data. I use most of these services so it’s a helpful article.