Living the digital lifestyle is awesome. I'm free to create without the confines and limitations of physical space. I have an almost endless sea of photos, artwork, source code, software, web pages, writing, documents and home movies stored on my computer. Can you imagine this rich history and digital creations can be instantly wiped out by one common problem: Hard disk failure? Or worse, fire or theft?
Don't let disk failure, theft or damage wipe out your memories. Keep them safe and secure. I'll show you how.
In this article:
- Software setup
- Hardware setup
- Putting them both together
Losing your valuable computer files as a result of a computer disk failure, theft or damage can be devastating. Data loss is always costly and stressful. Hard drives always crash, it’s just a matter of time. Therefore to do regular backups.
I experienced Hard Drive Failure once years ago. I was able to recover most of my pictures. Unfortunately, there were a few I loved that are now nothing more than a memory. I finally have a setup I like after years of playing with different options and configurations of backup systems.
How to Recover From Hard Drive Failure
I have an iMac and a slightly less old, MacBook laptop. Yup, I'm one of those Mac guys. Don't worry, this will also work with PC's. You'll just need different software.
- MacBook Laptop
- NAS drive
- External, two-bay RAID drive
- External Firewire drive
- External hard drive dock
- Two hard drives without enclosures
Is this overkill? Mabye. I have a plethora of music, videos and photos that take up a ton of room. Not to mention the photos are irreplaceable. Plus, I share my computer with two others so space fills up fast.
Putting It All Together
My first external drive is really a NAS drive; that's Network Attached Storage. It sits on my home network where both my computers can access it. It also doubles as the TimeMachine drive; the backup software built in to the Mac OS. Aside from TimeMachine, the NAS drive is handy to pass files between my laptop and iMac. Although I don't use that feature as often now that I have DropBox.
My next drive is an external Firewire drive which holds all my music, home videos and most of my working files. It's fast with more storage than the internal disk drive on my computer.
Next I have an external RAID drive which houses all my pictures. RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks. Clear as mud, right? What is it then? It looks like a hard disk, walks like a hard disk and quacks like a hard disk. But really it's two hard disks pretending to be one. I have mine configured as RAID 1 which makes the two disks mirror each other.
Why a RAID drive? More importantly why a RAID 1? (The "RAID 1" bit is important). When I copy a picture to the RAID disk it copies the same picture to each of the two disks simultaneously. If one disk fails, that's okay cause there's always an exact copy on the second disk. If one disk fails I take it out, put in a new one. Everything from the good disk is automatically copied over to the new one. The real beauty is that my computer treats them both as one disk drive. I don't have to do anything extra.
More info on different RAID configurations.
Wow. With a RAID drive and TimeMachine I should stop there. Everything's totally backed up, right? Yup. Except in the case of meteors, fire, theft, natural disaster, children, dogs, clumsy neighbors, etc. That's why it's a good idea to keep copies of all that "stuff" off site. Not just a different part of your house but a different house.
Off-Site Backup Solution
I have an external hard drive dock with two, uncovered disks. One's always in the dock and the other's at work (or my parent's house across town). Every night, my backup software, SilverKeeper, copies everything that's been added or edited from my various drives to my backup disk in the dock: photos, music, documents, source code, etc.
When do I swap out the backups? Whenever I do a lot of work I don't want to have to redo. It's usually about once a week. Sometimes its every couple days depending on how productive I am.
Swapping it out is easy. I eject the disk from my computer (or just pull it out of the dock if everything's powered off). No wires, no plugs, no nothing. It's just like an oversized floppy disk of old. The dock stays attached to the computer. I place the backup drive in the plastic bag it originally came in and place that in a Ziplock bag and take it to work. (This way they're never all at home at the same time). Then I take the one from work and bring it home and put it in the dock. Everything new/changed copies over to the new drive that night.
To not confuse the backup software I have both backup drives named the same on the computer, "BACKUP[Storage size]." This isn't a problem since only one is in the computer at a time. Then I physically label the outside different from the other, "BACKUP[Storage size]-[Number]" so I can keep them straight.
Now everything's backed up at home with copies off site.
You made it this far and you're thinking: "Dave, this is great and all but you're totally nuts. This is complete overkill." Yes. Yes I am a little nuts. But I invest a lot of time and energy into my pictures and creative work. I can't get back the fruits of my labor if disaster strikes. Having suffered that loss once it's worth the extra effort to not suffer again.
Is this 100% foolproof? No. Is it possible to be struck by catastrophic failure where everything at home is wiped out and my offsite backup drive fails? Sure. But highly unlikely. I have a better chance of getting hit by a meteorite while I'm typing this.
"What about those online personal backup services?"
I've tried a few over the years and they worked well. But they were slow and I just outgrew their capacity. For most people that may be a great solution. I'm guessing if you read this far, you're not most people.
"What about backing up all that stuff you have in 'the cloud?'"
Great question. More on that in another post.
"How do I configure all that software?"
Another great question to be addressed in another post.
Have you ever experienced hard disk failure? If so, share your thoughts below.