Backup Appreciation Day

This Sony VAIO replaced my ill-fated Dell M1330.
George Moromisato
24 April 2010

I was taking my laptop out of its travel case on Friday night when my tired hands slipped and the laptop flopped out of its case and crashed corner-first to the floor. Though at first the damage seemed minor, a scratchy whine from the hard disk and an ominous black screen on boot convinced me the fall had been fatal.

I had almost everything on that laptop: the latest source code to Transcendence; six months worth of raw  astrophotos; specs and presentations for work (though no source code); and of course, gigabytes of music and photos. It was the perfect opportunity for another episode of Backup Awareness Day. But holding my battered laptop in my hands, trying once more to see if maybe this time it would turn on, I did not fear data loss because I had been religiously following a backup plan. In the event, I lost only about a hour's worth of work that I had been doing on the plane. Everything else was backed up.

I have two different backup strategies. For work I use a Live Mesh folder to store specs and other documents that I'm working on. Live Mesh synchronizes all those files across all my work machines and also keeps a copy in the sky (though the latter is limited to 5 GB). A few months ago, because of an experiment gone awry, I lost the BitLocker keys to my work laptop (which is essentially the same thing as losing the whole hard disk). But to recover, all I had to do was repave the machine and rejoin my mesh. All my files were automatically synchronized.

For Transcendence and other personal projects (including music and photos), I have an even simpler strategy: Every night a 3:30 AM a batch file runs that copies all modified files from my laptop to a terrabyte drive on my home network. Later, a second batch file will copy that backup drive to a second terrabyte drive.

On Saturday I bought a new laptop (an envy-inducing Sony VAIO—I might as well make the best of the disaster, right?) and by Saturday afternoon I had most of my applications reinstalled and all of my files restored. Ironically, the one thing that I did not back up was the batch file that did the backups and saved my data, an oversight that I have now corrected.