Home Users Need to Plan for the Worst

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2005-08-04 Print this article Print

Opinion: Consumers typically don't plan for computer disasters at all, and even the cautious ones are frustrated when trying to recover from one.

Businesses, or at least the larger ones, have an easy time spending the time and money to implement some sort disaster recovery scheme. Consumers are a completely different matter. So what is a disaster? It could be a fire, it could be a hard disk crash, the computer could fall off the table, or it could be a massive virus infection or some other software disaster. We like to think that security software can repair malware damage and infections, but often its easier and more effective to restore a backup that is recent but prior to the attack.

The heart of a disaster recovery plan is a backup and restore plan. Unfortunately, in recent years the trend is for hard disk size and utilization to increase to the point where backing it up becomes impractical.
Right now the cheapest desktop from Gateway comes with a 40GB drive, which they upgrade for free to 80GB. How do you back up an 80GB drive, even if its only got 10 or 20GB used?

There are a few answers that address various concerns, but I think the emerging answer is another hard disk, Cheap external USB 2.0 (or Firewire) drives make it quick and easy to back up not just your data and Windows, but your third-party programs, your settings, local users, and everything else local. A NAS (Network Attached Storage) unit on a home network can serve as a backup device for multiple computers.

Hard disk-based backup still isnt cheap, but its nowhere near as expensive as it used to be. I just spent $150 for a 250GB ATA-100 drive and an external USB enclosure. For under $100, I could have gotten the enclosure and a 120GB drive.

I had already been using this setup on my main desktop system in combination with Norton Ghost. (How much is Norton Ghost? Buy.com has it for 99 cents after rebate with free shipping as of Aug. 4, 2005. August 7, 2005: Bad news folks, Buy.com pulled one of the rebates and the price is up to $42.30. Still a good price for Ghost.) Every night I have a full backup done and an incremental in the middle of the day, and I keep the last five days worth of backups on another external 250GB drive. Ghost handles the scheduling.

Next Page: My own disaster recovery story

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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