Back Up Your Notebook Already!

By Nick Stam  |  Posted 2002-11-06

Back Up Your Notebook Already!


Back Up Your Notebooks

!"> Backing up data is one the most neglected yet vital tasks in computing. Youve read the stories-- few people perform systematic backups, often resulting in crippling data loss and high recovery costs. Hard drive failures, viruses, and theft are among the top causes of lost data. Accidentally erasing important data, aka User Error, also ranks highly.

Toss in mobile systems and travel, and it gets much worse: no IT, or home resources to help recover (or restore) data, applications, and the OS. CMS Peripherals, a leader in mobile backup solutions, claims that various studies have shown that one in four corporations do not have mobile backup strategies. Were sure that the percentage of users following a formal and methodical mobile system backup process is even less.

Most people understand the importance of backing up, yet they still assign it a low priority –which means it doesnt get done. Discuss backup strategies with users, and theyll either tune you out, change the subject, or tell you about their current half-baked methods.

Certainly some people do backup important data regularly, and others somehow manage to make recent copies of key data. We think most people would embrace a convenient and fast backup, if one existed.

Incredibly long hard drive MTBF numbers – quoted in years -- have lulled us all into a false sense of complacency. But as John Madden might say, the heck with statistics-- before you know it, BOOM! youre hosed. A simple mean cant predict your particular drives performance.

While backup isnt the most fascinating subject, we cant emphasize how important it is to do it regularly, or at least soon after valuable data is stored to disk.

"Yeah, yeah, another backup story," you say. Its like flossing or changing the oil -- you know you need to do it, you just dont want to be nagged.

Then why write this story? Because Im just as guilty as you are, but I got help – in the form of a unique mobile backup solution from CMS Peripherals. In the past, backup solutions required discipline, and often a long, complex, and time-consuming series of steps. Even today, many solutions are complicated, and bloated with features.

Mobile Backup Options

These days, our backup options have multiplied beyond the old PC-oriented tape backup systems available for years. Today, there are four basic options:

  • Second Hard Drive: With the cost of hard drives getting so cheap, using a second hard drive to back up a primary hard drives is actually a great solution. However, not too many people actually plug a second drive into a secondary notebook drive bay – even if it is supported. And very few people have mobile disk mirroring setups.

  • Tape: Tape drives have always had their place in IT shops, SOHO environments, and among some individual users (especially in the older days of personal computing), but even many old-timers have little patience for backing up their notebooks to tape.

  • PC Card Hard Drives: Some mobile users now carry 2GB to 10GB PC Card drives, and these can work well too.

  • USB Drives: For backing up selected files, the emerging class of diminutive USB-based storage dongle devices – which now go up to as high as 1 gigabyte – work well for storing certain key data.

  • Zip: While 100/250 ZIP disks continue to proliferate on desktops (and 750MB now available), not many people have external or internal ZIP drives for notebooks.

  • CDR/CDRW: Some newer notebooks now include CD burners, which can also make copies of key data and even create bootable CDs. But finding the right software can be tricky.

  • DVD: Writeable DVDs, likely DVD+RW will be more widespread in the future, and are certain to make it into many notebooks before too long.

  • Floppies: Not a big surprise, most notebooks users dont use floppies regularly anymore, because their systems typically only have room for two internal spindles – usually CD and hard drive. Of course floppies are obnoxiously slow and have little capacity.

  • Network Backup: Some corporations have automatic network-based backup routines for notebooks, and others run Citrix-like terminal-server environments to keep user data secure and backed up at all times on corporate RAID systems. Except for notebook disk mirroring solutions, none of these backup options provides true disaster recovery for the traveling road warrior if their primary drive goes down and theres no access to the corporate network.

Backup strategies and requirements come in all shapes and sizes, so I wont attempt to recite all the ins and outs, because Joel Strauch covered the ground quite nicely in our two-part Backup Strategy story (Part I and Part II) earlier this year. Joel offered up much advice for designing a backup solution that fits individual needs, but it was mostly desktop-focused. He covered a range of backup hardware and software options in addition to backup strategies for desktops. While many of the recommendations can certainly work for mobile systems to some degree, they too fall short in the disaster recovery area.

Just Because Youre Paranoid

Doesnt Mean Your Drive Wont Fail">

As a writer, Im paranoid that story text will be lost when writing on planes or trains, so Ill frequently backup to my 2GB PC Card drive when in transit, though I prefer not to keep the drive in the socket all the time, since it consumes power and gets very hot. A USB storage dongle or CD-RW might be a better solution. But when Im attached to a corporate network, Ill use the corporate email system as a temporary backup device to send myself story drafts every half hour or so (of course I delete them when the storys done). While these methods can help protect fresh data, they still dont protect my other data or my ability to continue working if my main drive locks up.

Yes, its true that many other notebook computer components can fail, including screens, keyboards, power regulation, fans, and even system board logic. If one of these fail while youre traveling – tough luck, but at least your data sits safe on the hard drive. Nothing is worse than losing important data or an entire disk drive. For many people, the data on their drives is worth far more than the actual notebook computer in terms of real value and replacement cost.

Ive been in the computer business for a long time, but up until a few months back, I only backed-up absolutely critical data. But Im a changed user! Ive discovered a mobile backup solution in the CMS ABS Plus that works with me, not against me, in most cases. Plus its very simple to use, reasonably priced, and it provides true disaster recovery.

As far as I know, only CMS product provides rich features and the ability to directly replace your notebook hard drive with a comparably performing, bootable, mirror-image drive in the event of a major failure. These days, our notebooks are often our primary, and only system – so its more important than ever for you to have a good backup strategy.

In the end, any backup is better than no backup at all. So at least do something – the newer USB drives make an ideal choice for key data, for example. But Ive discovered a better way, and I couldnt sleep at night until I shared it with all of you. Its not a brand new solution, but Ive lived with it for a while now, and it works great. Read my review for more details.

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