INSIDE MOBILE: Backup and Recovery-A Personal Story

By J. Gerry Purdy  |  Posted 2009-02-02

INSIDE MOBILE: Backup and Recovery-A Personal Story

I have written in the past about the need to do regular backups. I pointed out that, while having a local external hard drive is important to back up your most important files, I also recommended that you back up your critical files via a remote online backup service. This way, if you lost your computer and backup drive (for example, if they were stolen or destroyed in a fire, hurricane or tornado), you'd still be able to recover your really critical files.

I got a 320GB portable, external hard drive review unit last year from Toshiba, which made it very easy to back up my Frost & Sullivan Dell Latitude notebook, my Acer personal notebook, plus my wife Alicia's notebook. I have more than 100GB of data on my portable systems. I do a backup of my Frost & Sullivan and personal data on a regular basis-typically weekly or, at worst, at least once every two weeks. 

I also opened an account at to use its online backup service. I duplicated the backup process for my personal system there as well. The first full backup of the data on my personal system on Fabrik's service took a really long time-about one week operating in the background. All online backup systems take a long time to do the initial backup. But, once I had the initial backup completed, it didn't take long to back up the changed files-which I scheduled to be done each morning at 1 a.m.

In the past, even though I wrote about the need to do backups, I felt bothered and distracted doing it because I felt that nothing that serious was ever really going to happen to me. Well, I never dreamed in a hundred years that I'd end up doing one of the most stupid things I've ever done in my life-which resulted in my losing my notebook PC. I had to begin a total recovery.

How the unthinkable happened

On Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008, we got up at 6 a.m. to drive from Atlanta to our home in Wellington, Fla. I finished getting the SUV packed and was trying to leave before 7 a.m. All of a sudden, Alicia asked me if I had packed an important file folder. Yes, I told her, I had-it was in my computer case. She asked me to get it for her so she could reference it during the trip. I ran around the car, opened up the left rear door, unzipped the computer case, pulled out my Acer notebook, and put it on the top of the car for just a minute. Then I found her file folder, took the folder to her on the passenger side of the car (she said thanks), ran around to my door, got in the car and we were on our way.

We had just crossed over the border into Florida when the shock hit me-one that turns you clammy and sends your heart racing like mad: I had forgotten to retrieve the notebook back off the top of the SUV and put it back into the computer bag!

"Uh oh," I said to Alicia. "I think a disaster has just occurred."

I pulled off the highway, got out and looked on top of the SUV, thinking in some strange fantasy state that I'd find the notebook PC sitting right there where I'd left it. Alas, it was gone. At that point, I tried to figure out what to do. We called our pet sitter, who went over to the house, looked in the driveway and along the street, but she couldn't find it. Drats!

Steps to Recovery

Steps to recovery

OK, now that I had done just about the stupidest thing in my entire life, I had to figure out how to get back into operation. Fortunately, I still had my Frost & Sullivan Dell Latitude notebook, so I kept that system running as normal. And I had my Toshiba backup drive, in which I had backed up most of my files the previous Friday. And I had most of the files backed up on the Fabrik remote service as well. I also had my BlackBerry for Frost & Sullivan wireless e-mail and my Peek for personal wireless e-mail, so I could "limp along" replying to folks using my personal wireless e-mail system.

But, before I could do any restore, I had to get another notebook PC. Fortunately, the folks at Fujitsu came to the rescue. I contacted them on Dec. 17, and they had a new LifeBook A6220 system with a 320GB disk, 4 GB of memory, and their new 64-bit Vista OS available for editorial loan on my doorstep by Friday morning.

It's always a hassle to set up the Wi-Fi network with security, then load the applications. I had to download Office 2007 off the Web since my CD with key was left in Atlanta. But, they give you a 60-day grace period, which was enough time to get things running. (You have to be sure to remove the pre-installed "junior" version of Office so that you don't end up with two versions of the same software-the pre-install doesn't include Outlook).

My first inclination was to restore all the backed up data from Fabrik, but it turned out that wasn't such a good idea. Fabrik provides for two methods to restore data. The primary method-and the one that's easiest to use-is to restore a file or folder using the downloaded Fabrik client. This assumes that you may have over-written a file, lost it or had a corrupted file or folder. In this case, you load up the Fabrik client, point to the files or folders you want to recover (it retains a copy of the last eight versions of the each file), and the client talks to the Fabrik server to access and restore the files. 

But I didn't have that remote client installed on the new computer. In the case of a disaster like the one that I had, they provide a Web-based backup that allows you to point to the files you want to restore (in this case, all of them). The Fabrik system then clumps them together into a series of 3GB zipped files that have to be downloaded using a Web browser. Once you download the 3GB segment, you have to "pick through" the files you want and re-create your folders in which to store them. And, even though the download speeds are faster than the upload speeds for broadband access, it would still take a long time and a lot of work to download more than 100,000 files (representing more than 100 GB) and restore everything that way. 

At this point, I realized that the most critical files were in my Outlook Primary PST, which represented around 1.4 GB and had the most recent Inbox/Sent folders for the past few months. So, I requested Web restore for this one file, which restored pretty quickly. Then, I used the Toshiba portable backup drive that operates at USB 2.0 speeds to restore my data files, my 2,500 songs and my 40,000 digital photos. I then got Outlook to open the Primary PST and set it as my Inbox. I was pleased that Fabrik had done the last backup the day before we drove to Florida, so I only lost one day of e-mails. The rest of the folders were all restored and, by Saturday afternoon, I was back in full operation.

Things I Have Learned from This

Some things I have learned from this include:

1. Don't put your notebook PC on the top of your SUV and try to drive with it up there. It doesn't work (smile/frown).

2. Use a remote, offsite backup service for your most critical files using a service such as Connected, Fabrik or any other reputable online backup service that does "incremental backup"-where only the changed portions of files that are changed are backed up. [Note: if you have a MacBook, use the Time Machine backup software to backup your data to either an Apple Time Capsule (includes Time Machine software, a 500GB hard drive and Wi-Fi) or to your own external hard drive that sits connected to your MacBook. I have recently migrated my photos and music over to a MacBook Pro and find the Time Machine function very easy and painless to set up.]

3. Continue to use an external backup drive, and back up your photos, music and e-mail once a week. I always do that on Friday night. Make a habit of it and it will ensure that your files will not be out of date.

4. Consider installing Computrace's Lo/Jack for Laptops. It can help retrieve a notebook PC if it's stolen. It installs some "silent" software on the notebook that allows it to "call home" if Computrace is notified that the unit was stolen. There are wonderful case studies that the company has about stolen units that were successfully recovered. 

I can assure you, if you don't have a backup of your critical data and you lose your computer, it will be one of the worst days in your life. It was almost exhilarating to be able to get a new notebook and restore my complete operating environment in less than two days. It took some work, but I ended up hardly skipping a beat to the outside world.

Take a little time right now to get your backup going. It could be the best thing you ever did.

 J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D., is the VP and Chief Analyst with the Frost & Sullivan North American Information & Communication Technologies Practice. As a nationally recognized industry authority, he focuses on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies and market behavior in the mobile computing and wireless data communications industry in North America. Since joining Frost & Sullivan in 2006, Dr. Purdy has been specializing in mobile and wireless devices, wireless data communications and connection to the infrastructure that powers the data in the wireless handheld. He is author of Inside Mobile & Wireless, which provides industry insights and reaches over 100,000 readers per month.

For more than 16 years, Dr. Purdy has been consulting, speaking, researching, networking, writing and developing state-of-the-art concepts that challenge people's mind-sets, and developing new ways of thinking and forecasting in the mobile computing and wireless data arenas. Often quoted, his ideas and opinions are followed closely by thought leaders in the mobile & wireless industry. He has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University. He can be reached at

Disclosure Statement: From time to time, I may have a direct or indirect equity position in a company that is mentioned in this column. If that situation happens, then I'll disclose it at that time. I have an affiliation with IDG.

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