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.
My Own Disaster Recovery
This came in handy in a recent near-disaster for me. My 4-month-old Dell came with a Seagate SATA drive and the Intel Storage Agent installed.
Suddenly, I started getting messages from the Intel Storage Agent that the drive was reporting it might fail soon. (Microsoft has indicated that this diagnostic capability will be in Windows Vista.)
I called up Dell, and after running some more diagnostics, they confirmed that the drive needed to be replaced.
They wouldnt just send to me, they insisted on sending it with a tech. When he showed up (very late), his plan was to replace the drive and then help me reinstall Windows and restore “my backup.”
I wonder how often he actually encounters a non-business user who can do this.
Lets imagine I was a really conscientious home user: I would have backed up all of my data, including things like my mail file.
After the new drive was in, I would have used the disk that came with my Dell to restore Windows and probably all the pre-installed non-Windows software (like the Intel Storage Agent), after which I would run Windows Update to fill in the holes that developed since my system CD was burned.
Then I could restore my backup of my data, say bye-bye to the Dell tech and figure out how to reinstall all my other applications and reset my customizations to the system.
Over the next few weeks I would reinstall things like ActiveX controls as I found I needed them, type in saved passwords (if I remembered them), rebuild my favorites list, etc.
This process would be bad enough for me to do. If it happened to any of the friends or relatives for whom I provide phone support, it would have been the disaster after the disaster, like that killer aftershock that follows the massive quake.
Since I had Ghost images, I was able to restore everything. Absolutely everything. In fact, since I knew the tech was coming and the disk hadnt actually failed yet, the last thing I did before he was supposed to come and I shut the system off was to save another Ghost image.
I literally picked up on the new system where I had left off. I didnt have to reactivate Windows or anything else like that.
Mine is a hard-core setup. But there are alternatives you can have without the added cost of Ghost, but with a trade-off for more restore work.
For instance, you can use the conventional Windows Backup program to back up the files and system state to the external drive.
To restore, youd have to reinstall Windows and do the updates, then restore the backup, and youd probably have all your apps and settings. It would be close.
If I wanted to save space by saving fewer backups, I could also use the external drive for other systems, either by moving the cable itself or by sharing the drive over the network. NAS is a better, but more expensive solution to this.
Disaster recovery for consumers gets short shrift from users and the industry, but theres good reason to think that the very problem that made it acute, ballooning hard disk sizes, will make alleviate it in the end. That second disk can be your savior when something goes wrong on the first.
Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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