Friday, February 3, 2012

Back Up Your Data

I work as a computer software engineer, and sad experience had taught me that backing up one's data is vital. Not just my own, but that of some of my employers, all of whom should have known better, been better prepared, or both.

The first time I encountered data loss, I shrugged it off as an aberration. I was working for a place in the west 40's in Manhattan, a little hole in the wall that did data processing for one of the large department stores that has since gone belly up. We were at lunch, in one of the many restaurants that peppered the area, when the conversation turned to smoking:

“John had given up smoking,” Colin, my boss, said, “but he took it up again when he deleted our source code. We had to restore it from backup, and he started smoking again.”

“What happened?” I asked.

A backup utility had completed unsuccessfully, leaving the data unreadable.

“But,” Colin added, “If you copy the data out and copy it back, that can't happen.”

I duly made a mental note.

The next time it was my fault. I had moved on to a new job, and I was trying to learn the ins and outs of the backup and restore utilities. I made a mistake, inserting a space before a comma, and ended up deleting the entire data set instead of just one member. My boss covered for me, and restored it from backup.

I duly made a mental note.

The next time, however, convinced me that backing up one's data is vital. I had moved on to yet another job, this time working for a large bank as what today would be called a system administrator. We had a number of specially coded routines that had to be inserted into various spots in each new release of the operating system: accounting utilities designed to keep track of resource usage for billing purposes and others designed to validate privileges for accessing data. They were stored in the same kind of file that the first place had used, and they used the same utility in the same incorrect manner.

They did have procedures that were designed to alert someone (not us) that an error had occurred, and they did back up their data. But by the time someone noticed the problem, all the good backup copies had gone out of retention.They switched to a library package, but the missing programs had to be painfully recoded. There are several lessons from this story:

Don't ever use that utility.

Always make sure that what you're doing really worked.

And consider buying a library package or finding some other way to safeguard your data.

Now a days most of us have laptops. But nothing, not even a laptop, is going to last forever, which is why I resist storing anything vital on mine.

All of which is by way of convincing you, I hope, to find a way, some way, to back up your files. Keep it in a cloud. Back it up onto a thumb drive. Find a service that will back up your data for you.

But back it up.

What do I do? I keep master copies of my work on Google documents, which is available online from any computer I care to use. It's easy to upload files and I can modify them there if I want to. I can download them again. I can share them with others, or email them a copy. I can organize my files into folders, and I can search through them easily.

And yeah, I've had to revert to backup copies.

Don't, repeat, don't, believe that it can't happen to you.

It can.

Readers: Do you back up your data? Pray it will never happen to you? Use a service? Let us know what you do and how you like it.


Miranda Hardy said...

I save all my important files on extra external drives, but I need to be better with updating them. Good reminder.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

I really should do more with Google docs. I now back up to my own external drive every Sunday, use flash drives for everything vital and use box as a cloud solution. That said, I've lost stuff more than once when online solutions changed hands or regulations. But doing my best and definitely getting better,

Karen Cioffi said...

Peggy, great post. I've had a few experiences with lost data - once while an assistant controller for a manufacturing company. It was some kind of computer glitch and the IT guy and I had to completely redo the general ledger - what a job.

I've also lost files from my computer and ZIP drives that crashed.

Now I use DropBox - you get 2GB of space free, which should be sufficient for most writers.

I also just invested in MyPCBackup, since I'm running out of space on Dropbox. I should have, however, just paid for Dropbox's upgraded service. It's similar to Goolge Docs in that you save just the files you want and they're available on any other computer or laptop you connect to it.

I thought of Google docs, but wasn't sure about its security. Aside from my own work, I save lots more data in clients' work.)
So, between my zip drives, Dropbox, and MyPCBackup, I feel safe - mostly. :)

Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

NancyCL said...

I know only too well the hazards of not backing up your work, but I want to thank you so much for this article, for it's an important matter. I now have a portable hard drive that I bought just to make sure I have everything backed up. Great article!

Margaret Fieland said...

Thanks for stopping by.

I've had hard drive on two of my family's laptops die recently -- as well as trouble with my work laptop {grimace}. Fortunately, there's a great computer repair place across the street from my employer's offices.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

I too learned the hard way. I back up everything on a portable hard drive.

Magdalena Ball said...

Such an important reminder Peggy. I think we've all had backup issues in one form or another, but learning the hard way can be painful. As your post clearly shows, backing up and checking the backup is also critical. I usually do 4 different backups of anything important - that's a hard drive backup (the main full system one I do monthly) onto a small hard drive I keep separate from my PC - it's handy as well for computer repairs and moving stuff from one computer to another (and easy to grab in the event of fast evacuation - got to think of that these days too I think), and then email for FTP onto a server and upload anything really critical. For long WIPs where I'd be miserable if I lose the data, I always print a hard copy as well - just once a month. You never know - if all power is lost, at least there's that.

Heidiwriter said...

Me too!! Lost my whole novel in progress. Was able to scan it rather than retyping, but still a lot of work. We now subscribe to Carbonite.

Anonymous said...

My PC recently crashed and I had backed up everything except for the calendar for my Blog Tour Schedule. It was a pain to try to piece it back together. I even rescheduled people for the same date. I had some explaining to do and fortunately some of the hosts were flexible with other days to host me. Gotta back up everything!

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