Thursday, February 17, 2011

Never Trust a Backup

I got caught again. 

Yesterday I was stuck going to Jury Duty.  Never mind that I'm probably not the best person for a Jury, I'm way too analytical and can't turn off my training.  I had to make sure that I had everything I needed to get the bare minimum done for the day.

I took all my documents that I needed to work on during the day and pared them down to a memory chip.  An old 256 MB SD Memory Chip.  I'm a fan of these things.  They're small, light, easy to hide, easy to use.  Windows, Linux, and Mac OSX compatible.  You can get them cheap at around $1 USD per GB.  Less if you catch a sale.  

Don't laugh at those prices if you read this in 2012 or later.  That's the going rate in February 2011 for bargain basement chips.

This wasn't a bargain basement chip, it was a big deal when I got it for an old camera.  Since it is a SanDisk chip, I should try out the lifetime warranty and whether I can get a new one with a minimum of fuss.

I had my documents on the chip and put it on the laptop that I needed to take with me, and old machine that is slow.  I figured if it got stolen in the den of crime that is a courthouse, I would be annoyed but I would still have my work. 

I made a backup of my Firefox bookmarks and then installed them onto the little Thinkpad Z60t and went through a day of work with it.  It's a comfortable machine for me, 13 inches and ample keyboard, I am sure it went for a big chunk of change when new.  Now it's faster than a Netbook, so that would price it around $200 in the after market.

Any tool that works is the best tool for the job.

I went through the day surfing pages I had pre-loaded at 530AM that morning.  I even applied for two jobs (Yes, I am a Project Manager and Yes, I want a permanent position) as well as writing a blog posting or three.  When I went home, the little Z Machine stayed on my lap until I was through doing work stuff.

I guess what I'm saying is I got a full day out of it.   The computer is functional, no hardware glitches, it runs XP adequately well if slow by today's standards.

This morning I pulled the memory chip out of the Z, walked it out to the living room and went through the motions... only it didn't read right.

Memory chips are much more resilient than optical medias like CD or DVDs.  You can drop them on the floor from a "reasonable" height and they won't shatter, scratch or generally become easily unreadable.  What they are sensitive to are Static Shocks and questionable readers.

It could have been either.

Knowing which specific files I needed off the chip, I was able to recover the directory tree.  Folders to the newbies, the data was safe. 

On the other hand, I now have a laptop, my Acer Aspire, that is acting flaky and showed it by eating the chip.

It won't format, It won't read in the Aspire, and I've decided the safest place for me to put an SDHC chip in that machine is in an external USB Caddy and forgo the internal reader. 

Yes, my five year old Acer is beginning to go senile.  Unfortunately it is also my fastest laptop so it's going to be a hinderance.

What is the moral to the story?

If you trust your backups, you had better test them.  I was in a place where I had to live with a subset of my data and only one copy of the changed files exist.   Luckily the changed files were intact, but my backup did not work.

In corporate world, if there is time, you always do multiple backups.   When I managed the financial software systems that I had control over, I made it a point to have more than one copy of my data.  This was a "special case", but it also serves as a warning. 

If you aren't backing up your data you are saying it isn't worth keeping it in the first place.

That reminds me, I have a private server with 250GB of data that needs a backup... Ooops!

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