gene dominique + photography | Data Loss and Found - My data backup and restore experience

Data Loss and Found - My data backup and restore experience

June 01, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

I've been thinking about blogging.  I just haven't had anything useful to say.  However, based on my recent experience with a hard drive crash, it's time to talk about data backup and restore issues.  I say backup and restore because in my experience, to the extent users do any backup at all, most never check to make sure the data can be restored when needed.  And, truth be told, based on conversations with more than a few friends and colleagues, people are still not backing up data using a well thought-out data protection strategy. 


Data backup is a necessary chore.  The saying "it's not whether but when" is particularly apt when it comes to computer disk drives.  Hard drives will fail. And I can pretty much guarantee you a hard drive failure will happen at the most inopportune time to the most critically needed data.


Modern disk drives are a marvel, spinning at anywhere from 5000 to 10,000 rpm and capable of storing 4 terabytes of data or more at lightening speeds.  For some perspective, a one terabyte drive can store  approximately 4.5 million 200 page books or 300,000 photos, give or take.  The flexibility of a modern hard drive highlights its fragility.  Things that spin generate heat; things that spin really fast get really hot.  And things that get really hot break down at some point.  Thus, the need for a well planned data backup and restore strategy.


I use a Windows PC for my photo editing; my computer has three internal hard drives with a total of 10 TB of storage space.  To help me keep track of the health of my computer system I use a software application called PC Doctor.  On April 15th (the day AFTER I had completed tax returns) PC Doctor warned me that "A HARD DRIVE FAILURE IS IMMINENT."  Yikes!  Yikes!  Yikes!  What to do?  What should I do?


Nothing.  That's what I advise.  Resist the urge to panic.  Resist the urge to jump up and down.  Cursing is fine, but mainly, take a step back and think: Is the data on the failing drive backed up?  If the answer is no, then shut the computer down and take it to a reputable repair shop for them to sort things out.  With any luck, your computer will have the ability to start-up one more time.  The repair tech can fire it up and retrieve the data on the failing drive before it becomes a failed drive.  After a drive fails, things get dicey.  Data retrieval from a failed drive can be done, but it may cost thousands of dollars.


In addition to PC Doctor, I use backup software called CrashPlan.  CrashPlan comes in several flavors from free to various pay-to-play options and it does real time constant backup of data.  I invested in a multi-year plan that allows me to backup data to local hard drives as well as to Crashplan's cloud service.  I run two separate local backup drives, one internal and one external.  I also backup to CrashPlan's servers so that I have a copy of data off-site.  (This protects against the fire, earthquake and other end of times problems.)  Plus every month or so, I put an external backup drive of the most recent data into my off-site safe deposit box. 


Am I paranoid about data protection.  Yep!  Is my backup strategy overkill.  Nope.  In my view, it's the bare minimum of redundant protection.  A lot of people do more than what I do.  My strategy is based on the fact that I have over 100,000 image files that go back 10 years or so.  And this does not include my music files, and our financial and tax information.  I can't replace what I lose.  So my goal is not to lose anything. And I test the Crashplan data restoration capabilities once a month or so by deleting several files I don't care about and restoring them from a local drive or from the Crashplan cloud.  I love Crashplan because it works and it works with minimal heartaches.  I have had to resort to Crashplan tech support in the past and those interactions went well and my issues were resolved.


When I got the "imminent failure" warning I shut the computer down and took it to my local trusted tech.  My machine did have a few more start-ups in it, so it was easy enough for the tech to copy all of my data off the bad drive and restore it to the new drive she installed.  No muss no fuss so far until I got the repaired computer home.  I checked my photo editing application and learned that 8060 image files had been corrupted and were missing.  Corrupted data is one sure sign of an impending hard drive failure, by the way.  Since I had not been recently using any of the corrupted files, I had not known they were lost prior to looking specifically for all missing files.


This is where my backup strategy is put to the test.  I walked away from my computer until the next day, to give myself time to think things through.  I knew exactly how many files were missing.  knew exactly where they belonged.  And hoping against hope that Crashplan would come through, I knew exactly where copies of the damaged files could be found.  Crashplan allows you to identify the location of the backed up data, pick the folders and files that need to be restored and pick the option of restoring the files to their original location or to a new location.


I picked the folder to restore which contained all of the missing 8060 files and told Crashplan where to put the files.  And it worked!  It just worked!  After getting notice that the restore was complete I went back to my image editing software and looked for missing files.  The result was 0.  All of the missing files had been replaced in the place they belonged!  So, with a new disk drive installed and my missing data retrieved I am back in business.  Thanks to PC Doctor, Crashplan my backup strategy and a good repair technician, my hard drive incident was a non-issue.  It could have been fatal, or at least prohibitively expense.  Back up your data.  Or at some point you will regret not doing so.



I've had good results with PC  Doctor and Crashplan, but those are not the only software applications that do system monitoring and data backup.  Look around, talk to people, read reviews and come to own conclusion about which applications will be best for your needs.  But most importantly protect your data.

Copyright © 2015 Gene Dominique. All Rights Reserved.




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