Backup, we don’t need no stinking backup!

That’s true, iff (that’s if and only if) you don’t need your data.  Here’s another rule for you.  Computers lock up.  There are no exceptions. You can have the most reliable PC, running the bare minimum of programs, perfectly maintained, and flawlessly secured, and you will still have lockups at some point.  (Why?  I’ll be doing a rant on that subject another day.  It deserves an entry of its own.  For now, just accept on faith that any computer you work on will have a problem at some point.)

Now consider that most computers have a metric buttload of background programs running at any one time and may not have had any preventive maintenance done since they were new.  Given that simple fact, the frequency of lockups increases geometrically.  (Maybe only arithmetically, but geometrically is so much more dramatic.)  (“Rhett, Rhett, things are getting geometrically worse.”  “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a”…oh never mind.)

Anyway…a good example can be found in the ANC Computer Lab PCs.  We try to keep them perfectly maintained, updated, secure, and functional.  However, there are a lot of PCs on campus, and only so many techs to go around.  (Plus, we’re always getting distracted by food or corresponding with Nigerian princes.)  Every morning, they are booted clean and returned to their pristine state.   However, there are a LOT of programs necessarily installed for classes, testing, and improving your overall computing experience.   The PC I’m blogging on has 23 processes and 81 services currently running under Microsoft Vista.  See where I’m going with this?

In the student computer lab last week, a student was typing a paper with the sole intention of printing it out.  Guess what happened.  Correctamundo!  It wouldn’t print.  It was a fairly simple solution, but required shutting down the PC.  When you shut down a Lab PC, all data is gone when it boots back up.  That’s part of the security I mentioned.  Therefore, saving a copy on the hard disk is not an option.  So, I asked if she had a copy on her flash drive.  “Uh, I think I left it at home.”  There could be a worse response, but I don’t know what it is.  Anyway, I found a disk, saved her file, printed it, and there was a happy ending.  This is the exception, not the rule! If you are working on a PC that clears the hard drive on reboot, for Pete’s sake, bring a flash drive!  At least get a floppy disk.  Gosh!  There are also occasional power issues so it could just suddenly go off.  Just…off.  Everything gone, do not pass Go do not collect $200.

If you want to be assured of keeping your data, make sure you have a backup.  Saving to the hard disk is not a backup.  That’s a local copy.  Make a copy on your flash drive or burn it to CD.  Better yet, do both.  I keep one on my flash drive and, if it’s important, email myself a copy at my Yahoo email account.  That way, I have one backup with me and another stored in some giant server farm in cyberspace.  I assume the CIA has a copy, too, but they won’t return my emails.  Kidding!  Just about the CIA part, though.

If you call a tech because your computer crashed and ask if he can recover your data, guess what he’s going to ask first?  Correctamundo!  “Do you have a backup?”  If your answer is no, then his answer will be, “probably not.”  We’ll try, but don’t get your hopes up.  If you say, “why yes, I regularly back up all of my data” then you will immediately be moved to the top of the list of the technician’s favorite customers…right behind the customers with pizza.

Back it up!

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3 Responses to “Backup, we don’t need no stinking backup!”

  1. Steve Says:

    James, absolutely true. One of the things I like about Vista Business on the new build is the “Complete PC Backup” feature. A little command line tweaking, and every night at 11:00 it backs up a full image of the C: drive to an external hard drive. After the first time, it takes less than 20 minutes, since it only backs up the files that have changed since the last time.

    I love that, “Uh, I think I left it at home,” RE: saving to a flash drive. Twice in class on Friday I had to show the same student how to do that. The scary part? He’s an IT intern with the NFL franchise in MO that currently sucks the least, and he works on $500k of their hardware every day. I shuddered when it hit me: your major is in an IT field, and your English professor knows more about the technology than you do.

    Maybe it’s time for an A+ cert and a tech writing career.

  2. James Says:

    Wow, did the Private University set up the internship? That’s a pretty impressive addition to the client list. I guess that’s one of the advantages of going to school in the big city…an almost unlimited number of corporations needing interns. We often have trouble just finding enough local businesses in which to place interns. The businesses are great, it’s just a small community with limited resources.

    • Steve Says:

      Yeah, they set it up. Our former campus president was buddy-buddy with the King ever since he spoke at graduation ten or twelve years ago. Every once in a while over the years, you’d see the prez in the King’s suite when watching the games on TV. I guess some of the relationships between leftover staff continued.

      As a follow-up on that particular intern, I told him about the SIL’s recent problems with her laptop: wouldn’t boot, no boot splash, wouldn’t POST, the only sign of life was the “Power On” LED. His diagnosis: must be the hard drive. I had to explain the boot process to him, and that something was failing well before the point in that process where it would recognize the hard drive.

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