A test of my backup strategy

A week ago I got a string of messages from my XP workhorse computer indicating it was unable to write to the disc. When I powered the unit back on, the system was quite obviously ill. I turned it off and pulled the hard disc drive from the unit and put it on the shelf. Now would be a good time to test my backup strategy.I have a layered approach to backups.

First, I do not backup any programs I have on discs. This includes the operating system (XP), Office, Nero, and other programs I purchased on physical media.

Programs I purchase online, I either burn to a disc or I copy the install file(s) to a folder on my file server called “Install Sources”. Keys to these programs are written on the disc and/or added to a license key file stored on my file server.

Free programs that I download (Audacity, Python, Perl, …) that I expect to be around for the long haul, I simply download from the web and trust that I will be able to get a version again in the future.

So the only thing left to backup is data. The bulk of my data is stored on my file server. This includes close to 500 gig of pictures (my son in a photographer). But some data is stored locally. This data is either data that is transient in nature (like browser caches), data that has a high access rate and would be slowed by web access, or ill behaved applications that simply can’t be make to store data on a network drive.

For this data, I have a small external USB drive that I bad all changed data to every night. I use an external backup drive because of a failure I had a year ago when my power supply failed. It shot high voltage throughout my computer and fired everything including my primary and backup drive. With an external drive, the chances of a wonky power supply taking out my backup drive is greatly diminished.

I use a program called Handy Backup to do the nightly backup. It is a simple and cheap program that can target specific files or directories or trees of directories to backup. It has a built in scheduler and will backup to network or local media. Once a week, I use Handy Backup to copy the data not only to the local backup drive but to the file server since it is equiped with an automated DVD burner.

So when my computer crashed, it was a matter of buying a new disc, formating it, and installing the operating system and its patches. That consumed the first day. The next two days was installing all the applications. I keep a composition notebook for each computer I own and add a note for each program I install or remove. That allows me to rebuild and get back a machine without forgetting all the applications I had on it.

Once the programs were installed, it was a simple matter to reverse the Handy Backup tasks to restore the data back to the correct locations.

One hint I learned. For XP when rebuilding the OS, use the exact same account names. If not, the “My Documents” area will be in a different location making restoring much more painfull.

Also, I have not figure out how to restore the WAB (Windows Address Book) email address book and keep the catagorizations I added in Outlook. That was the one thing that I lost.

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