Getting your back up over backing up

The reason no one does data backups is because it’s ghastly. Normally I don’t like to reveal my ineptitude, but when you add my uselessness to the utter crap we call backup software, you end up with, at best, a potential disaster.

Months ago, one of the cooling fans on my PC was making an odd squealing noise that would have upset the most manly of mice. I assumed it was the power supply because a couple of reboots first thing in the morning fixed it. Eventually I took the machine into my local hardware guys. I was wrong about the power supply; it was the fan on the video card. I asked them, while they were at it, to add a second drive so I could just do a massive copy of my whole drive over to the slave backup drive.

Sadly, my PC behaved like an old car when taken to the mechanic. By the time the PC was “fixed,” the only components that were the same were the mouse, keyboard, modem and case. The hard drive was showing signs of a spectacular imminent death, so it became the slave and the new one became the main drive. However, my wish to avoid reinstalling software was dashed. When you change a motherboard, you change drivers, and when that happens, Windows needs to be reinstalled.

“Plug-and-play” was the lie on which they based the whopper, “They have weapons of mass destruction.”

So I reinstalled all my software and copied the data over from the old drive, which was now unsuitable for backups. Time passed and I thought, “Gee, why don’t I get a big external hard drive that I can carry around and plug into various machines and do backups?” So I bought one, which sat in my office until I worked up the nerve to install it.

The installation was OK, but Windows disliked the drive so much that it ran a Scandisk on it every time the PC booted. Naturally, there was no troubleshooting documentation for the phenomenon.

After a lot of effing around, the data was finally copied without backup software. The programs provided by the hardware vendor and Microsoft simply did not want to copy my whole drive. The software seemed not to allow for busy files in the evil Windows directory and the limitations of FAT32 hard drives. What good is that? It’s like not allowing for slow drivers in Victoria.

The other issue is that backup software itself does not provide warm fuzzies. It manipulates and changes the files through compression and the recording of meta data. How could this be a good idea? It includes the reliability (or lack thereof) of the backup software into the risk equation.

Imagine in 2050 when researchers uncover an old computer of historical value (say Donald Rumsfeld’s laptop backup). How annoyed they are going to be when the restore software won’t work?

How many times have you heard, “The backup is corrupt”? In a recent debacle, a central document repository was being upgraded and the software installation failed. The backup was unusable. Some of the data was recovered from an old tape backup of the whole server, but not after the files were put on a CD and sent to the software vendor for rescue. Naturally, this occurred over the Christmas period so the downtime was measured in weeks.

It’s like they don’t want us to keep the data. Why isn’t a workable backup methodology built right into the operating system? Are those who want to print everything they do on computers actually the smart ones?

Robert Ford is a consultant in Vancouver who may be paranoid, but might also be right.

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