2011-08-06

Backups and Dead Disks

Today this happened:

Actually, I kind of made it happen. I smashed my way into the hard disk case using nothing but ignorance and brute strength.

Well, I really used a set of screwdrivers, a knife and a video on how to open the case the correct way. The brute strength came after it transpired that I didn’t have the correct tiny jeweller’s screwdriver for removing two screws on the bottom of the case - they were ever so slightly smaller than the smallest screwdriver in my set - and I didn’t want to go out and buy one.

My reason for smashing open the case was to find out which part of it had stopped working. It was either the hard disk, which meant I’d lost my Time Machine backup, or it was the case, which meant that I’d need to connect the disk to some other kind of USB->SATA adaptor. It turned out to be the hard disk that had died, but my “Hulk smash!” approach to finding this out means I can’t re-use the case with another disk.

I’m sure that there are numerous SharePoint developers out there who can relate to a tale in which the protagonist valiantly tries to use the wrong tool for a job and succeeds in creating a disastrous mess.

Anyway, this is the first hard disk I’ve ever owned that has died on me. I think it was killed by the unreliable power supply here, which has cycled off and on again a few times in the last couple of days. The last outage must have been too much for it.

Losing my Time Machine backup reminds me that I’ve been meaning to write about my backup strategy. I’ve discussed it a couple of times, but it’s changed recently. I’ve dumped SuperDuper! and replaced it with Crash Plan+. SuperDuper! is a great program with one big drawback. The majority of backups to networked drives fail unless I manually mount the drives first. My backups are all stored on networked disks, so SuperDuper! is constantly complaining that its backup has failed. As I’m very meticulous about maintaining backups of my data, I ignore the errors, quit SuperDuper! and promise to myself I’ll run the backup next time. The backups never get made.

Crash Plan+, on the other hand, does its thing silently. It’s very similar to Time Machine except that it backs up to a server somewhere else on the planet. If my house burns down, I’ll still have all of my files. It even backs up to other computers that have Crash Plan installed. That’s not so useful for me, but my other half uses Windows and the poor unfortunate doesn’t have Time Machine. Her laptop backs up to Crash Plan’s servers and an aging PPC Mac Mini in the spare room that I’ve set up as a Crash Plan backup target. Thus, if either of us need to get files back quickly we have local backups. If the worst happens everything is encrypted and stored online.

Crash Plan was one of the online backup services I evaluated back in February. I’m enormously pleased with it. It’s cheap, reliable and unobtrusive. I’ve even had an opportunity to test it in the field - I used it as a way of transferring my other half’s files when I upgraded her laptop from Vista to Windows 7. It worked without a hitch.

Before I tried Crash Plan, I was using Oops!Backup to backup Windows computers. It’s very Time Machine-like and does a great job at backing up to networked disks. There was little point in running it side-by-side with Crash Plan, though, especially as the latter is backing up locally to the Mac Mini, so I no longer use it. If you’re stuck with Windows and want Time Machine’s functionality but don’t want to backup to “the cloud” (wherever that is) it’s worth a look.