backups

A Backup Restoration Story

For most of my computing lifetime, I didn't bother with backups. They were too much trouble, and back when it took 20 floppy disks to back up a Mac hard disk, they took too much time. But now with services like Time Machine, CrashPlan, Backblaze, Dropbox, and Google Drive, it is pretty easy to keep redundant copies of everything. I had files in these locations:

  • my main laptop
  • my old laptop (given to stepson for schoolwork), which still had all my files on it from the time before I got the new laptop
  • family iMac, which in addition to having copies of my important files also had an external hard drive that held Time Machine backups for all home computers
  • CrashPlan (offsite backup)
  • Dropbox (which is not really a "backup", but it means it's easy to maintain multiple copies of important files)

So I thought I was pretty well backed up, until a few events happened in a short period of time:

  1. My main laptop's SSD filled up with work-related stuff, so I deleted some big non-work-related stuff (Aperture library, virtual machine images), because I knew I had copies of those things on my old laptop, our iMac, and in CrashPlan offsite backup.
  2. My old laptop died when the kid dumped a glass of milk on it. So that's one old copy gone, but hey, we have others, right?
  3. The external hard drive that held our Time Machine backups failed. So I bought a new external drive and reconfigured Time Machine on all our machines to back up to it. That meant we lost our old Time Machine backups, I didn't worry because I knew I had copies of important stuff on the family iMac, and we'd have fresh new Time Machine backups in no time.
  4. The old family iMac died. We were lucky in that Apple botched the repair, and gave us a brand new machine to replace it, but the downside was that we lost everything that was on that machine's internal hard drive.

These events all happened within a month. In hindsight, I wish I'd reacted faster, but at the time, I just thought, "It's OK, we still have other backups."

So, anyway, we get this new iMac, and I figure I can just plug the external Time Machine drive into it and we'll have all our data back. But no: apparently I when I configured all the other family Macs to back themselves up to the family iMac's external drive, I neglected to configure the iMac to back itself up.

I had to fall back to the CrashPlan backup. I am very glad we had it, because otherwise we would have lost our family photo archives and some other important stuff. But the downside is that it has taken about five days to restore everything from CrashPlan. I don't know whether to blame our ISP or CrashPlan for the slowness of the restoration, but being unable to use that new machine for five days has been annoying.

CrashPlan's restoration functions suck. When I set up the CrashPlan app on the new iMac, it asked whether I would like to synchronize that new iMac with the old iMac's backup. "Sure, that would be awesome" I thought, and I clicked Yes. Then it took two days for the synchronization to complete, and during that time I couldn't restore anything.

Then, when synchronization finally completed, I checked the box to restore the entire hard drive and clicked the Restore button. CrashPlan spent a couple of hours counting up how many files that was and how big they were, and then it crashed. I tried again, waited a couple of hours again, and it crashed again. (So you need to have a plan for when CrashPlan crashes.)

Because it apparently couldn't restore the entire hard drive at once, I selectively restored individual folders (Applications, /Users/kdj, /Users/pebble, etc.). This worked, but again I had to sit at the computer for a long time while CrashPlan counted up all the files, because after selecting something, you can't click Restore until it finishes counting them up.

And then after restoring, I noticed some files missing, so I had to go back into CrashPlan and play with the options to get it to restore files from the date our old iMac died, and to include deleted/hidden files.

So, lessons learned:

  • Make sure all machines are backing up to Time Machine. Check this every week or so.
  • Restoring from CrashPlan sucks. Maybe that's just the nature of restoring a few hundred gigabytes of data over the Internet, but I may look into other options when my annual subscription expires.
  • When some link in the backup chain breaks, fix it right away.

Netgear ReadyNAS Duo 2000 Setup and Review

I have previously written about my backup strategy. I've never really worried about backups too much. In the 30 years I've been using computers, I've never lost a hard drive.

...until last weekend. My wife's MacBook Air was displaying some funny behavior, so I ran Disk Utility on it. Disk Utility said the drive had problems, so I clicked Repair Disk, and it would not boot thereafter. I called Apple, and their expert told me I'd have to erase the drive and reinstall the operating system. We had no backups for that machine. My wife was not happy to lose everything. And of course, it is my fault she had no backups. (I've told her about Time Machine, but she didn't believe it could really be that easy to set up, so she never did.)

So, better late than never, I decided to get some network storage and start backing up everything to it. A friend was happy with his Netgear ReadyNAS, so I ordered a Netgear ReadyNAS Duo 2000 from Amazon, along with two 1-TB Western Digital Caviar Green hard drives. Total price came out to about $400.

The ReadyNAS has two drive bays. Most models come with a drive included, but I bought the "bare" one that has no preinstalled drives, assuming that it would be cheaper to buy my own drives. Upon reading the manuals, I immediately hit a problem: the manuals explain how to add a second hard drive to a ReadyNAS that comes with a single drive, but nothing about what to do if you have an empty ReadyNAS.

Hoping for the best, I installed the two Caviar drives in the NAS, plugged it into the network, plugged it into power, and hit the power button. It turned on, but the slowly blinking LED didn't give me a warm fuzzy feeling.

I installed the RAIDar software, which one uses to manage the device, and it told me I had bad disks.

After about half an hour of Googling, registering the product, registering for the Netgear forums, and registering for the ReadyNAS forums (each of which required separate sign-up forms and e-mail confirmations), I finally found a current ReadyNAS FAQ (after hitting a few old FAQs that were created before my model existed). There was nothing specific about my situation, but I decided I would try the "factory reset". That worked: RAIDar enabled its Setup button, and I was able to initialize everything.

I was initially worried about the fan noise. When the ReadyNAS boots up, the fans are incredibly loud for something that small. After 30 seconds or so, the noise drops a little, but it was still really loud. A Google search for "readynas loud fan" indicated that lots of users have replaced their ReadyNAS fans, due to the noise. But after the drives got formatted, the fan noise dropped to a barely detectable level. It's not as quiet as my Macs, but it's not loud enough to be annoying.

It was very easy to set up Time Machine with the ReadyNAS. (First thing I did was back up my wife's Air, of course.)

The ReadyNAS has a lot of other features that I am not yet using. $400 for a backup solution seems a little pricey, when one can buy a 1-TB drive and enclosure for about $100, but having storage available on the network means we're more likely to actually do backups. We'll see how things go.

A complete description of all the features can be found here: http://www.readynas.com/?p=177

Backups

I've never been good at keeping backups. Back in the good old days, when all my data fit on one floppy disk, I made copies of those, but the first time I had to back up a 20-MB (yes, megabyte) hard drive onto a stack of floppies, I gave up on backups. As my hard drives have grown, the thought of spending time making huge backups have become more daunting.

I've been lucky. I've never had a hard drive crash, or lost a laptop, or otherwise been unpleasantly surprised. I've never been taught a harsh lesson about the importance of backups. For important files, I've e-mailed copies to myself, taking advantage of the practically unlimited free storage space provided by Yahoo! Mail and GMail. However, if one of my hard drives ever died, it would take a very long time to re-install an OS and all my applications and settings.

I've always felt that I should be keeping backups, and with the upcoming Mac OS X Leopard upgrade, I figured I should keep a backup of my Tiger installation in case Leopard turned out to be a lemon. A recent post by jwz about backups prompted me to get serious. His suggestion is basically to buy some extra hard drives and an external enclosure, make copies of your hard drives, and use rsync to periodically copy changes from your main drives to the backup copies. This gives you a bootable backup drive, so if your real drive ever dies, you just pop the backup drive into your computer, and you're back in business. jwz's advice is sound, and is easy to follow if you have a Mac or a Linux box. It's a little expensive to buy so many spare drives, but the convenience of having bootable backups is worth it to me.

Unfortunately, it is not as easy to back up a Windows machine. You can use rsync if you have Cygwin installed, but I wasn't sure that I would trust that to give me a bootable backup. So, my strategy for now is to use Acronis True Image to make a backup copy of my drive, and then use Microsoft's SyncToy to periodically copy new files from the laptop to the backup drive.

One benefit of this strategy is that it has been easy to upgrade my hard drives. My MacBook only had a 60-GB drive, which got full pretty quick; now it has a 160-GB drive with plenty of extra space. I also grew my Windows laptop drive from 120 GB to 160 GB.

I'll play around with the "Time Machine" feature of Leopard, but I'll probably keep relying on the simpler backup strategy instead of Apple's slick magic stuff.

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