2017-01-18 / Columns

For 2017, resolve to back up your important data


At the beginning of the secular year, many of us make promises to ourselves about how we are going to improve things in the coming year. This is a good time to take a look at our technology and make promises that will save us anguish and pain as well. The biggest resolution we should all make is to back up our data.

It has been said many times that there are only two kinds of computer users: Those who have experienced a hard drive failure—and those who will experience one.

I use a lot of external hard drives for my audio and video productions, and I try to be diligent about watching the age of those drives. I run them constantly, so you have to keep in mind that they are mechanical and will eventually fail.

My experience has been that external hard drives being powered 24/7 will last about two years, so when I put a new drive online, I mark it with a label showing when it “entered service.”

When a drive approaches its two-year anniversary, my normal practice is to install a fresh drive and copy over the data. Then I disconnect the two-year old drive and store it. (I have a lot of old drives in storage!)

This usually works fine, and I pretty much retire old drives before they show signs of imminent failure.

But sometimes they fool you.

This happened to me last month with a particularly critical drive containing years of financial and business files, one that had been carefully backed up every two years. I confess, it was a little past anniversary time, and it just failed without warning.

Frequently, I get signs of an impending drive failure when a document fails to open, or a drive tells you it is having trouble saving the file. You can usually get these errors to go away temporarily if you power the drive off and on again. That gives you just enough time to save your file and replace the drive immediately. It didn’t happen this time. No warning at all.

I took it to my go-to expert, but he wasn’t able to recover the data.

Now, I had a significant chunk of the older files on a separate drive, but pretty much everything I had filed for 2015 and 2016 was in jeopardy, except for a small backup of tax and receipt files I had made on an SD card. My backups weren’t complete, and rebuilding the records would be annoying and time-consuming.

Fortunately, there are options for failed drives with important data, and Seagate, the drive manufacturer, provides one, cal led the Seagate Recovery Service. You go online and open a case at http:// www.seagate.com/servicessoftware/recover/, pay a $45 fee, and Seagate provides a UPS label to ship the failed drive to its laboratory. Only if they can recover the data do they charge you for the recovery.

Be prepared, though, it’s not cheap. Seagate charges $650 for laboratory recovery like this.

But for a business or for your valuable personal photos or records, it may be worth it to fork over the $650. That includes transfer of the data to a new, 4TB Seagate portable drive. When the recovery drive came back a week later, I gingerly connected it to my system and amazingly, all of my files had been recovered, probably 10 years worth of important documents. I immediately copied the files from the recovery drive to the new document drive I had prepared. So now I have a fresh document drive and a backup (the recovery drive), but I’m not done there.

I just ordered several 32gb flash drives and I will make backup copies of the data to keep offsite in a safe deposit box. With flash drives selling for under $15, this can be an easy and cheap way to get peace of mind with your important digital files. I strongly recommend it!

Plan for a happy new year, but back up everything. Do it now, before you get too busy this year!

What technology-based resolutions did you make for this year? Email steve@compuschmooze.com and let me know! 

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