Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Surviving a meltdown

Sorry for the delay in getting back - things got a little busier than usual.  I've spent part of the last 5 days or so dealing with two customers who suffered a melt-down of their operating system.  In both instances, the bottom line was a hard drive that had run into problems, causing the OS to hiccup and refuse to boot.

In one instance, I was able to repair the drive's major problem, but in the other the drive was completely dead.  

My first words to a customer when I get this kind of call is, "Do you have your system or at least files backed up?".  Nine out of ten times, I get the emphatic "nope".

I thought I would take a few minutes and talk about the importance of backing up your system.  Normally, we take this for granted until we are faced with the grim reality that we can't start our computer, and we break out in a sweat about the photos, or tax return, or scans of important documents we made that might be soup.

Many times, it's possible to still retrieve data.  The boot sector develops a problem, and we see the dreaded "blue screen of death" or BSOD when we go to boot.  Basically, the hard drive has started to develop problems with certain areas of the disk, and the data gets snafu'd, preventing a boot-up.  99.9 % of the data may still be intact - and often inserting the hard drive in another computer will let you get a peek.  But sometimes, and I saw this happen this week, the hard drive just dies.  It may be some sort of electrical problem, or physically, a platter in the drive totally croaks, making the drive useless.  Sometimes it's still possible to retrieve data - but usually in this scenario, it requires a specialist, and you may spend more than the drive is worth to retrieve data (or even more).  And in the end, you still have to purchase a new hard drive, and have the system reinstalled.

Sometimes, I get told - "there's nothing I need to keep on there - just format it and start over".  My hat is off to these folks, as I simply can't survive without storing stuff on my drive.  But for some folks, the computer basically handles internet chores, and they keep their email on a remote server - either through web-mail with their provider or using one of the popular web-mail sites like Hotmail, or GMail.  For a few out there, it's simply the knowledge that they have their system backed up and they can simply copy back the data once the computer is restored.

Late last year, I purchased a new back up drive for my own system.  I was able to get a 320 GB portable for just under $100 at a local super center.  I am now seeing 500 GB drives in the same price range.  As our hard drives now approach the Terabyte level (1,000 GB), keeping copies of our irreplaceable data becomes even more important.  If a drive goes, we face the mortal truth that we often have a lot to lose on our computers!

If you work in a business or office environment and have an IT person, you know that your system is networked and you are instructed to save documents to the "server" and not on your individual desktop or laptop.  They will often have a tape back-up in place or depend on systems with a RAID array that carries duplicate hard drives in the event of a failure.  If you deal with sensitive data, they may even keep copies off of the premise in case of a disaster such as a fire.  You need to keep this in mind when developing a strategy for home backups as well.  

With the cost of hard drives at an all time low, you can't afford not to backup.  Think about it.

Do you have your system backed up?  If so, what do you use?


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