An often overlooked component of working with computers is protecting your data, or if it’s not overlooked altogether, it is often times not given adequate consideration. Your data is your blood, sweat and tears (especially tears if you lose your data). You had to create your data, applications and Operating Systems can always be reinstalled, even if it is a pain in the butt to do so. You can reinstall Excel 100 times and it won’t do anything for the spreadsheet that you lost when your drive crashed. You know, the spreadsheet that took you weeks to create and tweak just the way you wanted it, not to mention the years of data and calculations it was holding for you. There’s nothing like the feeling of that nice new, albeit empty, replacement drive after yours is replaced since it was still under warranty when it dumped your entire existence.
So how do you protect your data? There are many facets to protecting your data, but for now, I am going to focus on the physical preservation of your important files. Many people neglect the simple things that can help to save you time and loss. Probably the most basic of these is saving your work frequently—everyone has heard of the person who accidentally tripped over their power cord and lost the term paper that took them 5 hours to write. When you save frequently, you minimize the amount of data that is lost should something unexpected happen. It can happen to the best of us. I lost the pictures from my only trip to New York City with my wife when my hard drive crashed—being experienced with computers, I knew about backup and would copy all of my pictures to a separate location. Unfortunately, I had downloaded the pictures and had not yet made a copy of them, it had only been a few days and I planned on copying them up to the network like I always did. The bad news is that the drive crashed unexpectedly and those pictures were lost—the good news is that only the pictures from that one trip were lost, I still have all the rest, including my Honeymoon.
The more the protection of your data can be automated, the better, since we all forget or overlook things. One way I did this was to put my data on redundant storage. I always use at least a RAID 0 drive configuration if at all possible. If multiple redundant drives are not an option, I will at least setup an automated, image level backup process.
Times have changed and there are so many new technologies to protect your data, that hopefully none of us will have to suffer the loss of our data again. In the old days, data was backed up to floppy disk or tape—even if this was automated, there was still a lot of work to do to recover from a failure. Redundant drive systems were only for Servers—now days, many consumer level systems come with RAID capabilities built into the motherboard and with drives as cheap as they are, it is now convenient and affordable for a redundant drive system to protect your data. Online services like Carbonite, Mozy and Acronis offer offsite backup that is very affordable and run automatically. With old style tape backups, it was unrealistic to be able to restore the Operating System and applications directly to the way they were. You still had to reinstall and build up everything and then restore your data to get a working system again. With the advent of image based backups, you can simply restore the image back on to a replacement drive or system and be backed up and running without having to reinstall; many products will even let you restore to dissimilar hardware. On the higher end, with virtualization and imaging technologies, it is possible to simply boot the backup image without having to restore it and have your system back up and running in a matter of minutes. Pretty slick huh?
There is always the Human component, so unfortunately, there is always the potential of data loss, but some simple measures can prevent you from having to suffer losing your data. Save frequently and make sure that you implement some form of backup to protect yourself. And please, please, be sure to check your backup to ensure it is doing what you think it is doing.