Storage

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Back me up

Turns out power connectors are a significant risk!
Written from Martlesham, Suffolk via free domestic Wi-Fi

Because of the life I lead, the nature of my business and an extensive travel schedule, all my equipment takes quite a trashing. My laptop in particular is continually in and out of my bag, being vibrated on the floor, tables and luggage racks in cars, trains and planes.

But even worse, it seems, it is continually being plugged in and out and, as a result, connector failure is a key life-limiting feature. Batteries and hard drives can be replaced at minimal cost but a failed port usually dictates a new and really expensive motherboard. So I have taken to routinely replacing and upgrading my machine every 12 to 18 months. Practical experience says they just won't make two years and beyond!

In past years I have seen the failure of a power connector due to cracked solder brought on by the stress of repeated plug ups, a touch pad mouse spring snap due to me dropping a laptop on my foot, and a VGA port failure that could not be located.

A few weeks ago my LAN (RG45) port/socket failed, and despite all my efforts I have not been able to diagnose the precise problem. So for several weeks I have been confined to Wi-Fi, BlueTooth, USB and FireWire working. To get a repair in progress I purchased a standby machine and moved all my files over. Today I just received an estimate for repair at 60 per cent of the new machine purchase price. Why so high? Diagnosis and repair is not what it used to be - and the replacement of any component on the motherboard is now beyond the visual acuity and manual dexterity of any human.

My decision is a simple one. I will pay four per cent of the purchase price of the machine to get it back from the repair centre, and relegate it to light duties! The last time I had a really severe problem on this scale it was a full hard drive failure. That really taught me a valuable lesson about the necessity for a full back up regime. Since that event it has been my practice to travel with a pocket drive replica of my main hard drive that I update regularly. Now here comes the crunch! The cost of a laptop may seem high, and the repair estimate out of all proportion but what really hurts is the down time, followed by the total rebuild of the disk.

Despite all my efforts I have been unable to find a full hard-drive back-up software application that will take the entire OS, apps, preferences, account details and settings. It just doesn't seem to exist. Getting my 60GB of files moved over is no problem; it is just drag, drop, and wait for a while. The rest is just plain torture, and the only upside is the joy of a clean new build!

What I need is a disk cloner that works and not a simple file and documents back-up system but so far I have failed to find one. It seems those addressing the need start from the assumption that all hardware is working, when in a lot of cases it isn't or it is partially disabled. There was such a package once called Carbon Copy Clover but it was shareware and not from a professionally recognised source, and it is now no longer current.

As far as I can see, the back-up packages produced by industry assume ideal conditions where all hardware is operational, a big fat LAN is available, and an infinity of disk space is to hand. In reality this is seldom the case when you have an emergency on the road! And as for the interfaces - confusing or what! I have seen people wipe their hard drives because the instructions have not been clear, nor the GUI intuitive and positive.

For the time being it looks as though I, along with countless other road warriors, will have to continue suffering the delays of manual back-up, reload and rebuild. I just don't see anyone in industry addressing this problem effectively for the rapidly growing band of IT self-sufficient travellers.

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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