Peter Cochrane's Blog: Why risk a data disaster? Back it up

Data back-up has never been easier or cheaper - so no excuses

Written in my Boston hotel one night when it was too cold to go outside, and dispatched to a month later from a coffee shop in Woodbridge, UK, offering free wi-fi.

What an absolute bonanza of fixed, portable and mobile storage we have available to us.

Laptops with 0.5TB hard drives; 1 to 2TB portable and pocket-size hard drives; 64GB memory sticks; 2GB online storage for free or less than 50p per year on pay sites; and 200GB online back-up services for less than £50. More recently we're seeing integrated storage with online applications in the cloud.

Storage, back-up, and remote data access have always been among my concerns and, somehow, a separate activity to my main IT processes. It has taken a lot of personal discipline, and an almost institutionalised mindset, to continually make back-up copies, save data regularly and take the most basic of precautions in anticipation of some future e-failure.

In 30 years I have only had two hard disk failures, and just one of these lost my important data - but that was a long time ago when the technology and the software were not so good. However, that single loss scarred me for life and I have been e-paranoid ever since.

Today I'm spoilt for storage choice! How should I choose? Here is my personal 10-point menu of data assuredness:

  1. Automate absolutely all document copy and HD back-up procedures.
  2. Back up regularly - and continually if you can.
  3. Don't rely on a single repository - common mode failures do happen.
  4. Keep the primary and back-up copies in different physical locations.
  5. Have at least three copies of everything - PC plus two back-up stores.
  6. Employ a combination of online and offline back-up facilities.
  7. Create an archive of old HDs and/or DVDs and other devices.
  8. Worry about backward compatibility and applications that may die.
  9. Initiate a manual back-up from time to time.
  10. Complete a manual check of everything at random times.

Of course there is the 11th and unwritten point: continually worry about what you might have overlooked - especially in the face of the tide of rapidly changing technology and applications.

Most especially, remember things don't last forever and failures can occur at any time - but the most risk is in the early days, and of course, toward the end of life. This is exhibited in the 'bathtub reliability curve' below.

Bathtub reliability curve

Credit: Peter Cochrane

In reality, and because we all communicate a lot of what we do to others, there is always a copy on someone else's machine. But it is such a hassle having to remember who might have your data and then ask people to send you a copy of your own stuff.

Relatively speaking, storage is the cheapest commodity we have, and it's far easier and more effective to waste it on multiple copies rather than being frugal and facing the prospect of a huge data loss.