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Author Topic: You have a computer backup plan.. but does it work?  (Read 13361 times)
mouser
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« on: October 21, 2009, 11:09:47 PM »

Are you sure that the backup procedure you use will save you when (not if) the time comes that you need it?
I thought I would start a thread about how to test it and make sure it will.

First let's set the ground rules:
  • This thread is about whole-system (entire hard drive) backup and restore, not about backing up only your personal documents.
  • As I described in my old backup guide, I firmly believe that the best approach involves both periodic whole-system backup combined with more frequent and incremental (preserving multiple versions) personal document backup, but this thread is about testing your full-system recovery procedure.
  • This discussion is about *testing* your backup procedure -- not about actually using the software and hardware to do a backup in the first place.



Ok, so let's get started:

Step 1: Make an image of your drive, onto another spare hard drive
  • I'm going to assume you already know how to make a backup of your (main) computer hard drive.  But you may not -- many (most?) people use a backup procedure that just stores backups of certain important files.  If not, for the procedure I'm describing, you are going to need a full Drive Imaging tool, like Acronis True Image, or the nice and free Drive Image XML, or Paragon Drive Image, something similar (see this thread or this thread for more discussion).
  • When you make an image of one drive, that big image file has to be saved to another drive.  That's where one of those external usb drives comes in so handy -- so get yourself an external USB drive for storing your backups.

Step 2: Wait you mean there's a step 2??
  • Ok now if you're like most people who make a backup of their hard drive, there is no step 2.  If the backup program runs successfully you assume that your computer is backed up and that you could restore it if something bad happened.
  • But the ugly truth is that many people have had the terrifying experience of experiencing a real hard drive crash and finding that they could not restore their backed up drive image, for a variety of reasons.  You don't want to go through this -- trust me.
  • The solution of course is to safely test your restoration procedure.  [As an aside I will note that some imaging tools like Acronis True Image now has a function that lets you virtually "mount" a drive backup, which can go a long way to validating it and making sure you can access the files -- but it's still no comparison to a real restoration test].
  • So how do we simulate the catastrophe of a hard drive crash? Simple, take the working drive out of your PC.  There you go, you are now in the same situation you would be in if you had a full hard drive crash.  This happens in the real world.  Expect it to happen to you one day.
  • Drives are dirt cheap these days -- go down to the store or to your favorite internet shop, and buy yourself a spare hard drive.
  • Now you're going to put this hard drive into your computer, and you are going to restore from the backed up image onto the new hard drive, which should restore it's state completely.
  • What's that? You didn't create a standalone bootable cd for your drive imaging software, and so now you don't know how you are going to restore the backup? That's why you're testing this restoration procedure, so you learn all of these things you have to do.
  • Figure out whatever steps you need to take to get the new hard drive restored with your backup image.  Boot with it, make sure everything works and all the files are there.
  • Once you verify it works, you can remove that drive and put it someplace safe, and put back your original (or put your original on the shelf and use this one).  Congratulations, you have now tested your emergency restoration procedure.

Step 3: Improving your system
There are several things you can do to make it a little easier to test your emergency procedures.
  • One is to install a hard drive rack inside your computer, which will let you swap hard drives from your case with just the turn of a latch.  I love hard drive racks and the new sata racks are completely trayless and as easy as can be to use.  Really ideal for such testing.
  • Another alternative to a bootable restoration cd is to use a drive CLONING procedure instead of a drive IMAGING procedure, to directly make a copy of your hard drive onto another drive, which can be swaped in directly in an emergency, without needing to ever perform an image file restoration.  The downside to this is that you can usually fit several compressed image files on a backup drive so they use a lot less space.  The upside is you only need one spare hard drive (the drive you are going to clone onto), wheras with the imaging procedure, you typically need 3, your main drive, a drive to store your backup images onto, and then the drive you are going to restore onto.  Cloning your hard drive is actually in many ways a simpler and more straightforward approach that you may prefer, especially with the cheap price of hard drives.
  • TAKE YOUR TIME! Label your hard drives, be insanely careful about when you restore onto -- the last thing you want to do is wipe out your original hard disk while trying to test your recovery procedure.  I like to keep my good hard drives way far away from me so there's no chance of making such a mistake.
  • Don't even think about restoring back onto your main hard drive.. ever.  You should always, when testing or restoring after a catastrophe, restore onto a spare hard drive.  Only after you know for sure your restored system works well can you even entertain the possibility of reusing your original drive (assuming it wasn't a hardware failure that prompted the need to restore your backup.  Until then you want to treat the original hard drive as a precious object not to be messed with, and you do not want to risk the restoration process failing and wiping out remnants of your original drive).

Hope that's of some use -- and please do get into the habit of regularly backing up your hard drive.  thumbs up
« Last Edit: October 21, 2009, 11:18:05 PM by mouser » Logged
nosh
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« Reply #1 on: October 22, 2009, 01:28:34 AM »

Helpful stuff, mouser.  thumbs up

+100 for the external USB drive recommendation. My primary HD got fried a few weeks back and I had to make do with a makeshift PC till I got the drive replaced and had the PSU, etc looked at. I have a newfound respect for anything 'portable' (hardware/software/online services), that reduces your dependence on your main machine.

« Last Edit: October 22, 2009, 01:30:37 AM by nosh » Logged
4wd
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« Reply #2 on: October 22, 2009, 07:13:51 AM »

With the prevalence of motherboards these days that routinely have an eSATA port, I'd expand on the external USB HDD by saying an external USB HDD WITH an eSATA port.

The cases are cheap enough if you want to roll your own, eg. CoolerMaster Xcraft series I've found are very reliable and work with all motherboards I've tried whereas the Vantec Nexstar seems to be rather picky about what chipsets it will work with.

And the time saved in multi-GB transfers is significant.
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« Reply #3 on: October 22, 2009, 08:16:14 AM »

I just did my first restore a few months ago - was very nervous but thankfully it worked
I'll have to take your advice mouser and get myself another drive to restore to.

I'll probably just stick another drive in the computer - it'll be a third drive; I might, as suggested, get a rack
I love hard drive racks and the new sata racks are completely trayless and as easy as can be to use.
can you recommend one mouser ?  a search for "hard drive rack sata trayless" at NewEgg just gives three iStarUSA products which sound suspiciously like they only available in USA or N.America..
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Tom
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« Reply #4 on: October 22, 2009, 09:46:03 AM »

When making entire disk images I'd also recommend putting an md5sum of the image in a text file along with it. If the drive on which you wrote the image has some kind of malfunction, before restoring you could check the md5sum and see if it matches the one previously saved when the image was created.

As a side note, if you're running anything other than windows you could use zfs as filesystem on your computer (which is not available not just on Solaris but on GNU/Linux and Freebsd too) which has snapshot and clone functionality built into it.

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mouser
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« Reply #5 on: October 22, 2009, 10:14:09 AM »

Quote
can you recommend one mouser ?  a search for "hard drive rack sata trayless" at NewEgg just gives three iStarUSA products which sound suspiciously like they only available in USA or N.America..

here's a better search link at newegg (for "tray-less" instead of "trayless"):
http://www.newegg.com/Pro...tray-less&x=0&y=0

the one i have is the kingwin, but any of those will do.
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« Reply #6 on: October 22, 2009, 11:13:33 AM »

any reasons you want to give for this mouser?

Quote
and please do get into the habit of regularly backing up your hard drive

just curious.....
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mouser
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« Reply #7 on: October 22, 2009, 11:18:09 AM »

Quote
any reasons you want to give for this mouser?

Well I had to do a hard drive restore not too long ago after a sudden hard drive total crash and failure. Everything went very smoothly, but i felt like i got a bit lucky in terms of having recently made a backup, and kept having visions of the nightmare that would have befallen me had i not made a recent backup or if i had not been prepared for it.
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« Reply #8 on: October 22, 2009, 11:31:39 AM »

Yeah, I do a backup daily if not twice a day occasionally.
Depends on the changes I made.
New software installed or other changes.

Still using paragon sytem backup, of which paragon's hard disk manager performs about the same, I use it as well. I haven't done the blank hard drive yet though. I will when I get the drive and the energy-lol-both almost the same!
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mouser
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« Reply #9 on: October 22, 2009, 12:32:33 PM »

Let me add another more subtle tip, do not shoot yourself in the face by doing very frequent backups that always erase your last backup.

You might *think* you are doing a good thing by making very frequent backups, but if you are always overwriting your previous backup with the new one, what you are really doing is asking for trouble.

The problem is that problems don't always show up immediately.

Let's say you make a back up today of your system, and each time you back up you do it by overwriting your previous backup.  So you only have 1 backup of your system, and it's from yesterday.  Then tomorrow you get a virus alert and it turns out you were really infected last week, and it riddled your PC with viruses and wiped out your entire family photo collection, but you didn't notice it until today, when the new virus definitions got released.

Oops.. what do you do now? Your only backup is from yesterday, but yesterday's backup still had the virus on it.  The same problem occurs if it's not a virus but you accidentally delete files or overwrite files and don't realize it for a few days.

SO.. the solution is to create drive images and stagger them instead of overwriting them.  Keep multiple drive images spread out in time.. make a new one after major installs or updates, or once a month, and keep some going back for 6 months or so.  You get the picture.
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« Reply #10 on: October 22, 2009, 04:52:24 PM »

Unfortunately I have HP systems and they aren't all that friendly how they set up the HD.  At the moment I have external USB drives and a USB docking station for storing backup images.  I looked at some of the drive racks on newegg and I'm definitely in favor of tools-free R&R.  I'm wondering though, since HP insists on putting the standard HD inside this internal cage that's pretty inaccessible, if it's possible to install the HD rack using the unoccupied optical drive bay?

On another board the guy who talked me into getting the docking station says he just plugs in a drive every so often and dupes his current system onto it.  If he gets a failure just R&R the drive(he assembles his own systems so I assume he either has a rack or a setup that's very easy to get at the HDs.)

So for us unfortunate off-the-shelf customers, is there salvation?  smiley

afa physical drive failure, I've been relying on the fact that the PCs I buy aren't super high performance, so they become obsolete before the hw malfunctions.  Unfortunately I don't have room to line them up in a network along a big work bench as I'd like to.

btw-afa image backup and restore to a physically ok HD that's just had the boot info or partition info hosed, my recommendation, if you are going to use the image backup method to a compressed file as Macrium Reflect type of deal, if at all possible download the fully functional trial, make a backup image and try to do the restore using the boot/rescue CD.  Chances are if the driver for your disk controller is not on the rescue CD, when you enter the program you'll notice it right away.  One example is Paragon Drive Backup. I booted the rescue CD, but when I entered the restore program, my video went screwy and I had to hard boot.  I was able to restore using "compatibility mode" but an hour restore job took me 9 hours.  I basically had to just let the thing run all night. This program worked fine on my machine with the vanilla Sata controller, but with HP's new AMD Raid, it couldn't see the HD except in super slow motion mode.


Don't assume because it says "raid support" or whatever in the ad copy that it will work with your controller.  In this case I downloaded the Macrium Reflect Trial, went through the entire image creation and restore and it worked flawlessly, so I bought it.  btw the new free version has the updated Linux Restore CD so that may be worth a look if you are lazy like me an buy your PCs to run OOTB. smiley

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« Reply #11 on: October 23, 2009, 05:45:53 AM »

Let me add another more subtle tip, do not shoot yourself in the face by doing very frequent backups that always erase your last backup.

You might *think* you are doing a good thing by making very frequent backups, but if you are always overwriting your previous backup with the new one, what you are really doing is asking for trouble.
This has got to be the single most critical point (that people keep missing...) mentioned so far. I've seen that plan go sideways more than once.
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mouser
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« Reply #12 on: October 23, 2009, 11:47:40 AM »

Quote
I'm wondering though, since HP insists on putting the standard HD inside this internal cage that's pretty inaccessible, if it's possible to install the HD rack using the unoccupied optical drive bay?

as long as a cable will reach, the optical drive bays are the exact 5.25" size you need for a drive rack.  give it a try.
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« Reply #13 on: October 23, 2009, 12:15:52 PM »

When making entire disk images I'd also recommend putting an md5sum of the image in a text file along with it. If the drive on which you wrote the image has some kind of malfunction, before restoring you could check the md5sum and see if it matches the one previously saved when the image was created

How do you obtain the md5sum of backup disk images? Is this an Acronis exclusive feature?
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« Reply #14 on: October 23, 2009, 12:52:08 PM »

You can use any software that does an md5 checksum. I have one here:
http://www.favessoft.com/crc.html

Many file managers like FreeCommander have them built in.  I designed mine to allocate a large file buffer depending on the amount of physical ram in the system.  It can process like a 9 GB iso file without choking.

You can get portable ones I'm sure from places like Softpedia.  Mine is called FileCRC32 and it does either a CRC32 or MD5 checksum.  You can use it on the file right after you make the backup, if your backup program creates a single file.  It's not designed for computing a checksum for a folder.  I wrote it to check downloads.  It has a shell extension but I believe it will still work if you just copy the .exe file without the install.  If it cannot register the shell extension you may get an error msgbox, but it should still work. I just looked at the source and unless you select the radio button to enable the shell extension I don't think it checks for it.

There are plenty of them out there. My main emphasis on this one was processing large files, so it may not be that bad for checking those 20 GB files that Macrium Reflect makes. smiley

Hmmmmm, I'm doing one now from 20 GB Macrium image file.  Looks like it will go through ok, but if you have a 64 bit OS you might want to try for one with 64 bit assembly algorithm.  Mine is 32 bit Delphi with 32 bit asm code and a few years old.

It's pretty dependable if not the fastest. smiley

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« Reply #15 on: October 23, 2009, 01:05:25 PM »

One thing I was wondering about concerning the rack... aren't the new drives like WD Caviar Black etc, designed to be mounted vertically?  Does it mess them up to be running mounted in a horizontal position?  I'm thinking the power down landing zone bit might not work as designed if the thing is running flat?
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« Reply #16 on: October 23, 2009, 01:10:59 PM »

Thanks Miles.

I don't suppose there's a way to check the md5 while the image is overwriting an older image? These image backups are huge. I don't have an external HD that has triple the space of the current HD.

New question:

Is the HD rack for servers only that requires some advanced tinkering only for power users?

I asked my mom who is working on a tech-related company to inquire about where to locally buy these racks but the person she asked told her it was for servers only and is very expensive.
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mouser
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« Reply #17 on: October 23, 2009, 01:28:33 PM »

Quote
Is the HD rack for servers only that requires some advanced tinkering only for power users?

absolutely not -- we are talking about hard drive racks, which as you can see from the newegg links above are about $25.

they require no skill beyond that required to install a new hard drive or cdrom drive in your computer.

instead of hooking up a hard drive, you hook up the rack instead, which is the size of an old larger 5.25 half-height drive (exact size of a cd/dvd drive). then the normal hard drive slides into that.

as Miles points out, the only thing you have to make sure is that you have an open bay in your case -- something that would fit a cd burner.
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« Reply #18 on: October 23, 2009, 02:18:02 PM »

Thanks Miles.

I don't suppose there's a way to check the md5 while the image is overwriting an older image? These image backups are huge. I don't have an external HD that has triple the space of the current HD.

I tend to run with 70% or higher free space on my system drive.  20 GB after compression is typical of my Macrium Reflect image file.  What I did was buy a USB docking station, then I got a couple of 750 GB Caviar Black on sale.  I swap the drives.  Also I made a partition on each drive for just the backup images.  That way I don't have to spend hours defragging. Just delete all the backups in the partition(the other drive is in a box with recent backups, so I delete the backups on the drive with the oldest backups to "defrag" the partition on that drive.) I also have a couple of USB externals I got before the docking station thing was popular.  I do some backups there too in case the docking station breaks.


For larger saves you may need to invest in some multi-TB drives.
« Last Edit: October 23, 2009, 02:19:43 PM by MilesAhead » Logged

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« Reply #19 on: October 23, 2009, 04:38:36 PM »

These image backups are huge. I don't have an external HD that has triple the space of the current HD.

Using a backup software that compresses backups and can do incremental backups:
I just checked & have 3 full backups and 14 incremental backups (so you could really call that 17 backups) - they take up 30GB space.
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« Reply #20 on: October 23, 2009, 09:59:06 PM »

I'm thinking the power down landing zone bit might not work as designed if the thing is running flat?

The Quick Install Guide shows the drive being mounted horizontally.

If anything, mounting it vertically would be more likely to affect any power down landing as being mounted horizontally the actuator always requires the same effort to 'park'.  Whereas vertically, it either has to move up or down hill as it were, requiring more or less effort to move.

All in all, it really doesn't matter whether it's vertical or horizontal as, AFAIK, all current desktop/enterprise drives are designed with both types of mounting in mind.

Where it could possibly be an issue is where the drive is mounted at an oblique angle, in which case bearing load would probably come into play.

EDIT: Considering that probably 90% of desktops/towers use horizontal mounting, they'd probably be cutting their own throat, (income-wise), if they specified a vertical only mounting, (the Caviar Black is designed for Desktop not Enterprise environments).
« Last Edit: October 23, 2009, 10:12:49 PM by 4wd » Logged

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« Reply #21 on: October 23, 2009, 10:19:33 PM »

One thing I was wondering about concerning the rack... aren't the new drives like WD Caviar Black etc, designed to be mounted vertically?  Does it mess them up to be running mounted in a horizontal position?  I'm thinking the power down landing zone bit might not work as designed if the thing is running flat?


+1 with 4wd

Here's the official word from WD's knowledgebase:

Quote
WD drives will function normally whether they are mounted sideways or upside down (any X, Y, Z orientation). Of course, the physical design of your system may limit the positions in which the drive can be mounted. However, in all cases, you should mount the drive with all four screws for good grounding. Also ensure that there is enough air space around the drive for adequate air flow, and avoid mounting the drive near sources of excessive heat (such as some CPUs).

 Thmbsup
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« Reply #22 on: October 24, 2009, 12:49:13 AM »

Thanks for the info. Seeing all these drives standing on edge must have psyched me into thinking they had to be that way. Must be just because stuff tends to be tower cases rather than the old horizontal desktop style these days.

It's funny because if you google you can get religious arguments going back a few years. The mount on edge guys think they have the edge on the flat earth types. It's good for a chuckle but I think I'm staying out of that one.  Wink
« Last Edit: October 24, 2009, 12:51:44 AM by MilesAhead » Logged

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« Reply #23 on: October 30, 2009, 03:46:11 PM »

You can now get paragon's drive imaging tool in a very good free version:
http://www.donationcoder....rum/index.php?topic=20459
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« Reply #24 on: October 30, 2009, 06:03:27 PM »

And if you're running Windows 7, Microsoft now includes its own system imaging utility so most people who migrate over won't need to purchase anything extra. Recovery images can be stored on a hard drive, DVDs, or a network share. The image restoration process can be initiated through the control panel, the recovery console, or via bootable media if your PC is really screwed up.



I've done some informal testing, and I'm pleased to say it works as advertised. Thmbsup

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