Friday, January 3, 2014

A Small but Worthwhile New Year's Resolution

WD Passport.jpg
WD Passport Hand.jpg
Here's a simple but effective idea for the new year that will hopefully save you some angst.
As you know, I highly recommend one part of backing up your data as doing so on a series of portable , removable USB hard drives.  While it isn't the only solution, it works *very well* and has been working for me for at least the past 10 years.  As far as backing up, I will be the first to admit that I'm a bit over the top on the subject.  For years, I have described my backup protocol as "The Backup Chain" and I have done that for a reason.  A chain is strong and I like the idea of thinking of every device I use to backup as another link in the chain.
This particular post is going to deal with small, portable USB drives, but those are definitely not the ONLY links in my backup chain.  I also use the following products as links in the chain and every one of these links is very, very strong.
  • ioSafe Hard Drives - These hard drives are not portable, they stay in the office and that is the beauty of them.  They are designed to withstand fire & water.  So much so, in fact, that they can be heated to 1550 F for 30 minutes and/or then be immersed in fresh or salt water to a depth of 10 feet for 72 hours without loss of data.  They are designed to be there through the "worst case scenario".  Take a look at the company website for all of the details.  You'll be amazed.  I have one of these drives under the desk in the office and 2 of these drives under my desk in my home.
  • Drobo - This is a product that also is not portable.  The model I have is designed as a small shoebox sized device that holds multiple hard drives.  The one I have holds 4 drives of one terabyte each.  Like a raid server, my data is spread across all 4 of the hard drives.  If a drive fails, you get an error warning from the device.  Then, you simply open the door, slide the bad drive out, slide a new drive in, and Drobo copies the info onto the new hard drive automatically.  It's just that simple.  One of these sits under my desk in my office with 2 TB of storage.  Visit their website and get all the details.  
  • DDS Rescue - This is a 2 pronged Virtual Server.  That's right I said Virtual Server.  The DDS Rescue device is a computer that connects to your office network and basically clones your server and creates a separate bootable server right in your office.  What if your office server crashes?  Call DDS Rescue and they can quickly have their device functioning as your office server and  you won't miss a beat.  Oh, and that second prong I mentioned.  It's just a little something called The Cloud.  The DDS Rescue device also creates a Virtual Server in The Cloud  simultaneously while it's creating the one in your office.  Should the worst case scenario happen and you lose your office and all the hardware?  You can run the virtual cloud server just like it was sitting in your office.  Cool huh?  Check out their home on the web for all the other info.  
  • 8Gb Jump Drives - While not nearly as sexy as the other 3 options listed here, the critical files Eaglesoft and I need to run my practice are stored on these little solid state (no  moving parts) wonders of modern technology.  They are almost impossible to destroy and, while not offering a fast way to retrieve your data, they do the job and do it very well.
I happen to use the USB devcies pictured above.  This is the Western Digital "My Passport" hard drive.  I included the "hand" photo for size comparison so that you can see why I like the Passport line of drives.  Obviously they don't take up much room in a bag or backpack (whatever you happened to schlep to the office with you) and they are not heavy at all.  Since you're going to be caring one of these with you every day that you go to the office, you might as well make the process as easy enough on you as possible.
Western Digital also makes a portable version called "My Book" which works well.  The only drawback is that it is about the size and weight of a very thick paperback book.  While not a deal breaker, I personally prefer the smaller footprint and lighter weight of the My Passport line.
At this point in the post it's important to me that I stop right here and tell you that there are *other* companies that make small, lightweight portable hard drives.  WD is NOT your only choice here.  It just happens to be the manufacturer that I use for this aspect of my backup protocol.  If you are using another brand, please don't feel you are making a mistake.
Now, you don't want to trust all of your data to just one of these drives do you?  Of course not.  That is why a successful backup strategy involves the deployment of multiple redundant portable hard drives.  That way, in case one fails, you should only lose one day's worth of data at the most.
OK, so here comes the New Year Resolution part of this post.  In order to make sure that your backup strategy is functioning properly you want to make sure the USB backup drives are functioning properly.
The idea of backing up is simply this:  All hard drives fail eventually.  In my opinion, any hard drive that is over 5 years old is running on borrowed time.  I truly feel that 5 years is as much as you can realistically expect to get out of a device with multiple movable parts spinning around at high RPMs.
So while we are protecting the data on the hard drives in our office, how do we protect the data on the hard drives on our backups?  One way, of course, is to add another layer of protection, of as I like to put it "put another link in the backup chain".  That can be as simple as adding DDS Rescue.  I did a recent post on the company including why I love them and their service.  You can read that article including info on how to purchase, right here.
There is also the concept of tracking the age of your portable hard drives which is simple, but we often don't think about this.  When I get a new portable hard drive that I'm planning on using in the backup chain the first thing I do is place a permanent label on the drive.  We use a little label printer from Brother that creates legible (better than my chicken scratching) label that is easy to read.  While not the exact device, here is a similar one.  
I use this label to indicate which link in the chain the particular drive is assigned to.  By that I mean either numbering them (1,2, 3, etc) or assigning a day of the week to them.  That way you know *exactly* which drive to bring to the office on Monday.  Then, to that very same label we type in the DATE of when that drive went into circulation.  Utilizing this system, I know exactly how long those platters have been spinning and when I can reasonably expect them to fail.
The final piece of this is that I do not wait for a hard drive to fail!!!!!
When the drive reaches the magic age of 5 years, it is simply "retired", taken out of circulation, and replaced.  Occasionally one of these drives does not survive to the 5 year deadline and is retired early due to early failure… although that isn't terribly common.  If that is the case, a new drive goes into circulation immediately.
The secret to the resolution of this post is simply keeping track of the age of the drives.  That will save you time by allowing you to prepare for the disaster before it happens.
I hope this helps get your digital life off to a less stressful start of 2014!

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