Choosing a Backup Solution: An In Depth Look

Dennis Faas's picture

The next few feature articles of our newsletter will spotlight 4 editorials written by Kevin J. Vella of UniBlue, and provides an interesting and in-depth view of choosing a backup solution.


It was Sunday, the 23rd of November 2003 at 4 PM, and I was in my final months of Graduate Business School. Two chapters of my research project were stashed on my hard drive -- no hard copies, just bits and bytes of hard work compiled over the last three months.

I was punching away at my keyboard -- when all of a sudden, my notebook slowed dramatically. I started closing down open applications in hopes of reclaiming some processing power; but, when that didn't work, the next quick 'fix' was to reboot the machine and start Windows from a clean slate.

We've all been in this type of scenario one time or another. Not a big deal, I thought. Since the computer was taking forever to shut down, I decided to go and fix myself a snack.

And that's when my nightmare began.

When I returned to my desk, I saw a dreaded black screen which read, "Drive C not ready Error. Retry, Ignore, Abort?" Naturally, I typed in 'r' for Retry and pressed the Enter key. Seconds after that, the screen went completely blank.

My stomach dropped. Boy, I'll never forget that feeling.


"OK -- what now?" I thought.

I tried rebooting again -- but it was to no avail. The dreaded words appeared on the screen once more: "Drive C not ready Error. Retry, Ignore, Abort?" The sudden feeling of despair rushed through my veins. I tried rebooting again and again, but it was utterly pointless.


The next day, I spent I took the hard drive to my office and extracted the hard drive from the notebook and tried to make an image backup in hopes of somehow reclaiming my data.

The result: nothing, except anger, loss of time, and regret.

In all, I lost over 2.5 gigabytes of critical data: two years worth of assignments, documents, lecture notes and articles. On top of that, the notebook that I was using was the same one I used at work. I also had four years worth of work documents, brochures, customer databases, emails, email addresses, marketing plans, competitive information, and much more.

At this point, I realized that I had absolutely nothing of great significance backed up on my laptop, except for a small assortment of documents from years past -- no good to me now.

Why didn't I back up?

I honestly thought that "disaster" only happens to other people. I always regarded data backup as a tedious procedure; this was especially true for me since my laptop didn't have a CD burner built into it, which meant that my only means for backing up was to copy files individually onto floppy disks (not a good idea, by the way, since floppies have a shelf life of approximately 5 years and tend to corrupt easily).

Most people, and -- sadly enough -- most businesses only react to disaster after the damage has already been done. If I were to put a price tag on the data I lost, the time I wasted in trying to recover the data, the products I bought, the time my colleagues spent helping, the time and money spent to build the customer database, I'd estimate it in the region of $50,000 to $75,000 -- including lost potential short-term revenues for my company.

After this episode, I did however buy several USB drives "memory drives" and a CD Burner. I also spent a fortune in CDs to store the individual files I created after November 22nd, 2003.

My strategy for preventing disaster was seriously flawed, however.

True, critical data should be backed up on a regular basis. While my 2.5 gigabyte hard drive was adequate in space at the time I purchased my laptop, my replacement drive was horrendously larger in capacity at 60 gigabytes. After purchasing all the extra hardware to backup my new drive, I soon realized that a disk image backup (which typically backs up the *entire* hard drive) wasn't an appropriate long-term backup strategy; it was time consuming and expensive. In the beginning, disk imaging used up a few CDs when my drive was not as full -- requiring only 3 or 4 CDs to complete the backup. Over time, however, the amount of CDs required to complete the job grew quite large as I installed more software onto the system.

When it comes to backing up data, as I discovered, there is no 'one-set' solution for every user. In the next few articles, I will cover two other important aspects of backing up: 6 Key Elements for Any Backup Strategy, and a 6 Point Guide to Purchasing a Backup Solution.

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