How Good Is Your Backup?

DrescueImagine you wake up one day and all of your data is gone.  The last 5 years of digital pictures, the spreadsheet your worked on yesterday, and the diary you’ve been keeping for the last 10 years.  Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it?  But surely, you backup your data, don’t you?
The problem with my backup plan was that I didn’t realize how effective the plan was until it was too late.  On Saturday, I woke up, went to check the news and my trusty old blue and white G3 crashed.  I restarted.  Instead of the normal startup screens, I got a question mark.  I’m enough of a geek to know how to bring a Mac back to life if it misplaces its system folder, but this time, my bag of tricks did nothing.  I determined that the hard drive failed.  So how was my backup strategy?

Not good enough.  I had been using .Mac’s backup utility to get the most important things, so 12 years worth of journal entries, all my financial data, and other important text documents but that’s about 5% of my data.  Apple charges $49.95 per gig–at the time, that seemed expensive, now it almost seemed like bargain.  I had recently copied over all of the music we bought on the iTunes music store to another computer.  (Yes it’s up to you to back those up–you’re not allowed to go back and download copies again, in case you were wondering.)   Now, I hadn’t backed up all of the other music–"I have that on CD"  I told myself, "so I don’t need to back that up. " I think it’s just about 20 gigs of data, but yikes, how many hours had I spent encoding CDs?   I had also recently upgraded my aging Mac to Tiger, and before I did that, I dutifully copied over my entire user directory–but I keep the music in another directory–and my digital photos on another volume of the same failed hard drive.
Then I started thinking about all of the other places I might have those pictures.  I had just deleted  a year’s worth of pictures from this laptop ’cause I was running out of space–those pictures were gone.    The inital problem was that I wasn’t even sure of what I lost.  I knew that I had that hard drive for the last 3 years, and that I had copied all of my previous hard drives onto it.  I’ve been computing since 1992, so that’s 13 odd years of data.  What would it meant to get it back?

I’ve seen ads for data recovery in the back of computer magazines.  I start with what I know, Tekserve, the old reliable Macintosh shop–they have rates on their website.  The bigger the drive, the higher the cost.  To recover my 120 GB drive–about $1,700.  Yelp.   I also tried "Drivesavers" a California based company who starts business at 5:30 AM PDT to deal with panicked people like me.  I talked to Andy, a friendly tech who said, we charge based on success, and we’re usually successful.  For a job like mine it would cost anywhere from $900 to $3,900, but that the cost was more likely to be toward the upward end of the estimate.   All this seemed like too much money–I had just done a backup, couldn’t name half of what I’d lost and hadn’t I posted the best pictures anyway?   Perhaps I should view this as an opportunity to clean house.
Nevertheless, I didn’t want to let my data go.  I still had the original drive for the G3, so I went down to Radio Shack and got a cable so I could hook up both drives.  I opened the computer up, and I saw an entire family of dust bunnies–everything was covered in a grey film.  I cleaned up a bit, then figured out the pin settings for both drives and installed a copy of Pro Soft’s Data Rescue (Free download, $89 to buy–only after you recover a file.)  I let the scan run all night.  It found my missing photo library, and recovered the remainder of my music library.  That was worth $89.
The good news is that I recovered my data, and for that I am thankful but I am not eager to repeat the data recovery experience.   The morale of this story:  test your backup before your backup tests you.   My plan now?  A copy of Super Duper that mirrors the entire contents of my entire computer on an external hard drive, including the music library, photos and documents as well as a bigger drive for the old laptop that I’m going to use in place of the G3.    Hopefully, my test will save folks some headaches–I really didn’t realize how much was there until I woke up and everything was gone. 

6 thoughts on “How Good Is Your Backup?

  1. Ray Segal "The Shark"

    Great Piece Ted… I’m sold on the seagate.. will order one pronto…
    Did you ever figure out what caused the crash? Was it a dust bunny? Was it a bug in Tiger? Was it a bug being chased by a dust bunny being chased by a Tiger? :}

  2. Ted Bongiovanni

    No clear cause of the crash. I thought the dust bunnies might have done it, but after talking with some folks, I found out that they almost always take up residence. I found this article on Server World Magazine: “Because most disk failures are caused by mechanical wear, the drives give out warning signs long before they actually fail.” I did notice that the drive was slow, but it was lost once I tried to reboot. More of the article here:

  3. Kendra

    Wow, Ted! You handled this so well….or did you just skip over the hours of screaming and tears that one would expect in a situation like this.
    And thanks for the last post, my home drive has been acting slow (it’s about as old as your machine) recently. Now, I know to be scared of that!

  4. Ted Bongiovanni

    I’m glad folks appreciated this post. Other options are online services–you could send yourself files to a gmail account (2 gigs) or sign up for other web based services like, or (I am a gmail user, but can’t speak to the other options…the advantage with gmail is that you can use their search to find what you’re looking for…)


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