6.5 Preventive Maintenance and Data Recovery

Face it: some sort of data loss is inevitable. Whether it's a single lost file or a dead hard disk whether it's tomorrow or twelve years from now it will happen. On that happy note, there is plenty you can do about it.

First and foremost, there's no better method of disaster recovery than having a good backup copy of all your data. Any stolen or damaged hardware is easily replaced, but the data stored on your hard disk is not. Unfortunately, hindsight is 20/20, and if you didn't back up, there's not much you can do about it after the fact; even if your computer equipment is insured with Lloyds of London, once your data is gone, it's gone. So, we'll begin our discussion with some preventive maintenance before covering any disaster recovery techniques.

6.5.1 Quick, On-The-Fly Backups

In its simplest form, a backup is simply a copy of your data. Now, a full system backup, as described later in the next topic, is obviously valuable, but often too involved of a procedure to practice often enough to be entirely effective.

While you might perform a full backup once a week or once a month, you can do a quick backup of your most important files several times a day. No special software or hardware is required, and, best of all, it will only take a few seconds.

The following two solutions are remarkably simple, but the idea is sound, and if you make a habit of making these quick, on-the-fly backups, it will save you hours of work.

6.5.1.1 Solution 1: simple copy

The next time you've put a few hours into a document, open the folder in Explorer, and make a duplicate of the file by dragging it to another part of the same folder with the right mouse button and selecting Copy Here. See Section 2.2.3 for more information on this function.

Then, if you screw up a file you're working on, if it gets accidentally deleted, or if it gets corrupted by a system crash, you'll have a fresh backup right in the same folder.

6.5.1.2 Solution 2: simple ZIP

If you've followed the advice in Section 2.2.8, your files will be organized by project rather than application.

At the end of the day (or even several times a day), just right-click the folder of a project on which you've been working, select Send To, and then select Compressed (zipped) Folder. A new .zip file containing compressed versions of all of its contents will appear next to the folder in a few seconds.

If you then need to retreive a file from the backed-up folder, just double-click the new .zip file.

 

If you've disabled Windows XP's built-in support for ZIP files, and have instead installed a third-party utility, such as WinZip (http://www.winzip.com), the procedure may be slightly different. In the case of WinZip, all you'd have to do is right-click the folder and select Add to foldername.zip.

 

See Section 2.2.9 for more information on this mechanism.

6.5.2 Back Up Your Entire System

There are more ways to back up your data than to store it in the first place. The sole purpose of a backup is to have a duplicate of every single piece of data on your hard disk that can be easily retrieved in the event of a catastrophe (or even just an accidental deletion). Imagine if your computer were stolen and you had to restore a backup to a brand-new computer. Could you do it? If the answer is no, you're not backed up.

You need to be able to complete a backup easily and often, to store the backup in a safe place, away from the computer, and to retrieve all your data at any time without incident. If it's too difficult or time-consuming, odds are you won't do it so make it easy for yourself.

A bare-minimum backup could be little more than a single CD or floppy diskette with your last three or four important documents on it. It's better than nothing, and it does protect your most recent work, but what about your email, your web browser bookmarks, and the documents you wrote six years ago?

I know what you're thinking, because I've heard it a thousand times: nothing on my computer is really that important, so it's really not worth the time to back up. Okay, assume that's true how long would it take you to reinstall Windows and all your applications, install all your drivers, reconfigure all your hardware, and customize all your toolbars? If you have a full backup of your system, the answer is not only "not long," but "no problemo" as well.

Ideally, you should be able to back up your entire hard disk on a single piece of media. We won't even entertain the idea of floppies, so think about investing in a dedicated backup solution. The hardware you use should be fully supported by Windows XP, and the backup media (tapes, cartridges, or disks) should be cheap, reliable, and readily available, and you should be able to use them over and over again.

Whichever backup solution is appropriate for you depends on your work habits and your available funds. Tape drives, optical drives, removable cartridges, and recordable CDs are all getting cheaper and manufacturers are competing for your business.

While removable cartridge drives (Iomega Zip drives, recordable or rewritable CDs, and even recordable DVDs) are great for quickly archiving data (long-term storage of important documents or projects), they still aren't as appropriate as tape drives for repeatedly backing up entire systems and restoring them in the event of a disaster. Removable drives and CDs use random access, meaning that you can simply open Explorer and read or write to any file on the media immediately. This may be convenient in the short run, but this convenience comes at a price: the media used for these types of backups can be quite expensive (per megabyte) and, more importantly, the backup procedures for random-access drives can be more labor-intensive than for tape drives.

Tape backup drives are still the most cost-effective, reliable, and convenient method for backing up and recovering your system after a disaster. The most obvious caveat is that tape drives use sequential access, rather than random access, meaning that they require special backup software and tend to be slower than comparably priced removables, especially when used for restoring single files. However, remember what's important here: you need to easily and painlessly duplicate the contents of your entire system on one piece of removable media and be able to restore some or all of that data just as easily.

Although tape backup software may seem awkward on the surface, it's designed to allow you to perform a backup in a single step and without user intervention. Good backup software will also make restoring easy; the best programs keep catalogs of your backups, allowing you to easily find a single, previously backed-up file and get it back with the least amount of hassle possible.

Now, many manufacturers of the various competing products and technologies market their products as backup devices, which isn't necessarily accurate. Basically, you need to find the system that works best for you and fits in your budget. Do some research before investing in any one technology, and make sure it truly suits your needs for a backup device.

Try this: add the cost of the drive you're considering with the media required to store the entire contents of your hard drive twice, and compare it with other solutions. Table 6-2 shows six example technologies and the estimated costs associated with each, at the time of this writing, to back up a 30-GB hard drive. These show that initial bargains are rarely good deals.

 

Table 6-2. A comparison of the actual costs associated with different types of backup hardware

Technology

Cost of drive

Cost of single cartridge

Capacity of single cartridge

Cartridges per 30GB backup

Cost of drive and cartridges for two backups

Rewritable CD drive

$100

40 cents

700 MB

43 = $17

$134

AIT tape drive

$325

$45

70 GB

1 = $45

$415

DDS4 (4mm DAT) tape drive

$450

$15

40 GB

1= $15

$480

Recordable DVD drive

$500

$1

4.7 GB

7 = $7

$514

Zip drive

$60

$7.50

100 MB

300 = $2,250

$4,560

Floppies

N/A

$0.20

1.4 MB

21,429 = $4,286

$8,572

 

Naturally, the prices and capabilities of the various technologies will change as quickly as the weather, but the methodology is always the same. Aside from the price, the most important figure to look at is the "Cartridges per 306GB backup"; if it's more than one, it means you're going to have to sit and swap cartridges during each backup. If it's that difficult, odds are you'll never do it.

Do your research, and it will save you time and money in the long run, not to mention that extra peace of mind.

6.5.3 Installing Microsoft Backup

Some sort of backup software has been included with every version of Windows since Windows 3.1 more than a decade ago.

Microsoft Backup (ntbackup.exe), a scaled-down version of the excellent Backup Exec by Veritas (http://www.veritas.com), is installed by default in Windows XP Professional edition, but not in Windows XP Home edition. The implication that backing up is a feature required only by "professional" users and network administrators is one of the reasons nobody backs up their data.

Backup is not available in Control Panel figs/u2192.gif Add or Remove Programs, instead, you'll need to install it manually from the Windows XP CD:

  1. Insert your Windows XP installation CD, and close the annoying welcome screen that appears if you haven't disabled CD AutoPlay, as described in Chapter 4.

  2. Open Explorer and navigate to \valueadd\msft\ntbackup.

  3. Double-click the Ntbackup.msi file to install the software (or right-click the file and select Install).

  4. When installation is complete, a new Backup entry will appear in your Start Menu, in All Programs figs/u2192.gif Accessories figs/u2192.gif System Tools. Or, you can launch it by going to Start figs/u2192.gif Run and typing ntbackup.

When Backup first starts, you'll get the cumbersome Backup Wizard. To get out of the wizard and use the more straightforward main window, turn off the Always start in wizard mode option, and then click Cancel. Then, start Backup again, and choose the Backup tab to get started.

Although this is a good program, it does lack some of the capabilities of the full-featured software, such as a catalog of all backed-up files, a dedicated scheduler, and support for additional hardware. Catalogs, for example, keep track of all your backups, allowing you to choose a single file to be restored and have the software tell you which tape to insert.

Because most backup devices come with some sort of dedicated backup software, you may never need Microsoft Backup. However, most backup software is really awful, so you should try all the alternatives available to you before committing to a single solution.

6.5.4 Tips for a Better Backup

The following tips should help you ensure that you will never be without adequate data protection, whether you've already invested in a backup solution or not.

Keep it simple

The problem with backups is that most people don't do them. A few minutes every couple of weeks is all it takes, and it can save many, many hours in the long run. A good time to do a backup is just before lunch, just before you go home (if the computer is at work), or just before you go to bed (if the computer is at home). You can also schedule your backup to occur automatically and repeatedly at any time, although you'll need to leave your computer on for that to work.

Do it after-hours

Don't do a backup while you're working on the computer. Your backup program will not be able to reliably back up any files that are in use, and your system will be slower and more likely to crash if you are doing too many things at once.

Use at least two cartridges

Maintain at least two sets of backups, alternating media each time you back up. If you back up to tape, for example, use the tape "A" for the first backup, tape "B" for the second backup, and then use tape "A" again. That way, if one of the tapes develops a problem or your backup is interrupted, you'll still have an intact, fairly-recent backup.

Name your tapes correctly

Most backup programs allow you to specify a name for the media the first time you use them (or whenever you initialize the media), which allows the cataloging feature to tell you on which cartridge a certain file resides.

 

Make sure each of your tapes or cartridges has a unique name that matches the tape's handwritten label, which will ensure that your software identifies each tape the same way you do. Call your tapes something like "Backup A" and "Backup B," or "Kearney," "Jimbo," and "Nelson." But don't use dates, and don't use the same name for two different cartridges.

 

Keep your cartridges off-site

Your backups should not be kept near your computer, and especially not inside the computer. If your computer is stolen or if there's a fire, your backups would go with it. Keeping one of the backups (see alternating backups earlier in this list) in your car or somewhere else off-premises is a really good idea. And if you make your living off a computer, you might consider keeping a backup in a safe deposit box.

Your security is at risk

Remember that your tape will typically contain a copy of every file on your system, including sensitive data. Even if you protect your data with passwords and encryption (see Chapter 8), anyone could have access to your data if leave backup tapes sitting in the drive or in a nearby drawer.

Back up the System State

Most backup utilities designed especially for Windows XP give you the option of backing up your "System State," which is essentially a euphamism for the files that make up your Registry (see Section 3.1.3 in Chapter 3). You should always take advantage of this feature; without a valid Registry backup, all those backed-up applications won't do you any good.

Forget floppies

Don't back up to floppies if you can avoid it. Floppies are much more likely to fail than your hard disk, although it's better than no backup at all. Floppies should only be used to transfer information from one computer to another if there's no network connection between them.

Back up your backup software

Make sure you have a copy of your backup software handy at all times. If you can't install your backup software, you won't be able to access your backups.

Do it in the background

Configure your system for unattended backups. Ideally, you should only have to insert a single cartridge and click "Go" to complete a backup. Don't put up with lower-capacity backup devices that require you to swap cartridges in order to do a single backup. Additionally, most backup software has options to bypass any confirmation screens; by taking advantage of them, you eliminate the possibility of starting a backup before you go home and coming to work the next day only to see the message, "Overwrite the data on tape?"

Don't bother with incremental backups

Most backup software allows you to do a full-system backup and then supplement it with incremental backups that only store the files that have changed since the last backup. This may mean that you can do some backups in less time, but it also means that you'll have to restore each of those backups when recovering from a disaster one full backup and ten incremental backups adds up to eleven restores. More importantly, incremental backups require that the original full backup be intact. If something happens to that one backup, all subsequent incremental backups will be rendered completely useless.

Prepare for the worst

Throughout this book, you'll find tips to help you prepare for a catastrophe, such as a hard disk crash or virus attack. For example, Chapter 10 explains how to repair a Windows installation and even create a boot diskette so you can start Windows even if something goes wrong. If you take the time to prepare for these problems now, rather than after they happen, you won't have to say "I should've . . . "

Test your system

Don't wait until it's too late to find that the restore process doesn't work or requires a step you haven't considered. Just do a simple trial backup of a single folder or group of files. Then, try to retrieve the backup to a different drive or folder. Only after you've successfully and completely retrieved a backup, can you truly consider your data safe.

6.5.5 Recovering Your System After a Crash

The purpose of backing up is to give you the opportunity to restore your system to its original state if something unforeseen should happen to your hard disk, whether it be theft, fire, malfunction, or just user error. You'd be surprised at how many people back up their system without having any idea how to restore it later should the need arise. The backup doesn't do you any good if you can't get at your files later, so it's important to take steps to make sure you can restore your system from scratch if necessary.

The most important consideration is that the software you use to restore your files be the same one you used to back them up. This means installing Windows and then installing your backup software before you can even begin the restoration process.

Now, reinstalling Windows doesn't necessarily mean that you lose your Windows preferences and must reinstall all your applications. All you need to do is to reinstall Windows (as well as the software and drivers for your backup device, if necessary) to a state sufficient only to run your backup software. You'll also want to install this temporary version of Windows in a different folder name than what was used previously. See Chapter 10 for issues concerning installing and repairing Windows, as well as setting up a dual-boot system for the purposes of this solution.

6.5.6 Protecting Your Hardware

Although this section focuses mostly on backups, you shouldn't neglect your hardware. All hardware is sensitive to heat, light, dust, and shock. Don't block any vents on your computer or your monitor, and routinely vacuum all around to remove dust (too much dust can cause your components to overheat and your disk drives to fail).

For desktop computers, make sure you have at least one functioning fan in your computer's power supply (preferably two), one mounted directly on top of your processor, and one mounted on the main chip on your video card; an additional fan in front won't hurt, either. If you can't hear your computer, odds are it isn't being adequately cooled. Make sure that air can flow freely inside from the front of the computer to the back; look for a mass of cables blocking the passage of air. Overheated components can cause system crashes, slow performance, and data loss.

If your computer and every external peripheral are connected to a surge protector, the possibility of damage by an electrical surge is virtually eliminated. Many surge protectors also allow you run your phone cables through them, protecting them from phone line surges that can damage your modem. And if you live in an area susceptible to black-outs or brown-outs, you might consider an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), which will eliminate the problem of lost data due to lost power. (Naturallly, your battery-powered laptop has a UPS built-in.)

Make sure all your cables are tied neatly behind the computer so pins and plugs don't get broken and plugs don't become loose; pets love to chew on cables, pulling them out and otherwise mangling them. And tighten all those cable thumbscrews.

Keep floppies, tapes, and other magnetic cartridges away from your monitor and speakers; they're just big magnets that can turn disks into coasters in no time. And sit up straight no slouching!



Windows XP Annoyances
Fixing Windows XP Annoyances
ISBN: 0596100531
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 78
Authors: David A. Karp

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