#Winning on Friday the 13th

f13a_300.jpgToday is Friday the 13th. The only Friday the 13th of 2011 as it works out.

This specific date has special significance for me — and it has nothing to do with movies.

Since Friday the 13ths occur so infrequently, and are  somewhat famous, I use the day as a semi-random chance to get my digital ducks in a row.

Stop everything
My Friday the 13th routine starts with a quick review of all open projects and work. I don’t actually do any work on those projects, rather I look over everything, reviewing all the details and milestones, and just make sure that nothing’s being missed.

Backup everything
Next, I check out my data backup software and processes. In the blogosphere, the 13th of each month  has been promoted as Blog Backup Day, but really, protecting your data is something that everyone should do, be it through a highly-protected storage device like the Drobo-FS, or using a backup drive system like ClickFree’s, or some combination of  the two.

Vaccinate everything
Then, I make sure my anti-virus and firewall technology is current — and run a manual scan over all my drives. Yes, time consuming but it also provides me peace of mind that everything’s clean.

Defrag everything
Finally, I run a drive defragmentation utility over all drives that can benefit from it. Some operating systems automagically handle drive fragmentation and some don’t.

Data ducks in a row
And yes, that can be a lot of work, but at the end of it, I’ve got a good picture of my workload, and the state of my data on my computer systems. I’ve turned a day that’s famous for horror stories into a day of good. #Winning 🙂

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Review: Drobo FS Network Storage Array

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Wow, that title’s a mouthful — Network Storage Array — but don’t let that technical-jargony sounding term scare you, this Drobo FS device is really as easy to use as your Fridge. And for me, that’s a Holy Grail — something that you use and basically forget the complexity.

Whut?
But let me back up a moment and describe what a Network Storage Array (or NAS – Network Attached Storage) device is.

Basically, it’s a box with a bunch of hard drives in it, and some network intelligence. You connect your NAS to your home or office network, and it appears to your computers as if it’s another computer on your network that’s sharing some drives.

You copy stuff to your NAS and share files with any other computer on your network.

Pretty simple, yet difficult to do well

And this is where things get a little squirrely. Some people have a household with mixed computers sharing the same network. In my case, I’ve got Windows (2 varieties), OSX and Linux machines. And some network storage devices don’t play well with different machines on the same network. Sure, the box may say Win/Mac, but invariably issues arise. Not so with the Drobo FS. Continue reading “Review: Drobo FS Network Storage Array”

Have you backed up your data today?

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Today is World Backup Day, I’m told, but to be frank, every day you should be thinking about the safety of your data, there’s just too much of it that’s irreplaceable.

So, today, I’m going to take a quick look at some of the backup systems I use and have in place. Yes, I said systems. No one backup system is infallible, so redundancy is important.

And, of course, this is my thinking on the subject. You may have differing opinions, which is great, as long as you are backing up :smileyhappy:
Continue reading “Have you backed up your data today?”

Keeping your holiday photos safe

fz50.jpgThe holiday season is upon us, which means that we’ll be enjoying time spent with family and friends. Many of us will grab our handy camera-enabled data phones and snap priceless shots that we’ll want to share, and keep for posterity.

But that’s where the tech can get a bit tricky. Sure, we’ve tried sharing to our various Facebook, Flickr and Picasa accounts, but what about the ‘saving for posterity’ part.

Photos in the Cloud
Well, two of those three services mentioned above are a great start. Here’s the four that I’ve seen and used that will offer solid photo service over the holidays and into the future:

  • Flickr offers a Pro level account (about $25 per year for unlimited photo and video storage) that will keep all your photos online and available. Free gives you unlimited storage, but only your most recent 200 photos are viewable. Online image editing provided by Picnik.
  • Picasa has a free account that offers 1GB of free photo storage and basic image editing tools.
  • SmugMug is pricier, offers three levels of service, and is geared toward the more serious photographer.
  • Adobe Photoshop Express gives you access to basic online photo editing and organization tools, and 2GB of free photo storage. Additional storage space can be purchased annually.

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So, what’s so great about storing your photos online anyway?

  1. Backup — you don’t have to worry about keeping your images safe; the service you’re using does that.
  2. Sharing — easy to embed the images into blogs, email and twitter messages. Each photo usually has a public URL that’s sharable (or private, if that’s your thing).
  3. Printing — a few of the services are offering partnerships with professional printing labs which lets you produce photobooks, custom prints etc.
  4. Integration — some of the more popular services are already integrated into your iPhone camera applications (such as Instragram). Push a button and your latest shot is uploaded to the service, ready for you to edit and share.

Local storage?
Yep, you can keep your photos on your own computer, but you do run risks should your computer crash or worse. I do keep the majority of my images at home, stored on a network attached storage device that’s got two drives, one a mirror of the other. So if one should die, I’ve got a copy of my data on the other.

Also, I backup my photos weekly, and move the backup drive to an offsite location for even greater safety. Yeah, a housefire would ruin a lot of things, but I know my photos and other important data would be safe.

Your needs?
It depends. Take a solid think about what you plan to do with your photos, how you want to share them, and how important they are to you (can you afford to lose them?). I’ve likely given you some ideas to try and experiment with as we head into the holidays. I’d love to hear what you’ve tried and how it worked (or didn’t).

Everyone’s a winner

It’s been a bit longer than I’d wanted, but I’ve finally gotten to wrapping up my first blog contest.

The premise was simple; tell me a backup horror story and you could win a Clickfree Transformer SE backup system. And some of you did tell me some pretty good stories.

Here’s some excerpts:

On Versioning:

Being an artist, dur­ing one of the more heated pro­gram­mer debates I took a closer look at the SVN logs and dis­covered that indeed this guy had stealth­ily checked in some­thing between our changes. Luck­ily for us, when you use a ver­sion repos­it­ory sys­tem (soft­ware or hard­ware) you can roll back your changes to a pre­vi­ously uploaded state that’s stored on the device (since all the data gets saved for each change that is made). I gave this a try loc­ally and quickly dis­covered what the prob­lem was and relayed it to the rest of the team.

On server backups:

I had a stack of flop­pies (and my brother and mother had stacks of flop­pies at their houses) that could only be read by an Osborne com­puter and that I was the only per­son I knew who still used an Osborne com­puter.… so I went out and bought a backup Osborne. And sure enough, my com­puter died a month or so later. But I thought, no prob­lem, I have my back up, and it sur­vived long enough for me to upload everything to the UofA’s MTS sys­tem. There! Backuped on a main­frame, what could be more secure than that?

On offsite tape storage:

I put in a help ticket to request the tape. Unfor­tu­nately, it’ll take three weeks for the tapes to be retrieved. Ah well, that’s ok. My reports are not a 911 and I’m just happy my data is safe. Six (6) weeks later the tapes arrive and reveal my web logs can­not be restored from the backups. Data gone.

On luck:

Next, we real­ized that no one had ever attemp­ted to do a res­tor­a­tion of the data. Upon fur­ther invest­ig­a­tion we dis­covered that it wasn’t just a mat­ter of people not hav­ing attemp­ted it but that we couldn’t actu­ally do a test restore on the old sys­tems without affect­ing the pro­duc­tion sys­tems. Had we wasted hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in tapes in a vault that could be worthless?

Well, thanks to some great work by Larysa at Clickfree, we’ve got prizes for all the contest entrants. If you ‘ve not read the full entries then check out the comments on the entry post here.

Congratulations! I’ll be pinging the winners shortly 🙂

Fat lady sings. Winners announced soon.

Thus endith my first blog contest. And a very cool ride it was.

My good friends at Clickfree, a Canadian backup technology company, agreed to provide the prizes (Clickfree Transformer SE) for a blog contest challenging folks to provide there best (or worst I guess) backup horror story.

I’ve received some rather good entries. Check out the comments in the original post for the entire list, but here’s a couple of excerpts to give you the idea:

In a multi-developer game development environment:

We updated our local SVN repos and tried to work with the new changes that we were all mak­ing (plus unknow­ingly the changes this other guy made)… only the game ended up crash­ing. It worked fine before this latest update and no one was sup­posed to have made any changes that would cause this prob­lem, and yet, here it was, the game was crash­ing. Franticly we looked at all the changes “we” had made for the prob­lem (remem­ber we did not know this guy had checked any­thing in) and argue­ments rose over who was at fault of this issue (oddly no one fingered the par­tic­u­lar pro­gram­mer in ques­tion since we didn’t know he had com­mit­ted any­thing, plus it was 4am and no one was think­ing straight).

Stolen Grad-student Thesis data:

I got a frantic call from a grad stu­dent once, say­ing that someone had broken in and stolen his com­puter with all his thesis data and his 3/4 fin­ished draft thesis — two years of data col­lec­tion research and writ­ing gone!

Winners?

In the next week or so I’ll be reviewing the entries and notifying the winners. And yes, there will be a blog post about it. Stay tuned!

How to backup files across a network easily

Before I start, a friendly reminder that you only have a day left to enter the contest for a free Click­free Trans­former backup system. Tell me a backup horror story.

It’s one thing to backup the files on your local computer and another to backup files stored on other computers on your network, or Network Attached Storage drives or servers.

In the first case, odds are you simply drag and drop files and folders that are important to you to a blank CD or DVD and burn your backup.

In the latter, well, usually a much more complex process with dedicated backup software is required.

Recently I grabbed a Clickfree Transformer SE to do some simple backup work on my desktop and laptop computers. Basically, the Clickfree Transformer plugs into a USB port. Then you plug a USB Hard Drive into the Transformer SE.

And the magic begins. The software quickly scans your local system and copies important documents, photos, media and other files to the USB drive attached to the Transformer SE.

But back to the theme of this post, ‘backing up files across a network easily’. Basically there’s two things you need to do.

Mapping your network drives

First, you have to have ‘mapped’ the network drives containing files to be backed up. Mapping the drive is a simple process that tells your local Windows operating system to treat the network drive as if it is a local drive — even assigning a drive letter to the network drive.

Microsoft has a pretty good walkthrough on mapping drives in Windows XP. The process for Vista and Windows 7 is very similar.

Configuring the Clickfree Transformer SE
And this process is pretty simple. First, you have to get to the Clickfree backup configuration screens.

If you’ve seen a backup run, then you know there’s a countdown prior to the process beginning. When you cancel that countdown, you abort the current backup. But you also now have the ability to configure your backup by selecting which drives (local or mapped network) and file types you want to back up.

This is important because it’s possible, when backing up mapped network drives, to try and backup more files than you have drive space available for…should  you try and backup your entire photo, video, and music libraries to one drive, for example. If this happens, then the backup also fails to the configuration screens, allowing you to tweak the config so you can fit the backup on the drive.

Ready to roll?
And that’s all there is to it. The next time your backup runs, either manually or automatically, files on those mapped network drives will be backed up along with the ones on your local computer drives. Of course, depending on how much you’re backing up, you may need to split the backup across a couple of drives 🙂