backup : Computer Hardware Buyers’ Glossary

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backup
Sooner or later you will turn on your machine and you will discover everything you ever put into it (programs, images, word processing, tax data, your company’s books, spreadsheets, your great Canadian novel) is gone. There are several ways this can happen: Usually no amount of wailing, gnashing or teeth, or money will bring it back. You have to start all over from scratch. For many people this would be catastrophic. If you are one of these people, I strongly recommend doing monthly backups of your entire hard disk, and all of your data each night, or at least the data that recently changed. If you backup only changed data, restoring takes much longer since you must keep and restore all the intermediate backups as well as the most recent.

Keep at least one backup offsite just in case of a fire or theft. Then if your machine fails, you get a new hard disk, and read the backup back onto the hard disk, and you are back in business, losing at most a day’s work.

Unfortunately the need for mag tape backup units has not yet sunk into the public awareness. They are still almost a specialty item. Units big enough to backup the whole disk can cost over $1,000. This may seem expensive, but on average it would cost about $40,000 to recreate the records in the average computer used for a home business. If you don’t use a mag tape, you must back up at least your most crucial data to floppy, ZIP drive or CD-ROM (Compact Disc — Read Only Memory).

Four major tips:

  1. Make sure you do a fire drill to make sure your backup system is working. You would be astonished how many people, when it comes time to restore, discover their backup tapes or floppies are empty or are missing crucial data.
  2. Keep offsite backups. If your computer in damaged by fire, flood or theft, chances are your onsite backups will be lost too. Every once, in a while mail a backup to a friend, as far away as possible so that backup too won’t be lost in a flood or earthquake.
  3. Don’t do anything on your computer while the backup is running. It confuses the backup software and you may silently corrupt your backups.
  4. Make frequent hot backups (backups on another part of your hard disk, preferably a different drive) of the crucial sections of various applications. Then backup the hot backups as part of your normal backup to CD (Compact Disc). Here is the bat file I use to make a hot backup: The MD! is just a stronger version of MD, that does not mind if the directory is already created, and that creates all necessary subnodes.
Backup Method benefits drawbacks
floppy
  • Free software.
  • You can select just the files to backup, perhaps only those recently changed.
  • You can restore your files to any other machine. No special hardware is needed.
  • It would take a stack of floppies as high as the empire state building to backup an entire hard disk.
zip drive
  • You can select just the files to backup, perhaps only those recently changed.
  • You can easily restore just the files you want, or even use them directly on the zip without restoring.
  • The media are expensive.
  • You need a special zip drive.
  • The disks only hold 100 MB.
QIC tape backup
  • Runs nicely unattended, so long as your backup fits on only one tape.
  • Easy to carry media offsite.
  • Tapes must be restored using the exact same brand and model of tape drive — which may be hard to find if your computer was burned or stolen.
  • Tapes only hold typically 500 MB per tape.
  • The media wear out quickly.
  • Very slow. You have to let them run overnight.
DAT (Digital Audio Tape) Tape
  • Runs nicely unattended, so long as your backup fits on only one tape.
  • Easy to carry media offsite.
  • Tapes must be restored using the exact same brand and model of tape drive — which may be hard to find if your computer was burned or stolen.
  • Only hold perhaps 2 gig.
  • Media are very delicate. The HP (Hewlett Packard) drives eat tapes for breakfast and breaks down frequently. Mine spent most of its first year in the repair shop. It died after the warranty wore out. It never worked reliably even after being freshly repaired.
  • About  $1200.00 CAD .
  • Slow, especially to restore since it has to search the tape from end to end to find each file.
Extra hard disk
  • Very fast backup.
  • Can use files directly off the backup without restoring.
  • Cheap. You can get huge disks for a few hundred dollars.
  • It puts all your eggs in one basket. If a virus attacks one disk, it will attack the other, same for thievery, a fire or a faulty power supply. You have only one backup. If anything goes wrong with it, you have nothing else. With other forms of backup, you keep at least three generations, some offsite.
Extra hard disk on a caddy
  • Same benefits as disk.
  • Can take disk out and take it offsite.
  • When you add up the cost of three extra disks, to keep several generations of backup, this option gets expensive.
  • The caddy is a kludge. Eventually it will break or damage the disk drives. Hard drives are delicate. They are not meant to be carted around. You may also accidentally take the drive out with the power on and fry it.
External hard disk
  • Same benefits as disk.
  • More robust than disk on a caddy. External drives are better designed to withstand transport.
  • Easy to install or remove. You don’t have to reboot or even power down.
  • Can unplug disk and take it offsite.
  • When you add up the cost of three extra disks, to keep several generations of backup, this option gets expensive.
CD ROM (Read Only Memory) burner
  • Holds 600 MB per disk, a fair size, but still not big enough to backup an entire drive on one CD. There is no mechanism to spill automatically to a second CD.
  • You can restore to any machine that has a CD-ROM drive.
  • You keep all your backups, scores of them since the media are not reusable. This protects you if you corrupt your files, and don’t notice until much later. If you didn’t have the old backups to go to, all you would have are backups containing corrupt copies of the file.
  • You can choose which files to backup.
  • Blanks are about  $0.40 CAD each plus a $0.21 CAD per disc CPCC (Canadian Private Copying Collective) media levy as a piracy tax. Last revised/verified: 2008-03-02
  • The media are very robust. Magnetic fields won’t damage them. Dropping them on the floor is unlikely to damage them.
  • You cannot backup and restore the Windows registry, just datafiles. Decent operating systems don’t have that disgusting registry. Its sole purpose is to lock programs into running only on Windows. Because of that deliberate designed-in Microsoft limitation (a problem with nearly all backup methods), you cannot restore applications. You must reinstall them all from scratch.
  • The Roxio (née Adaptec) Easy CD creator program can’t remember which directories you like to back up. It insists you tell it afresh each time — which can take an additional 10 minutes per backup, and the process is quite error prone. CD Creator remembers which individual files you backed up last time, but not which directories. If you tell it to back up the same files, the problem is it won’t back up any new files or directories.
  • The Roxio (née Adaptec) Easy CD creator program requires about 16 MB of free disk space while it is copying. to buffer the transfers to the cdw. If you try to use your computer for something else during backup, the program may not be able to keep up with the fixed speed cdr, and the whole CD will be ruined.
CD ROM burner
with Norton Ghost Image Backup
  • like CD ROM burner, but lets you back up and restore everything, even the registry.
  • When you back up, you need to backup an entire partition. You can’t select individual files. This means you waste time and CDs (Compact Discs) backing up your *.exe and *.dll files every day, even though they have not changed.
  • Ghost runs under DOS (Disk Operating System), so there is strong possibility it won’t support your disk drive or CD-ROM burner. It can’t use Windows, NT or Linux drivers. It needs DOS drivers. You need to find and install DOS disk drivers for your SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) controllers, SCSI disks, CD ROM burner and Ethernet card. DOS can’t see drives that don’t have any FAT (File Allocation Table) partitions on them, though Ghost sometimes can. This is not something the novice can tackle. If DOS/Ghost won’t support your CD-ROM burner, you need about a gigabyte of free disk space in an unused NTFS (New Technology File System) partition, both to hold the a compressed image of the partition and the CD-ROM image. You then later boot back to NT and back that image file up. It can be quite a challenge getting Plug & Play in BIOS (Basic Input Output System) to work for DOS, and to collect the latest versions of all the ancient old DOS drivers. Before you buy Ghost, make sure you can access your disks, CD ROM burner (as a reader), and your LAN (Local Area Network) when you boot to DOS from a floppy. If you can’t do that, Ghost won’t work on your machine.
  • The backup will take dozens of CD s, and at about  $0.61 CAD each (including levy), so you won’t be doing that frequently. Each partition needs to start a fresh CD.
  • Unfortunately when you restore, you restore everything even your data files back the way they were at the time of the backup. You can’t restore just a single file. Ideally you combine this method with Easy CD Creator to backup just data files later. Then your restore an entire partition with Ghost, then restore your more recent data files on top of that.
  • To use it you must insert a master CD and a special floppy, then reboot, then insert a series of blank CD s, then reboot back to NT. It is not something you can do unattended.
  • The user interface is something only a Unix guru could love, with a zillion obscure command line switches. It is quite intimidating, quite unlike the other Norton utilities. It refers to the drives and partitions by physical number not the more human-friendly drive letter, OS (Operating System), or volume label. You can’t easily specify more than one drive at once to back up.
  • To backup or restore, you have to reboot to DOS to run Ghost. Windows won’t let you fiddle with the registry while it is running.
  • Ghost optionally compresses the backup files.
  • Ghost backs up FAT (Windows), NTFS (NT) and EXT-2 (Linux) partitions.
  • Norton support people won’t talk to you unless you pay them.

HP 9210i CD ROM burner
with included disaster recovery software
  • like CD ROM burner with Ghost, but does not require huge amounts of free disk space. It gets about 1 gig of files per CD, and it automatically splits partitions over CDs.
  • Very tedious since it produces 5 floppies for disaster recover as well. The backup program is badly written making you reinsert the floppies in random orders, and sometimes asks for a disk it already has. Further, it excruciatingly slowly writes many tiny files individually instead of building a disk image of the floppies and copying them in one fell swoop to physical floppy.
  • Beware! This scheme has an almost fatal flaw. You must restore to a disk partitioned identically to the original. It is up to you to manually record the FDISK partition information and to restore it. You may not be able to do that unless you restore to an identical drive to the original.
DVD (Digital Video Disc) burner
with Windows burning software
  • like CD ROM burner holds 8 times more. Holds 4,700 MB per disk, a fair size, but still not big enough to backup an entire drive on one DVD. (Blu-Ray hold even more.) There is no mechanism to spill automatically to a second DVD.
  • You can restore to any machine that has a DVD drive.
  • Backup discs, because they are written once, and usually never read, they are very unlikely to get scratched.
  • You keep all your backups, scores of them since the media are not reusable. This protects you if you corrupt your files, and don’t notice until much later. If you didn’t have the old backups to go to, all you would have are backups containing corrupt copies of the file.
  • You can choose which files to backup. You can zip them first for compaction.
  • Blank DVDs (Digital Video Discs) are about  $0.40 CAD each without any CPCC media levy as a piracy tax. Last revised/verified: 2008-03-02
  • The media are very robust. Magnetic fields won’t damage them. Dropping them on the floor is unlikely to damage them.
  • You cannot backup and restore the Windows registry, just datafiles. Decent operating systems don’t have that disgusting registry. Its sole purpose is to lock programs into running only on Windows. Because of that deliberate designed-in Microsoft limitation (a problem with nearly all backup methods), you cannot restore applications. You must reinstall them all from scratch.
  • If you don’t remember to click eject when the disk is finished, the directory won’t get written to it, and you will have an effectively empty disk.
BackupToZip
BackupToZip with a DVD Burner
I was so frustrated by the flaws in all the backup software available, I wrote my own and put it out into world free with Java source code. It is very fast, especially if you use Take Command copy /u to copy the zips to a USB (Universal Serial Bus) flash drive. It is very simple to use, a minimalist backup. You tell it a list of directory trees you want backed up, and it makes a mirror of them in a zip file. You then copy that zip file to DVD, CD, USB flash drive or even hard disk. (So far that is no different from making an archive with WinZip and backing it up). The magic comes later when you re-run the program. It very rapidly updates the archive. It adds new files, deletes ones from the archive you have discarded and updates files that have changed. (In contrast, WinZip won’t automatically delete files for you.) You can them backup up the amended archive again to DVD. You can have several different zip files for large backups. Unfortunately it does not include an image backup, just file by file. It does not automatically split archive files into pieces if they get too big for a single DVD. It is up to you to either group your backups to keep the archive size in reason, or use a copying program that can split large files.
Nero with a DVD Burner Nero provides a comprehensive package of 20 utilities for $80.00 USD . A friend of mine uses it and says anything else is a waste of time. The Nero entry gives more detail. Unfortunately it does not include an image backup, just file by file.
Acer with a DVD Burner Acer gets around the problems of Norton Ghost using three clever tricks:
  1. The put an auxiliary stripped down copy of XP on a hidden partition.
  2. They put a compressed copy of the disk image of what a machine looks like fresh from the factor in this hidden partition.
  3. They don’t try to write the CDs from DOS or other miniature OS.
When you make a snapshot, the alternate XP copy boots up and snapshots the system image. Since your copy of the OS is not running, everything is nicely frozen for its portrait in time. Then it boots back to Vista or the main XP. Then it uses an ordinary backup program to write the snapshot to any mixture of CDs and DVDs.

If your disk it totally trashed and you have no backups, you can still restore your system to factory conditions by booting the alternate partition and restoring from the compressed factory disk images.

The main problem with this approach is the only way to get it is to buy an Acer computer. It comes bundled and pre-installed on all their machines. They call it e-Recovery.

The other downside of this approach is it needs enormous amounts of free disk space to work. You need room for copies of every sector on your hard disk that contains data, and the DVD images containing the data with the embedded Reed-Solomon error correcting codes. So in theory you need perhaps twice as much free space as you have filled! And usually Acer image backup seems to demand even more free space than that. It seems overly partial to only using contiguous space on drive D:.

TeraByte Image for Windows with a DVD Burner demo No frills image backup of a partition. $39.00 USD  
NTI with a DVD Burner
  • holds 4.7 gig (4700 MB), eight times the capacity of a CD.
  • Blank DVDs are about  $0.40 CAD each without any CPCC media levy as a piracy tax, Last revised/verified: 2008-03-02 which is quite cheap for the capacity compared with other media.
  • If you want to back up just a little, you still use an entire disc.
  • You need to buy three different NTI programs:
    1. NTI (NewTech Infosystems) Backup Now! to do a file by file backup and restore.
      $60.00 USD
    2. NTI CD & DVD Maker Platinum/Titanium to copy DVD s, burn music to DVD.
      $40.00 USD
    3. NTI Drive Backup! to do an image backup.
      $40.00 USD
    You can save a little money buying them as a bundle. Acer bundles Backup Now! and CD & DVD Maker Gold (no Mp3 support) with their computers.
Drive Snapshot with a DVD burner This program does an image backup to DVD. Through the magic of a virtual drive, it even lets you restore individual files from your image backup. It works without having to reboot. Somehow it creates a coherent snapshot in time of your entire disk without having to freeze it with a reboot-style snapshot. You can carry on working even while the backup is taking place. With other backups you are locked out of your computer sometimes for hours. I am baffled how they could possibly pull this off. Perhaps the image is not fully unified. It also supports Linux EXT2/3/Reiser partitions. It is reasonably priced at  €39.00 EUR It needs sufficient free disk space to store all the disk partition images. Needs DOS to restore a system partition. This means there is no guarantee your hardware will be supported just because it works currently under W2K, XP, W2003 and Vista. Command-line driven. This is a plus for scripting, but a bit daunting for the novice. The documentation is somewhat geeky. The company is based in Germany.
Acronis True Image 10 Home with a DVD burner This program does an image backup to DVD. It also does file by file backups. It also lets you restore file by file from the image backup. Acronis is the company that makes Acronis Disk Director It costs at  $50.00 USD . It has ways of backing up just the settings for a number of common utilities. You don’t need to do all the grunt work to track down the settings files and registrentries to compose a snap.btm for those apps. Does full, incremental (just changes since last incremental backup) and differential backups (all changes since last full backup). You can continue to use your PC (Personal Computer) during backups. You can download the trial version. The restore is clever. It restores the crucial clusters first, then lets you start working almost right away. In the background it restores clusters as your programs request them. Your program is unaware the disk is not yet fully restored. It just experiences a tiny delay. It can restore partition structure. It lets you create a bootable CD to restore with in case your system it so hosed it cannot boot. You can restore to a bigger hard disk and it will automatically proportionately grow all the partitions. It requires a permanent special partition called the secure zone to hold the compressed partition images awaiting copying to DVD. This partition is logically invisible to ordinary programs. Other backup programs tie down the image work space only during the backup. To back up, it needs to reboot to a miniature Windows-like OS in a special partition. Though the program is fully menu-driven, it is complicated with many options. It might overwhelm the casual user.
Norton 360 net backup This program use the Internet to automatically back up your files to a Symantec Server. It costs $90.00 CAD per year for three machines. The main advantage is that it is automatic. The other big advantage is the backup is offsite where it cannot be stolen or destroyed. It is up to Symantec to backup your backup.
  • Internet connection is orders of magnitude slower than a CD or DVD writer.
  • You have to trust Symantec to protect your data from snoops after it arrives on their site, and trust them to transport it securely over the net.
  • You need a working OS with Norton installed to restore. It is for protecting individual files not the system as a whole.
  • There is a 2 GB limit on how much you can back up.
  • There are many different products all called Norton 360 with prices ranging from $90.00 CAD to $224.00 CAD
  • This is an auxiliary backup to your primary DVD image and file-by-file backups.
Carbonite net backup This program use the Internet to automatic al back up your files to a Carbonite Server. It costs $50.00 USD per year or  $5.00 USD a month. The main advantage is that it is automatic. The other big advantage is the backup is offsite where it cannot be stolen or destroyed. It is up to Carbonite to backup your backup and put it in a vault offsite. Carbonite does incremental backups in the background of recently changed files. You don’t have to do anything other than install the software. There is no limit on the size of your backup.

Carbonite Tourist cartoon

  • Internet connection is orders of magnitude slower than a CD or DVD writer.
  • You have to trust Carbonite to protect your data from snoops after it arrives on their site, and trust them to transport it securely over the net.
  • You need a working OS with Carbonite installed to restore. It is for protecting individual files not the system as a whole.
  • This is an auxiliary backup to your primary DVD image and file-by-file backups.
  • If the link to Carbonite is down or Carbonite itself is down, you have no access to you backups or ability to make backups.
  • If Carbonite ever goes out of business, it will be as if all your backups were consumed in a fire.
USB flash drive You can use a USB flash drive, aka thumb drive, as a backup device
  • A 32 MB flash drive holds as much as 7 DVDs.
  • A flash drive is reusable.
  • A flash drive is orders of magnitude faster than a DVD or tape.
  • You can clip it to your keychain and have all your files with you instantly to restore wherever you go. It is unlikely both your computer and your keys will be stolen at the same time.
  • This sort of backup does not require any sort of software, other than perhaps the free BackupToZip or WinZip or other archiver, so you know you can restore even if you lose the backup software.
  • If you empty a flash drive, you can use it for disk caching
You need to buy at least three flash drives to start so you have more than one backup and can ensure at least one of the backups is offsite and any time. You might want to also backup to DVD from time to time for an archival backup. You have to keep your wits about you which flash drive to backup to, and which to rotate offsite. You could buy three colours of flash drive, but you need to keep a diary of what is on which flash drive. You can’t label the flash drive itself.

Ideal Backup

How would the ideal backup work? It would be much like Norton Ghost with the following changes:
  1. You can provide a list of physical drives, partitions, logical drives, directories, files, wildcards or negative wildcards to back up.
  2. You can create this list using a GUI (Graphic User Interface) than runs under W2K, XP, W2003, Vista, W2008, W7-32, W7-64, W8-32, W8-64, W2012, Linux, LinuxARM, LinuxX86, LinuxX64, Ubuntu, Solaris, SolarisSPARC, SolarisSPARC64, SolarisX86, SolarisX64 and OSX
  3. You can create this list by leaving special marker files lying about in your directories e.g. WEEKLY.!!! (back this directory and its children weekly), DAILY.!!! (back this directory and its children up daily), -DAILY.!!! (exclude this directory and its children from the daily backup) or NEVER.!!! (never back this up in a file-by-file backup). You can make up arbitrary names for your backups, not just DAILY and WEEKLY.
  4. The program runs under its own mini OS that lives in a tiny partition on hard disk. You don’t need floppies or CD/DVDs (Compact Disc/Digital Video Discs) to run the backup. It can run unattended if the backup will fit on a single CD/DVD (Compact Disc/Digital Video Disc). It can boot to the special OS and back again all by itself. The mini OS can be quite stripped down. It needs no mouse, keyboard or video drivers. It can do minimal user interaction with the BIOS API (Application Programming Interface).
  5. The mini OS can use W7-32, W7-64 and Linux device drivers. This means you can read any disk and write to any CD/DVD burner you have a driver for.
  6. The setup program is smart enough to find and configure the device drivers it needs.
  7. You do the user interactions in Windows, NT or Linux. You can describe the backups you want done in the terminology used inside those operating systems.
  8. The backups optionally incorporate Reed Solomon codes in addition to the ones built into the normal CD recording. or a redundant XOR (exclusive OR) block for every 10 data blocks. These are cleverly placed so that a scratch to the CD or a thumbprint can usually be recovered. I originally described the idea in a letter to all the floppy disk backup makers. Norton tried to patent it!
  9. Ideally the host OS es should keep data files separate from invariant Program Files to make it easy to back up everything in quick image format once every few months, and then just do backups of data files daily.
  10. The file by file backup program should know where common apps hide their crucial configuration or user data and let you back it up just by ticking off the application name. I was pleased to discover Acronis is now doing this.
  11. When you restore from CD/DVD, you automatically defrag the partition.

Other Gotchas

After a few years, there is a very good chance the software used to prepare the backup will no longer run on your current computer, or you will have lost or replaced it. You need that softare to restore your backups, unless you scrupulously avoided any proprietary formats. In other word, you should be able to use ordinary copy to get your files back.

CDs and DVDs are have a lifespan of only about a decade. If you want to read data after that you need to use

Back up your master application CDs and write the branding keys on them with a Sharpie fine tip permanent marker. Never apply any sort of sticky label to a CD that was not specially designed for the purpose. Without the branding keys, you can’t reinstall. Be especially careful about old versions of programs you use. You won’t even be able to reacquire/repurchase them, e.g. Netscape 4.79.

Back up the data files associated with your applications. Ones you might forget include:

It is often easier to write a bat file to make copies of all these crucial files in one place than it is to teach your backup software to find them all. It is sometimes not obvious where your application hides the crucial information. To find the files, make a change, look for files with recent change date/timestamp, and examine the files with a hex viewer.

If you must reinstall to a new machine, make sure the partitions are identically sized and placed. You had better record that information somewhere. After restore, you can use PartitionMagic to resize them.

If thieves steal your computer, they might just steal all your master CDs and backups as well. Keep some backup off site. Similarly, a fire will destroy everything. You can buy a new computer, and you can buy new programs, but you can’t replace your data.

There is another backup concern I learned about through bitter experience. I bought an excellent hard plastic Mead CD case. I could carry about 30 of my most important CD masters with me when I went to a client site. Apparently, somebody lifted it out of my pack on a ferry ride, presumably hoping it would contain interesting music. I should have used my CD ROM burner to make copies and leave the originals in a safe place at home. The story has a happy ending. The case a mysteriously appeared, complete with contents, as if by transporter beam, on my desk a few weeks later. However, you might not be so lucky. They don’t seem to be sold anymore. Too bad. They were much better than anying available now.

How I Do It

I compress files and write them onto a single DVD just using and ordinary Take Command copy:

Final Word

There is almost nothing you can do after a crash to get back your files. Everything you need to do must be done before you have any trouble. Humans being what they are, never make backup a priority until it is too late. What I do myself is use BackupToZip to detect files which have changed and compress them in efficient-to-backup zip files. Then use Cdrtools to back them up to DVD. All I have to do is click one icon and the whole process runs unattended. If Cdrtools overwhelms you, use Nero KwikMedia instead.
@Backup: Internet backup service
BootSave
CD
CMOSSave
D_back
DriveImage XML: freeware image backup
Dropbox
DVD
LG Burning Tools: beautifully done. What I use myself
Mozy: free or cheap Internet backup
recordable
registry
reinstalling
rewriteable flash drive
Sharpie fine tip permanent marker
WinZip

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