Friday, February 24, 2017

Lost All My Stuff (but got it all back... mostly).

It's not very often I feel vindicated in my preparedness. You know how it is: You create at method of doing things that you're pretty sure will work, then the one day you need to use it, everything goes haywire and you lose... Well, everything.

I never use the hard drive (typically the "C:" drive) on my computer for anything more than running programs. I keep an external hard drive for all of my files. I find this method to be useful because it allows me to tweak and even replace my primary hard drive without having to deal with backing up and recovering data. It's also a great way to move data between computers without having to keep duplicate hard drives. I have all of my essential data on one of these drives.

Anyone with any longtime experience with computers can probably see where this post is going.

So, yesterday I plugged in that external drive into my Surface Pro to upload some data on-the-go, but rather than the normal file system the drive was showing up as "RAW," and subsequently I was informed by Windows that the file system was corrupted and that the drive partition was unreadable. 

"No problem," I thought, "Checkdisk will fix this issue." So I opened an administrator-level command prompt and keyed in the much-practiced "chkdsk /f e:" to run one of the most useful Windows programs that for some reason still doesn't have a windowed version. It was a 2 terabyte hard drive, so the program took a while to do its thing.

chkdsk: My bitter friend for the last 20 years

After waiting for what seemed to be an eternity, the drive was repaired, and I opened it to find... The default Seagate applications and absolutely nothing else. 1.7 terabytes of data. Virtually everything I had ever made, edited, or created, just... Gone.

Now, I know what many of you are thinking: "You stupid newbie! Why would you put all of your info on a single, volatile drive?"

Well, first of all, that's rude! Secondly, this story has a happy ending. You see, some months ago, I devised a method of preserving my data. In the old days I would muck about with multiple hard drives just trying to fit everything in different spaces, trying to think about what data was important and what data to back up. As these smaller drives inevitably failed I would lose old data.

Now, I can't afford (nor do I have the DSL bandwidth to support) a fancy cloud backup service, which would be ideal in this situation. I also don't really have the room for a full-sized file server (or the money to power such a thing, or the time to secure it on my rather pathetic home network). Instead, what I do have are two external 4 terabyte Western Digital drives that are slow, big, require an external power source, and not very portable. They are also identical in every way that matters, and by default Windows won't even recognize them as different drives (if I have them plugged in at the same time there is a conflict in the drive manager). At first, I thought that I might set up a RAID array using these drives as clones to backup essential data, but I actually came up with a better solution.

Rather than change the drive configurations, I left them as they were. I set my system up to back up and encrypt the 2TB drive to the 4TB drive every week during off-hours. This means that as long as I leave the computer on overnight one one of those days, all the data from the 2TB (my data drive) gets copied to the 4TB backup drive.

After this backup occurs, I turn off the computer (I don't want to risk hot-swapping this if I don't have to), and then switch the 4TB drive with its twin, then I put the drive with the most recent back-up in a case and store it in a remote location. I turn the computer on, and it doesn't realize the drives were even swapped, meaning that it will go through its backup procedure again when the week is up. Wash, repeat.

How well does this work? Well, overnight I was able to recover more than 99% of my data, and even though I lost the work I did this week, it was nothing essential. I'm extremely happy with the results, and feel even more secure knowing that as long as at least one of these three drives exists and works, my data will be preserved until I can back it up again.

Score one for anal-retentiveness!

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