Sunday, February 1, 2009

Backups and synchronization

BackupRecovery The best advice to give anyone with a computer is to make backups.  Hard drives crash, laptops are stolen, personal items need to stay off of company computers, so the pictures, videos, music, and email archives need to go somewhere.

I’ve been saved more than once by a timely backup, but the process of making them and keeping them current is hard.

At first, it seemed like The Cloud was the answer. I chose, a well-regarded service that automates the entire process.  For $35 per year, MozyHome first backs up all of your files to their servers, then updates a series of incremental backups, saving new material whenever the computer is idle.  If I need to restore a file, I can download individual files or request a DVD with everything.

I paid for the service and struggled with it for six months. It won’t back up removable drives and the connection is slow: the initial backup took weeks and if drive letters changed, whole archives were deleted.  Their tech support was very responsive, but the service wasn’t reliable for me.  And I worry about trusting everything to a third party.

So, I bought a one terabyte (1000 GB) USB hard drive and copied my entire hard disk to it with Norton Ghost.  This is a great solution for making simple backups, and for moving files from an old computer to a new one.

SyncBack My documents and pictures are more dynamic, and I want to save them more often, sychronizing working directories between my main disks and the USB drive.  SyncBack is a free utility that compares two directories and adjusts the files to match, quickly updating the backups. I like the flexibility and backups can be scheduled; a low-cost pro-version adds additional features.

My last problem is that if a file is corrupted on my working drives, it overwrites the good copy on my backup. So, I scan for zero-length files before synchronizing, but it’s not a good solution yet.

Finally, there are times when I’ve been doing a lot of work in big archive folders like Pictures: moving, deleting, renaming, and organizing.  I want to do a more selective sync between the ‘before’ and ‘after’ versions of the work, comparing differences between folders and files and merging work without losing things.  Beyond Compare is a wonderful utility for this job: graphical and intuitive.


I buzzed through a huge job of bringing my photo folders up to date with it yesterday, merging picture archives from other computers and getting everything backed up to the removable drive. Once complete, I created a new SyncBack task to maintain it: woo hoo, the photo archive is off my worry list.


Unknown said...

Great tips! Thanks for posting about this :-) I always try to keep backups & save important documents, writings/thoughts & photographs on disc or our back-up hard drive. But I'm always looking for the newest tips & tricks.

Dave Hampton said...

Me too: I just want it to be reliable and invisible, but I haven't found anything that fits my style and budget yet.