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Backups - a salutary tale

21/02/16

Backups - a salutary tale

Permalink 09:01:00 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: General, 1ComputerCare related, Articles

A little time ago I was given a laptop to work on while the customer waited. Unlike all jobs where I work on the computer alone, I did not take an image backup before I started as my customer would not want to sit for an hour while I took thisprecautionary step. I was working on some Google Drive manipulation and I reached the point where I noticed that ALL photos and documents had disappeared.

The standard operating procedure in case of data loss is to shutdown immediately to prevent further loss (as would happen were Windows or a program to overwrite the lost data (which is usually not deleted, just the header is marked as pointing to free space). On shutting down I told my customer what had happened and explained that we would need to recover from the last backup. "Backup, what's that ?" In technical parlance this is known as an 'Oh Oh moment'.

To cut three week's worth of story to a paragraph, I went into data recovery mode whereby an image is taken of the entire partition - including sectors marked as unused. My long trusted software failed me and I bought another product that did work. And to make this image and recovery job more of a 24 hour one than a 7 day one, I bought a 1TB solid state disk at considerable expense.

Having trawled through the image I was able to salvage about 40,000 files, some corrupted, some duplicates, and all with computer generated meaningless names. I then further processed the data to remove duplicated photos and corrupted Office documents - a time costly endeavour.

Only now could I power up the customer's computer to copy the recovered data back. When I did so I was intrigued to see a backup program's icon in the system tray. Yes, the data was backed up all along as I had set that up 3 years prior when the customer last brought the computer to me. Of course so much water has flowed under the bridge that I had forgotten all about it, and the customer had not been following my advice to test recover a document every three months as part of normal housekeeping - hence, nothing was known about the existance of any backup.

So having spent more hours recovering data that the worth of a new comnputer, spent money on replacement imaging software and a 1TB solid state disk, the customer had all data back the way it was.

Lesons learnt:

  • Check the presence of a backup program's icon before pulling the power in case the customer remembers as little about their computer as I do three years later.
  • Warn while-you-wait customers that backups and the consequences of not having them when needed are their responsibility not mine.
  • Stress to all who would listen with increased vigour that testing whether backup are working as intended is time well spent.

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