Time to take the plunge and put all of my data into the cloud!

A couple of weeks ago I started my weekly ritual of copying my data to an external hard drive, then I trigger an image backup of my C: and D: drives just as an extra precaution in case of a hard drive failure (This is over and above the offsite backups that I have automated using Backblaze).

When I started up my image backup software it told me that there was a problem with my C: drive so I started a chkdsk to repair any problems. This too has become a routine, although I’m not sure why. I find that around once a month Windows 7 has some kind of problem that requires me to run a chkdsk on my hard drives. I never had this problem with Windows XP but it happens way too frequently for my liking with Windows 7.

No big deal, or so I thought. The chkdsk ran, found a few problems and it indicated that they had been repaired. The system rebooted and ….. nothing. Just a blinking cursor in the upper left hand corner on my screen. It spent quite a bit of time, in fact way too much time trying to see if I could fix the problem, but finally gave up.  I figured that I had my data backed up in two places so I would just restore my most recent image backup and any data that was missing by using my Backblaze service.

I booted from my recovery disc but it failed to detect my external hard drive that contained my backup images.  I then connected my external drive to my backup laptop and same thing.  I have no idea of what the odds are that the Operating System (OS) on my laptop would become corrupted and my external hard drive would fail at the same time but I knew this was going to make my recovery much more difficult.  Again, I spent way too much time trying to see if I could get my external drive working but like with the OS on my laptop, decided it was time to move on.

This now meant I had to pull out my original Windows 7 DVD, find all of my licenses keys and install EVERYTHING from scratch.

Initially the reinstall went well, but after the OS was installed and I started installing my software, I began having problems.  I still can’t figure out what went wrong but after a couple of days I started having problems installing software.  The software would begin t install but it would hang before completing the installation.  I tried everything, I searched through Microsoft’s knowledge base and tried everything that seemed might help.  Reluctantly, I pulled out my Windows 7 DVD again, reformatted my C: drive and installed Windows 7 again.  This time everything went smoothly, just as it should have the first time.

Lessons Learned

That was as close as I wish to get to losing all of my data.  Thankfully I had multiple backup methods in place to deal with a failure that would keep me from my data.  I did make some mistakes though and have adjusted my strategy so that I can recover more easily in the future.

Things that worked well:

  • having an image backup should have allowed my to avoid reinstalling the operating system and installing my software manually.  This should have/will save me time if I have a problem in the future.
  • using Backblaze to backup my data to the cloud.  This allowed me to get back my critical data by selecting and downloading the files I needed back.  This is really importing in the event something happened to my office and my laptop was taken/destroyed.  Having offsite backups also protects against a failure of your onsite backups which is what happened in my case.
  • having my original media (CDs/DVDs) all in one place and having a record of my license keys.  While it was a pain to install everything manually, at least I had all of my software and didn’t have to purchase any of it again.
  • keeping most of my data on a separate drive from the operating system.  Most of my data was on my D: drive, but not all of it.  This meant that after I reinstalled the OS on my C: drive I only had to recover the files that I lost on my C: drive.

Things that didn’t work so well:

  • Windows 7.  It bothers me quite a bit that I have had so many problems with Windows 7 and disk corruption.  Most of it was easily corrected but I shouldn’t have had to deal with these problems.  I can’t say for sure that there wasn’t some kind of hardware problem, but it seems unlikely.  I ran the Seagate SeaTools software, ran multiple scans on my hard drives and didn’t find any problems.  There could have been a problem with the hardware of my ASUS laptop but this also seems unlikely as everything has been working properly ever since the reinstall of Windows 7.  There could have been some kind of interaction problem between Windows 7 and some of my software but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to determine if this was the case.
  • Zonealarm Datalock.  Prior to my disk corruption I had used the Datalock software to encrypt the data on my hard drives.  I never had a single problem until I ran into my disk corruption problem but one it happened I couldn’t run any diagnostic/repair tools to try to get my data of the bad drive.  I haven’t reinstalled this software on my newly rebuilt laptop.  I’m going to try o avoid making my laptop configuration too complex.
  • My Westernal Digital Essential 2TB external hard drive.  Hard drives fail all of the time.  I should have had a backup of the content on this drive.  I will in the future.
  • My backup configuration on Backblaze.  I modified the exclude list to skip large files (>200MB) and some iTunes files under the assumption that I could easily get the iTunes files back easily and that I would count on getting the large files back from my external hard drive.  Neither of these worked out very well.  I have decided to make some changes to my backup strategy and have already started down the path to implementing these changes.

 I will save the details for a future post but I have restructured my data so that it is all contained within Dropbox.  This means that any files I create or change will by synchronized to the Dropbox cloud service.  These files will also be synchronized to my backup laptop that also runs Dropbox.  I am also going to purchase a second external drive to make sure that my image backups are stored in two places as well.

I am going to keep using my Backblaze service for now as another level of protection.  It may be that it is redundant now that I am saving everything in Dropbox but I’m going to wait a little while before making any decisions about this.

For me, using Dropbox is about much more than keeping my data in more than one place to minimize the impact of a hardware failure.  It is about keeping my data in the cloud and allowing me to access that data from any device that I have handy.  It could be that I need to open a Word document on my iPad or quickly view a spreadsheet on my iPhone.  It could be that I am in another city and quickly need to make a change to a file.  As long as I can use a computer with a browser, I can get at my files.  In my mind not only will this protect me against the inevitable hardware failures, but this increases my productivity and is well worth the $200 per year for the service.

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