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Computers & Software

Backup Solutions, 2011 Style

EP Studios Modern Backup Solution

Over the years I struggled to find reliable and realistic backup solutions for my computer data.  Originally (back in the early 90s) I used a tape drive, which took forever to back anything up.  Right from the start of my backup attempts vexing questions arose.  Should I do full backups or incremental backups?  Incremental backups were faster, but after a whole series of incremental backups, I began to suspect that restoring data would be next to impossible.  And there is nothing more useless and time-wasting than backing up data that can’t be restored.  What should I backup?  There is no point in backing up applications, but maybe it is useful to backup all the program updates from the Internet to avoid downloading them again.  Backing up email was challenging since Microsoft (when I used Outlook) kept changing the location of the hidden email data files with each version of Windows.

Tape backups were supplanted by writable CDs and DVDs, then external hard drives.  CDs and DVDs though don’t hold enough data, and external hard drives wear out like internal hard drives — goodbye backup data!  Computer hardware moved on and the tape drives I used 20 years ago no longer have drivers for modern operating systems, so I couldn’t restore the data on my backup tapes even if I wanted to (I don’t) .  I occasionally make backups that I send off-site (e.g. back to Colorado, or into my safe deposit box), but I don’t do this often enough to provide any safety net for my data.  For historical reasons all our financial data is still on Quicken (as annoying as that program is with its yearly upgrades), and I was constantly worried that the QData file (which is monstrously huge) will become corrupted and our last backup is, say, 3 months old.  Ugh!

Fortunately this story has a happy ending.  Over the last few years, our data has gradually and naturally migrated into “the Cloud.”  It is probably safe from destruction, though perhaps we have to worry more about its privacy.  Email and contacts are on Google using Gmail — no need to worry about backing it up and it is always (almost) available.  Xmarks is a great browser bookmark synchronization tool.  All your booksmarks appear the same on all your computers and are also available online.  Most of my programming is on GitHub.  All my computers could simultaneously blow up and I would still have my source code.  Dropbox is great for just backing up and synchronizing files across computers, though it, unlike the others, is not free if you need more than 2 Gb of space.  It works transparently: anything in your Dropbox folder is automatically backed up (supposedly encrypted too) to the web and your other computers.  Finally, just now I started using the VaultPress plugin to keep my website backed up online.  The bottom line is, nearly everything is backed up and synchronized automatically thanks to these various services.  Ah I love living in the Future!

By mannd

I am a retired cardiac electrophysiologist who has worked both in private practice in Louisville, Kentucky and as a Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver. I am interested not only in medicine, but also in computer programming, music, science fiction, fantasy, 30s pulp literature, and a whole lot more.

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