The world’s simplest computer crash recovery plan
How much of your life is on your computer? What would happen if it all just … vanished? Email, documents, photos, financial records, address book, samples, soft rock from the 70s, everything.
Scary isn’t it? I know because it happened to me.
A few years ago, my computer crashed in the middle of a busy week and it almost destroyed my business. I had a backup of my data, but it wasn’t up-to-date because I was always too busy or too lazy to do regular backups.
So I lost weeks of work, including paying projects worth thousands. And since all my contact data was on my computer, I couldn’t even call clients to tell them what happened.
Talk about a nightmare! This is the very definition of scared straight.
I saw the error of my ways and decided this was never, EVER going to happen again. Oh, I might have another crash. But I would never again sit in my office helplessly staring at a dead computer.
My experience inspired me to devise a computer disaster recovery plan. So that no matter what might happen to my computer – virus, hard disk failure, power surge, theft, software corruption, fire, flood, meteor strike, zombies, anything – I’ll be able to recover in hours rather than days or weeks.
And the real beauty is that my plan is totally automatic. You set it and forget it. You don’t ever have to think about backups or spend a second worrying about the safety of years of personal and business data.
What’s involved? One simple text file on your computer desktop and a tiny little program that works quietly around the clock backing up your data online to a remote location. Perfect for busy, or lazy, people.
Why most computer backup methods are not reliable.
There are lots of ways to back up your computer files, including floppy disks (does anyone still use those?), tape drives, zip drives, CDs, data sticks, and external hard drives. I’ve used them all.
But they all have four serious flaws.
First, they depend on YOU. You have to schedule time to do the backups and keep doing them day after day, month after month. If you get busy or forget, and you will, all your data is at risk.
Second, they’re all “on-site.” If something happens in your office, your data is gone along with everything else.
Third, they are all “things” that can break. I’ve had floppy disks jam and tape drives break in mid-backup. CDs can get scratched or melt. External drives can fail just like any hard drive.
Fourth, they only allow you to backup a set amount of data. Once you reach the limit, that’s it.
The answer? Automatic online backups.
If you really want to keep your files secure, forget about all the usual backup strategies. You have to back up all the time and keep the data off-site. Big businesses have always done this, but it has been prohibitively difficult and expensive for the rest of us until recently. Now there are a variety of services that are easy and cheap.
Most online backup services work in similar ways. You buy a subscription, install a small program on your computer, and the software backs up your data over the Internet to a remote location. If you ever need to restore any lost data, you select the files you want and they’re reinstalled on your computer.
Both have their fans. I tried Mozy first after reading several positive reviews, but I couldn’t get it to work on my computer. Technical support was no help. They spent a week working on whatever the problem was, but I gave up and gave Carbonite a shot.
And I’m glad. Carbonite is mercifully simple. You don’t have to start it up or set anything. There’s nothing to learn. Once you’ve installed it, which takes all of 2 minutes, it works in the background looking for new and changed files to back up.
If there’s one negative, it’s that your initial backup will take a while. Carbonite will back up about 3 or 4 gigabytes per day on a home broadband connection. I had about 16 gigs to back up and it took 4 days. But then this is true for most other services of this kind. (I now have over 40 gigs backed up.)
Carbonite compensates for this by giving you unlimited backup space. I mean that literally. There is no limit to how much you can back up. Theoretically, if you have a thousand gigs of data, you can back it up with no extra cost.
The first backup creates what amounts to a duplicate of your hard disk, folder by folder and file by file. After that, Carbonite runs quietly in the background. Every time you load, create, or change a document, the utility automatically backs it up. You don’t have to do anything. It’s all automatic.
By default, Carbonite backs up everything in the “Documents and Settings” folder if you’re using Windows XP or the “Users” folder if you’re on Vista. This includes most of the stuff you’d want to save, such as your documents, desktop contents, most of your program settings, email data, browser settings and bookmarks, pictures, music, videos, downloaded files, etc. However, you can select anything for backup. You just click on a file or folder to tell Carbonite to back it up and keep it backed up.
One unique feature: In Windows Explorer (your file folders), Carbonite inserts a little green dot on each file or folder that is backed up. An orange dot means the file or folder is waiting for backup. This lets you tell at a glance what is backed up and what isn’t. Those little green dots give me a lot of comfort since I can see my files are protected.
If anything happens, all you do is log into your Carbonite account online with any browser, select the files you want to restore, and they’re all put back where they belong. Simple as that. Even if the worst happens and you lose your whole computer, you can retrieve everything with a new computer once you start it up and get online.
The secret of my disaster recovery plan: one little document.
My own computer crash taught me something important. Even if you have a reliable backup, there’s a lot you’ll lose if your computer fails, such as the “keys” to reinstall programs, phone numbers for technical support, information to reconnect to your Internet service provider, passwords for websites and services, and lots of other little things you take for granted when everything is working right.
So I created an “open text” document with all this information and saved it to my desktop. You could use Word or some other program, but I wanted a format that I could open with any software. I included:
- Computer model and operating system
- Internet service provider information
- The “key code” for my wireless network
- Phone number for ISP technical support
- Email customer number, password, and support number
- Incoming and outgoing mail server for setting up an email program
- Web address to access Web mail
- A complete list of my programs
- Program registration keys, serial numbers, and passwords
- A list of online tools and service subscriptions
- Website and blog user names and passwords
- WordPress plugins for my blog
- Affiliate user names and passwords
It takes a while to compile this information, but you only have to do it once. Then add information to it whenever you install a new program, create a new password, sign up for a new service, etc. Depending on how thorough you are, you’ll need from 2 to 8 pages.
Here’s the cool part. When you save this little file on your computer desktop, it becomes part of your automatic backup. So no matter what happens to your computer, everything you need to get your system, programs, email, and services up and running again is ready and waiting.
The only thing you’ll need to commit to memory is the password for your online backup service. With that and a browser, you’re golden.
Do these three things ASAP.
1. Do a search for online backup services and try one. Most offer a free trial, including Carbonite. Last time I checked, Carbonite was $54.95 a year. Mozy was $54.45 a year. I think Carbonite is simpler (and I like those little dots on the files), but look at both.
2. Start compiling that recovery document. Yes, it’s going to be a pain. Yes, you have better things to do. But do it anyway. Without it, you face a world of hurt if something bad happens.
3. Share this article with everyone you know. Tweet it. Post it to Facebook. Stumble it. Digg it. Get it out there. Because I don’t want any copywriter to go through what I went through. Well, maybe a couple.
I had to buy a new computer, install every program from scratch, import an old backup, and make lots of calls to customer support for half a dozen programs. And some things I just lost forever. My clients understood, but they weren’t happy.
I’m asking you to eat your spinach here. But someday, you’ll thank me.