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How my data survived a perfect storm of hard disk destruction...

I guess I knew it would have to happen eventually, even though I thought I had a pretty good program figured out.

Not long ago, two events happened in rapid succession that could have been completely catastrophic, but due to some prior planning, turned out to just be inconvenient.

A couple weeks ago, I went to fire up my new ultrabook, and the thing booted directly into the BIOS configuration utility.  This is generally a Very Bad Thing, because it pretty much means that the computer couldn’t find any devices from which it was supposed to boot.  In this case, it was the 128GB SSD (used to be called a Hard Disk).  I tried a number of tricks to try to get the computer to recognize the drive, with no luck.  After a final attempt, which involved leaving the computer turned on until the battery was completely drained, then attaching the AC power for one more try, I figured it was time to see how good Asus’ warranty service was.

The good news is that the failure was so severe that the conversation with tech support was mercifully short.  I’d tried everything on the script, so we went right to RMA.

The good news is that the computer was back in my hands in just a few days, but the bad news was that they had replaced the SSD and put on a clean install of Windows 7.  Now, I wasn’t under any illusion that my data would be coming back on the drive, but it was still a bit of a pain to have to reinstall Ubuntu and all my applications.

The best news was that, a few months ago, I got a little bit paranoid about keeping my data (mostly photographs) backed up, and signed up with a company called CrashPlan (www.crashplan.com).  CrashPlan is a service that keeps the directories that you specify baked up in the cloud.  It’s not like DropBox or Ubuntu One, in that it’s not a file syncing service, this is pure backup and restore.  The fact that they offer a native Linux client sealed the deal.  I signed up for a plan that covered all of my computers, and luckily, my entire home directory on the Ultrabook had been backed up.  It was a simple matter to get everything restored.

Just a couple of days after getting that one solved, I was streaming some video from my primary desktop, when the picture just froze.  Thinking the desktop had locked up or something, I went to investigate, and discovered that the SMART utility had popped up, indicating that the drive containing my /home partition  (as well as the primary system partition) was dying violently. I hooked up an external USB drive and salvaged what I could, which turned out to be very little.  Off to Best Buy for a new drive, and an evening spent building up a new system.

Once again, CrashPlan came through.  I hadn’t set it to monitor my entire home directory, so I did experience some loss, but except for a nice dual-screen wallpaper that I had made and was rather fond of, nothing irreplaceable was lost (yes, CP is now monitoring my entire home directory!).

The Desktop utility for CrashPlan. Linux Native!

The one caveat that I discovered on the first restore, which gave me a little scare was that CrashPlan’s backup daemon will actually compare the selected directories with those in the existing backup, and will delete files accordingly.  This meant that when I instructed CrashPlan to “Adopt” the new machines and sync them with the backups that existed for the dead drives, it actually started deleting files from the backups!

Luckily, CrashPlan by default keeps deleted files for thirty days, so I was able to get everything back with a minimum of fuss, but it was a scary surprise!

The solution was simple: using the CrashPlan DeskTop application, delay the backup process (up to 24 hours is available from the menu), then run the restore operation.  This way, no problem.

CrashPlan offers unlimited storage plans on their cloud-based system, and you can also use the utilities to store backups at other locations.  You can back  up your stuff at another computer on your LAN, or even at a friend’s house.  It’s a really flexible and powerful system.

I don’t want to sound like a pitchman of any sort, and I am getting nothing for saying any of this, but they did just save my bacon!  I have had a very good experience with this product and service, and don’t mind saying so.

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