Don’t Trust Your Backups


I haven't told you about the little disaster that happened to me three weeks ago. Maybe it's because I needed some time for my emotional recovery. Maybe it's because I was simply too embarassed to talk about it. But no matter, let's get it over with…

I lost about 100 GB of data.

There you go. I'm coming out. There's no shame in being a little stupid every now and then. It happened when I was reinstalling Windows on my PC. I had spent about two hours making sure that all data on the C: drive was backed up to the D: drive, and vice versa. So, it did not matter which of the two (identical) drives I partitioned and formatted. Whether it was the right one or the wrong one, I would always be sure that I still had all my data on the other.

The reinstallation of Windows went rather well. And I was happy to see that I had turned my fat and slow pig of a workstation into a slim and fast one. Well, it soon turned out that it was a little too slim.

I had accidentally wiped out both disks.

Please don't laugh. I didn't laugh either. In fact, when I looked at the blank D: drive in my crisp and fresh instance of Windows Explorer it was as if the floor beneath my chair was giving away. I really don't feel like explaining how I was able to perform this most amazing vanishing trick. (@David Copperfield: don't bother emailing me.) But if any person among my readers happens to have taken part in designing the partitioning and formatting features of the Windows Setup process, read this: I will kill you!

Fortunately, I am a rather mistrusting guy when it comes to computers and software. Nothing ever works the way I want, and I am usually right when I predict that systems will fail in the most miserable way. And it turned out that my pessimism had saved me.

I remembered I had another backup.

A couple of months earlier I had set up an account at mozy.com, an on-line backup service. My thoughts at the time were that my computer (and my backups) could be stolen, lost in a fire, or trampled by a stampede of buffalos because of climate changes. So I wanted a backup of all my essential stuff somewhere at the other side of the planet, safe from thieves, fire and buffalos. I had configured the Mozy service to run once every day, and then I had completely forgotten about it.

My life and career were saved.

All my articles, blog writings, financials, letters and other vital documents were still there, in a Mozy backup file that I was able to restore easily. Furthermore, I realized that my email was still in Gmail, that most of my photos were still at Flickr.com, and all my music was still on a mountain of CD's spread all over my car. What I really lost was a lot of old junk data from the last ten years that I just kept around for old times' sake.

It's simply as if I had cleaned up my dusty old attic by setting fire to it.

I also lost my entire collection of downloaded movies of ehm… human nature. But I don't care, as I'm already looking forward to new downloads. And then there were a number of compromising pictures of me wearing nothing but sneakers and a big smile. They are gone as well. I obviously had decided not to upload those to my public Flickr account. But as I said before, I don't rely on systems to work as expected. So I'm positive that those pictures still managed to escape from my computer, and are now stored somewhere on the other side of the planet, biding their time to turn up at the worst possible moment.

The moral of this story?

Don't trust your backups!

Don't trust your systems, and don't trust yourself. And most important of all: don't trust the Windows Setup process.

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  • http://www.kerseyscott.com Scott Kersey

    This reminds me of my early days in software consulting. Our development director, also from the Netherlands, used to say to (almost all) clients “You may have backup, but do you have restore?”

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