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Saturday, October 04, 2003

and here's the second:

“Backup, Backup, Backup…”

...once defined to me by a wise guru as the 3 most important words in computing.

Why is “Backup, Backup, Backup” such sage advice?

Because computers are unreliable, you can’t afford to or don’t want to redo work or lose “mission critical” data and because even backups are unreliable.

To understand backups you have to think of your computer as containing 2 kinds of information:

#1: “Programs”: applications that allow you to do stuff with your computer.

There are zillions of programs available for modern computers, such as the word processor that I’m writing this article with or the game I was playing earlier or even everybody’s favourite operating system: Windows. Programs normally come with CDs or Disks that can be used for reinstallation in case of catastrophe.

#2: “Data”: files which are wholly original to the user/PC that created them. This includes pictures, email message, bookkeeping data and much more. There are as many kinds of data as there are people and programs to create data.

Meaning that if something unexpected happens to that computer, the Data can be lost forever.
There are literally dozens of things that can go wrong with the average PC that can irrevocably destroy Data. With unexpected hard drive failures being the most common and most devastating.

So, what is a “backup”, and how do you create one?

Technically, a “backup” is simply an exact duplicate of a data file. Creating a backup can be as simple as saving a second copy of a file to your hard drive, which is of little use if your hard drive fails. However, saving the same file to floppy disk actually makes for a very effective backup for data files up to 1.38 megabytes in size.

There are many considerations for larger files, ranging from “ZIP Disks” to CD-Writers to Tape Backups, which can hold enough data to back up entire hard drives. Today’s most extravagant backup systems use multiple hard drives in “RAID configurations”, creating perfect, real-time backups with no interaction required.

Zip Disks and CDRs (Recordable CDs) are both convenient when used like giant floppy disks. Recently, however, CDRs have also been gaining notoriety of late as being less than a long-term solution for data backup, with some remaining stable for only 18 months after creation. Not that Zip Disks and all similar solutions aren’t fragile in their own way.

How often should you backup? As often as possible! Preferably in more than one format, once data is lost, it’s gone forever!

Do you really want to lose the only copy of the next great Canadian novel you’ve been writing in your spare time?

posted by Kusari 9:28 PM

As part of my recent efforts to drum up new business I started writing a bi-weekly column for my local newspaper: "The Recorder".

Here's the first article they published:

"The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia(n Bay)"

One of the biggest dangers to computers on Manitoulin is our constantly fluctuating electrical voltage, with extreme risk being presented by black/brown outs, such as the one we experienced on the 14th.

There are several precautions which you can take to protect your valuable computer investment, the most effective, and therefore expensive, is to invest in an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). No relation to the men in brown, a UPS is basically a battery backup for your PC. When the electrical voltage drops below a certain predetermined level, the battery kicks in, supplying the system with enough juice to keep running for anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes. More than enough time to save your work and shut down properly in the event of a full-scale power outage.

The most important benefit comes in the event of brown outs, where voltages drop, spike and surge wildly, the UPS becomes a vital barrier which can prevent damage to sensitive electronic components.

I personally recommend a UPS of at least 1000 watts to all my clients, which generally presents an investment of two to three hundred dollars. While costly, it is definitely cheaper than replacing damaged electronics or dealing with the risk of losing important computer data.

It is important to remember to always fully shut off and unplug computers during power outages and thunderstorms. Modern computers based on ATX power supplies often draw a small amount of current, even when powered down and it’s possible to mistake many “power saving” modes for being truly off. These “false off” positions present a potentially deadly risk during voltage fluctuations.

Don’t forget to unplug your modem during thunderstorms as well! This includes computers that implement Dial-up, DSL, Cable and other kinds of Internet connections. Modem lines offer the most direct and unprotected route for lightning to follow to delicate internal computer components.

At the very least, it is worth considering a good power bar with surge protector for those times when you may not be present to unplug your PC. I usually recommend a model that has built-in phone line protection, while not foolproof, some modicum of protection is always better than no protection at all. Better power bars and surge protectors will also include protection for coax cables, which provide important protection for sensitive satellite and TV equipment.

posted by Kusari 9:27 PM

Just wanted to take a moment to thank the Sudbury chapter of the Ontario SPCA for the latest additions to my family:

Pi and Jellyfish

posted by Kusari 9:22 PM

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