The Personal Disquiet of

Mark Boulton

Slugging it out with backup solutions

– July 20th, 2006 –

A small purple slugLast May, I became paranoid about backing data up and opted into a buying a Linksys NSLU2 with which I could stick a hard drive in the back and all my worries would be sorted. Right? Well, not quite.

A couple of nights ago I had a gut-wrenching moment when I thought I’d lost all my digital photos and music. Panic turned to grit determination to sort this problem out. I’ve had too much experience of losing important data to let this slip again.

A sick Slug

Let me backtrack a little. The problem originally arose the other night when I couldn’t connect to the Slug (as the NSLU2 is affectionally known in the Linux community). Hmmm, not a problem, sometimes it happens and it’s normally sorted with a quick restart. Not on this occasion. I tried and tried but it turned out there seemed to be a problem with the Slug’s firmware. It needed to be upgraded. This is when things went from bad to worse.

The Slug, being Linux and all, formats it’s attached drives in the ext3 format, which can’t be read by a Mac. I needed to get the data off the old hard drive in order to back it up first. I did finally manage to connect to it, but copying turned out to be a complete nightmare - it took over two days to copy 50Gb of data. Two days! Even then it didn’t work correctly. I had to rethink my strategy.

Thank the Lord for Bootcamp

I opted for buying another drive with a quick visit to PC World which I then plugged that directly into the Mac. Oh, did I mention I now own an Intel 20” iMac? Because if I didn’t, or didn’t own a Windows machine, I’d be up shit creek right about now. So, I decided I needed to install in the new firmware in the Slug, but I could only do this with a special utility and on a PC. No worries, as I’m running Bootcamp with XP and that all worked fine amazingly. New firmware installed and a happy Slug again. Copying across to the new USB drive in Windows, from the old drive attached to the Slug proved to be much quicker than OS X. So, over went all the data and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Now it was time to think about how I’m going to be backing up all this data. I needed a good synchronisation solution, rather than an archiving system so after a couple of recommendations I opted for Chronosync.

I’ve set up shares on both drives:

On the new drive:

  1. Media
  2. Mark
  3. Emma

On the backup drive:

  1. Media_backup
  2. Mark_backup
  3. Emma_backup

Then, it’s simply a case of syncing the two which run on a nightly schedule. The beauty of syncing the data is it will only copy over what has been changed (new, edited or deleted). I’m just copying over the backed up files now to the new Media share ready to set up the first sync to run throughout the course of the day.

Lessons learnt

There’s a few things I’ve learnt over the past couple of days:

  1. Hardware is cheap. A 320Gb Toshiba drive from PC World was under a ?100.
  2. Backing up is really important. The thought of losing all my holiday photos from Australia nearly made me spew.
  3. Hard drive problems and resulting stress leads to insomnia. I’ve been up doing this since 5am this morning. Either that or it’s the medication I’m on.

So, please, learn from my pain and tiredness over the past few days. Sort your backup proceedures out. Yes, it’s boring, tiring an tedious and can be expensive, but it really will pay off.

Filed in: personal.

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