Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Do I need to back up my backups?

The death of my system hard drive last year, a recent power supply failure on my wife's desktop, and the fact that it is no longer feasible to back up my image files to DVDs (the raw NEF files from my Nikon D7000 are typically 18-22 MB) all got me to re-thinking my backup strategy.

Regular backups
I run weekly full backups and nightly differentials of selected data sets from both desktops to a network-attached 2-TB Western Digital (WD) My Book Live. My photos reside on a separate internal drive which is also backed up weekly and nightly to the network drive. So in terms of data file recovery, I think I’m in pretty good shape.

Two big problems remained
• Information Security —  Whenever I need to take a computer in for repair, there is the potential that techies at my local computer shop may be tempted to peek at confidential files. (They seem to know how to get around password-protected accounts.)
• System Rebuilds —  The next time a system drive dies (which I am resigned to accept will inevitably happen again) the operating system, applications, drivers, etc. will have to be re-installed manually – a chore I never want to have to experience again. The last time I had to do this cost me spent several days of dedicated effort and a few years off my life.

To address the first problem, I purchased two WD My Passport USB drives and connected one to each of our two desktops. I moved the most confidential files from the desktops to the USB drives and scheduled jobs to back them up as usual to the network drive. In the event of another hardware failure, I can disconnect the USB drive before taking the desktop to the shop.

A solution to the second problem has eluded me for years. I have tried trial versions of various imaging products, including Norton Ghost and Acronis True Image, but never found one that worked for me.

When my hard disk crashed last year I purchased a new license for NovaBACKUP® Professional. I also bought the “Premium NovaCare” option which included free upgrades for a year. Then last fall I discovered that the newest version of NovaBACKUP® Professional includes image backup functionality. So I downloaded version 15 and found that the interface was very straight forward and I was easily able to create a full image of my system disk and save it on the attached USB drive.

I was so pleased that, for a whopping $29.95, I splurged on a second copy for our other desktop just to be able to create image backups of that machine. The FAQ states that images can even be restored on computers with dissimilar hardware and operating systems.

I admit that I have never tested the image restore, although I came very close last December. Both our desktops started “blue screening” randomly one day. I ran BitDefender scans, uninstalled Windows updates and called a friend who knows way more about this stuff than I do. Finally, in desperation I powered down the router as the first step in shutting everything off and booting each device one at a time. Sure enough, that solved the problem! Who knew?

One of these days I’ll buy a barebones PC and try restoring an image.

Happy backups!


  1. Hi Peter, have you ever considered using a cloud service like Dropbox? I use it to backup my work projects and it has never let me down.

  2. Hi Nancy, I have considered cloud-based backup solutions, but not Dropbox. However, like many I am a bit wary of leaving confidential data on someone else's server. I'll check out Dropbox and glad it works for you.Thanks