Web Informant #83, 11 September 1997 (The Hunt for the Better Backup)


Quote of the day:
"In the old days, it was important to spear an antelope. Today, all that matters is if you can install your own Ethernet card without having to call tech support."
-- Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert

Lately, I am beginning to feel like some of those hunter-gatherers that Adams speaks about, and from conversations I've had with many of you, I know I am not alone. The term refers to primitive cultures that spend a great deal of their time collecting food to eat, versus our modern society where we can just pick up the phone and order a pizza.

This is how it starts: you come to your office ready to do some productive work: type a document, work on your email, whatever. Then, some small technical glitch stops you dead: a bad Ethernet card, a cranky modem, or a missing DLL. In the process of trying to fix this glitch you end up wasting several hours tracking something else down.

It happened to me just this week. I have been feeling somewhat guilty about not doing my best backups lately. Ever since my office building had a pretty bad fire (luckily nothing of mine was damaged, other than my office door), I know first-hand what disaster recovery could mean.

I started down the backup trail using Dantz' Retrospect. The product made sense when I was regularly using my Mac and needed a solid network backup strategy. But over time I have gotten less and less dedicated. And indeed, I now do very little in the way of backups. This had to change!

So, I came into the office with An Idea. I would forsake the notion of a network backup and just run tapes off the machine that I now use the most, a Dell Windows 95. With the assortment of backup software, SCSI adapters and DAT drives, surely I could get a backup solution together and clear my conscience. I was ready to spear that antelope!

Nope: I spent the better part of a day fooling with adding and subtracting the adapters, freeing up an IRQ slot here, changing a jumper there. I tracked down the latest drivers on various web sites and unearthed from my vast pile of manuals copies of tape drive and adapter card jumper settings. And when all else fails, there is always the frequent rebooting in the hopes that whatever I did would finally take hold. In general, I was feeling like I'd been out all day wandering the forest in search of some elusive deer, only to return back to the cave empty-handed.

I learned all sorts of stuff: for example, SCSI tape drives are not supported by the built-in Windows BACKUP software. It looks for tape drives that act like floppies or that are attached to a parallel port. Sony's tech support was excellent - inside of three phone calls I was speaking (without being on hold!) to someone that told me I needed to ensure that termination power had to be enabled for Windows to recognize his tape drive.

Then I found a PC Magazine review of Internet-based backups and I realized that I was hunting the wrong animal. Why should I mess with all this tape-based crap when I could just as easily do my backups over the net? This was the right answer -- I could have a solid disaster recovery plan, and not have to worry about changing tapes on the right days.

But now I have another series of problems: how to properly evaluate these products. Can I trust my data to live on some vendor's site? Will I really be diligent to do these backups, given my rather slovenly history with running the tape software? Stay tuned. In the meantime, I think tonight I'll order Chinese.

Self-promotions dep't

My fall speaking schedule is almost set: I will be on the Interop world tour, speaking at shows in Atlanta, London, and Sydney. During Atlanta, Marshall Rose and I will be doing a two-day intensive tutorial on how to evaluate various Internet-based payment options, evaluating various eCommerce server software and creating your own web storefront. Marshall has been around the Internet a long time and with First Virtual Holdings, the folks that have one of the better payment schemes. If you live in Australia, we will be doing the same tutorial at the Sydney show. Also in Atlanta I'll be speaking at two other sessions: one on comparing Active Server Pages with CGI, and another on My First Web StoreFront.

My London gig will be an all-day workshop on implementing a successful web site: Ed Tittel and I first developed this course over a year ago, and I'll be doing this course solo.

If you want to get together in one of these various cities, let me know as soon as you can. Here are copies of my slides for these and other speeches.

David Strom
+1 (516) 944-3407
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entire contents copyright 1997 by David Strom, Inc.