Web Informant #93, 21 November 1997
More on backup over the Internet


Since I last wrote about using the Internet for my backups, (see WI#83) I have been experimenting with various combinations of technologies. But before I tell you what I am now using to protect my own data, I first want to describe the process by which I figured this all out.

In the good ole days of LAN and server-based backups, we didn't need no stinkin' process to do backups. We slapped a tape drive on the server, installed some software, and we forgot about it. This software didn't always work, and wouldn't handle the times when users would call in distress to try to restore something that they deleted from their own hard disks. For the most part, backup life was simple.

Then came bigger hard disks and the Internet, and life now has lots of choices.

In order for me to develop the right backup plan, I had to first know what I wanted to protect. I spend lots of time on email: did I really want to keep a separate copy of all my email archives? (Not really, although maybe you might.) What about my corporate financial accounts, my rolodex, and the articles that I write for various magazines? (Yes.) What about the stuff on my web site? (Yes.)

I came up with the following requirements:

First off, I want to be able to survive any potential disaster taking out my entire physical office. That fire downstairs last summer is still in my mind. This means a duplicate hot site someplace else that can be up and running with minimal effort. But I didn't want to pay a small fortune to set up something that I hoped I never would use.

My solution? My bank's safe deposit box. I formatted an external SCSI drive and copied all my applications to it, along with a working copy of Windows 95. The drive, along with a network adapter and SCSI adapter, are now at my bank. I don't need a complete computer. One little secret about Win95 is that you can boot just about any disk like this from a wide variety of machines. This means that I can take these parts anywhere and I'll be up and running with my new office intact. The total cost was the parts and the few hours to get this all set up and tested out.

Second, I want an easily transportable archive of my data. About 300 megabytes of stuff is what I've got right now, and most of it never changes from day to day. It didn't make sense to send and store this over the net: it would take too long to send, even at ISDN speeds. Plus, many of the net backup sites charge by the megabyte, making it costly to keep around.

What I really needed was a good archiving technology, something so brain-dead that I'd actually use it. My box full of DAT tapes and unplugged DAT drives is a reminder of a technology that wasn't.

That brought me to CD recording. I found out that there are three principle types of data CDs: first are the CD ROMs that we've used for years. They come pre-recorded but can be played in just about any drive now. Second is CD-R, which costs less than $5 each and can be recorded in special drives and played back in CD ROM drives. Finally is CD-RW, which costs about $25 each and can't be played in the vast majority of CD ROM drives. CD-R sounded like the best solution for my archiving needs.

I came across the HP SureStore CD-Writer Plus 7110 drive and found that it worked reasonably well. I created a bunch of CD-Rs that contained my archives, and kept one at home and one at my bank. The HP comes with all the software you'll need to create data (and music too) CD-Rs and CD-RWs. It attaches to your PC via the parallel port, and runs some software from Adaptec that makes it easy to create your recordable CDs: you merely drag and drop files from Windows Explorer. Earlier CD-R technology was a bear to operate, this passes the brain-dead test for sure.

But the archive isn't the only thing I need. My third and final requirement was to keep a backup of current information. Again, I wanted something easy to use. When I first set up my tape rotations and software, I was dealing with multiple platforms and protocols. Now I run my office from a single machine and everything talks IP. Here is where the net-based backups come in handy. The information isn't so huge that I can transmit it over the net on a daily basis. And after looking at Atrieva and Connected products, I chose Connected's Backup: it is the easier of the two and takes no trouble to do its job. It isn't perfect: the software comes in different versions (one is only good for a single machine, while another can make backups from several machines on the same LAN to a single archive across the Internet). But on the whole it works.

So that is my backup saga. It isn't very elegant, but it is dirt simple to use on a daily basis. And I can rest easier knowing that I am protected.

David Strom
+1 (516) 944-3407
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