An American Editor

May 7, 2014

The Business of Editing: Backing Up Is Easy to Do

The title of this article put me in mind of a Neil Sedaka concert I attended more than 50 years ago. So before getting into backups, I thought we would take a trip down my memory lane. The two videos are of the same song, but performed at different tempos. The song was a big hit in both tempos, but 50 years ago, it was the faster version that made number 1 on the charts. Here is Neil Sedaka and his song, “Breaking Up is Hard to Do”:

The faster, peppier version

The slower, more “soulful” version

Now onward…

My computers are my livelihood. But as we know, computers go bad, they get stolen, viruses infect them — in other words, disaster preparedness needs to be in my vocabulary.

In prior articles (see, e.g., Business of Editing: Preparing for Disaster), I talked about how I have gone from fixed internal hard drives to removable internal hard drives as one method of protecting myself. And removable hard drives are really a boon. If you recall, I also wrote about twice getting hit with a ransomware virus that stopped me cold until it was removed at some expense (see Business of Editing: URLs, Authors, & Viruses).

Even then, my data was well protected, but I wasn’t able to return to work within seconds, which is my goal. I had to wait until the ransomware was removed because the ransomware didn’t let me access my computer so that I could access backups.

Last week I took the next step in my quest for protection. I upgraded my computer. My computer has been so stress-free and satisfactory, that the last major overhaul was about 5 years ago. Previously, I replaced my computers every 18 to 24 months.

This overhaul was essentially building a new computer. I replaced the RAM (and doubled it to 16 GB), the motherboard, the processor (went from a dual core to a quad core), a couple of hard drives (replaced older drives with two 2 TB hard drives and added a third solid state drive [SSD]), and the video card. Basically, I kept the case (I’ll never give up my Antec case), my three monitors, and my two SSDs.

In terms of performance, the new computer is like lightning compared to the previous version. My Journals macro currently has a dataset of more than 27,500 entries (and is constantly growing); it is my benchmark for speed. On the prior system took approximately 20 to 25 minutes to run through 800+ references; on the new system, it took 10 minutes to run through 883.

I’m drifting; back to backups.

One of the reasons for the upgrade was that I wanted to modify how I was doing backups. Previously, I relied largely on Carbonite for offsite backup and Backup4All for onsite. This worked well when combined with the removable drives — until the ransomware struck. That demonstrated to me a weak link in my system.

With the upgrade, I have added a 2-TB drive just for imaging backups, a second 2-TB drive for the Backup4All backups, and a third SSD that is a clone boot drive.

For the imaging, I purchased Acronis 2014 software (3-license version). I have set it to do a full image of my boot and data drives every 3 days; between those times it is set to do incremental backups. The Backup4All does daily backups of my full data drives and of select files on the boot drive. Carbonite backs up files that change from both the boot and data drives.

But the key to my new procedure is the third SSD drive. That drive, like all of the other drives, is removable and “hot swappable.” More importantly, that drive is a clone of my boot drive.

When malware strikes, it generally seeks to infect the boot drive. After all, if it only infects a data file, the cure is easy and the malware is just an annoyance, not a major problem. But if it infects the boot drive, it becomes a major problem and headache. The ransomware is such a problem because it prevents you from accessing your boot drive to get at it.

With my clone boot drive, should I be infected, I simply pop out the infected boot drive and insert the clone boot drive. I now have a running computer as if never struck by the malware. Granted, I will need to do some updating of a few of the files on the boot and data drives, but that takes a few minutes and is easy to do from Carbonite, Backup4All, or the Acronis image. I can then put the infected drive in another slot and reformat it. Once the drive is reformatted, I can use the Acronis software to clone the boot drive to the reformatted drive and I’m set should malware strike again (or even the boot drive fail).

Of course, I want the clone drive to be as current as possible, so I use Acronis to update the clone drive daily. I usually do it first thing in the morning after bootup, when I am confident that I do not have an infection on my system.

Each of the programs I use for backing up include a scheduler. When first installed, it took a few minutes to set the scheduler for each program, but once that was done, the backups take place when scheduled and in the background. How much easier can it be?

The keys to successful backups are (1) establishing a backup schedule and adhering to it, (2) using established software that is popular and well supported (and something more than barebones like what comes with Windows), and (3) using removable drives.

The removable drives are important because I can physically separate the drives from the computer. Thus, if someone steals my computer, all they are getting is the shell: The important material, the data, is elsewhere.

The removable drives are also important for malware protection, because they let you have a clone boot drive. Even if I cannot or do not want to deal with an infected drive myself, having the removable drives lets me remove the infected drive, replace it with a clone so I can go back to work, and give the infected drive to my computer tech for him to deal with. My downtime is the time it takes to swap the drives and update the few files that need updating, 30 minutes at most.

In talking with colleagues, I find that few are prepared for disaster. Perhaps now is the time to rethink our disaster preparedness and figure out what we can do should disaster strike.

Richard Adin, An American Editor


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