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Data Backup ...

Posted: Fri, Jan 09 2009, 11:51 AM
by Jeepster
Please do yourself a favor and back up your computer data today ... and then, back it up on a regular schedule. Have you seen the look on the faces of those folks standing out in the road as their house burns to the ground with all their worldly possessions inside? Well, that's very similar to the look on the face of computer owners who don't back up their data in a timely manner. Not backing up your data is sort of like playing Russian roulette ... not very fun when the bullet comes up.

Yep, this week I'm the village idiot. Turned on the laptop Monday morning and was greeted with this: "NTLDR MISSING". After several hours on the internet and in the manual, I then spent an additional two hours with Dell ... half of it to get through to the correct tech person. Once I found the right person, she was very helpful with walking me through many of the troubleshooting steps I'd already tried, but finally she said those dreaded words: "The next step is to reformat your hard drive." She agreed to give me her direct phone number so I could call her back later after I'd pulled myself together and stop sobbing.

I then took the hard drive to a local computer shop and sat with the technician while he investigated whether the data could be easily salvaged ... bottom line was "no". So, faced with a four digit bill to send it to a data recovery company, I simply called myself a multitude of names and reformatted the drive. Yep, it really does destroy all that carefully collected information. Well, I've since built the computer back up to the level it was at when put to sleep on Sunday. But, I've also built a DVD with all of the latest drivers on it. Dell is great about making drivers available, but after 18 months the drivers on the delivery disk are outdated and sorting through the web site for the latest applicable drivers takes time. I've also downloaded the URL addresses for JAVA, Adobe Reader and others for quickly finding the correct download sites. Those steps, plus keeping all of the reinstall disks carefully stored in one place should make the rebuild process somewhat acceptable.

Not sure I'm ready for Norton Ghost or other disk imaging software, but will definitely take any advice on how to make backing up data files easier. In the past I've kept the data on two different computers, but not sure that's an acceptable method anymore ... it's not quick and easy to do, so it tends to be put off for too long. I have a 250 Gig WD passport that is used as a photo album ... pictures are easily backed up on several computers. Wonder if purchasing another one to dedicate to data backup would be an acceptable method. Jo Ann and I each have a desktop computer plus the shared laptop which sits in the kitchen to answer e-mails, read forum posts and solve arguments.

Any advice? Remember that I don't speak bits and bytes ... in fact I'm more like "Road kill on the information highway."

Cheers ... and may this never happen to you,

Re: Data Backup ...

Posted: Fri, Jan 09 2009, 12:41 PM
by Jeff
Oh Tom. NEVER reformat until you have tried everything. And I mean everything. I have twice saved data from drives that support or IT had declared unrecoverable.

Re: Data Backup ...

Posted: Fri, Jan 09 2009, 12:56 PM
by Jeepster
Jeff wrote:Oh Tom. NEVER reformat until you have tried everything. And I mean everything. I have twice saved data from drives that support or IT had declared unrecoverable.

I'll store that info (offer?) for the next time things go belly up.

I booted up my laptop with the reinstall disk, transferred into the DOS world and queried the C-drive directory ... nothing showed up ... nothing! Then I checked the recovery partition ... the directory structure was there without any data. What the tech guy did was install the laptop drive as a slave drive on his desktop and attack it that way. When he found the same absence of data, I decided to give up.

What can be done given the above situation?


Re: Data Backup ...

Posted: Fri, Jan 09 2009, 07:03 PM
by Mike
First, my sympathies.

I'm not an expert, but it sounds like what the tech guy did was a good start. He removed the drive from your computer and attached it directly to his, right? But that's not all I would have done.
I would have tried a linux boot disc too. Linux has some recovery tools built in that may have helped rebuild the first couple sectors on the disc (that's where the boot loader is and the error you got).

I think the files were still on your disc and still readable (you could have proved this by reading a few random sectors directly off the disc with the linux tools). The disc has a directory that tells Windows where all the parts of the files are and how to find them and order them. Probably one of the parts of that directory got messed up. Depending on which part gets messed up, Windows may not be able to find anything.

I've had the same problem and wound up using a third party program to rebuild the file directory on the hard disk. It recovered most, but not absolutely all my files. I feel pretty confident that would have worked on your disc too.

For next time:
I'd go to a different tech guy next time. He wasn't very techy. Reading the sectors directly should have been part of the diagnosis.

I'd also consider getting a new hard drive and trashing the one you re-formatted. They're not expensive and why take chances with the one you have?

Re: Data Backup ...

Posted: Fri, Jan 09 2009, 08:23 PM
by Jeff
There's 2 pieces of software I've turned to for saving bad hard drives.

First, there's SpinRite. It scans a disc sector by sector analyzing every last bit. It can recover corrupted data, recover bad sectors, mark the bad ones out of service, etc. It has brought many a drive back to life that people thought were dead, but just suffered some corruption of data.

Secondly, the best data recovery program I've used is Handy Recovery.

That sucker pulled every last data file off my dad's drive when the partition data itself was corrupted. It even could see the remnants of previous reformats and partitions.

A coworker of mine had his laptop go bad a few months ago. The IT dept. told him everything was lost. They replaced the drive. I told him to ask for the old one, since they were probably going to scrap it anyway. I took it home, and Handy Recovery pulled every last file off that disc. Saved all his work.

Re: Data Backup ...

Posted: Tue, Jan 20 2009, 09:21 PM
by Jeepster
Jeff wrote:Oh Tom. NEVER reformat until you have tried everything. And I mean everything. I have twice saved data from drives that support or IT had declared unrecoverable.


Okay, I understand your point. As a mechanical engineer, I'm constantly fixing mechanical things that others have discarded (yes, I am a certified dumpster diver.) So, I promise not to reformat until the computer folks have had their chance at it.

I've now mended my ways and will faithfully back up my data ... two desktops, one main laptop and one travel/data acquisition laptop. Do you mind critiquing my process for a hard drive failure?

1) Buy a new hard drive ... they are inexpensive relative to the time invested in building the computer back up.

2) Format and partition the new hard drive ...

3) Install the operating system ... all OS disks are stored in one place ... (XP & Vista)

4) Install the drivers ... all current drivers for each computer are stored on a CD and kept with the OS disks ... (Dell computers)

5) Install the anti-virus software and update it online ... again, the anti-virus software disk is stored with the OS disks ... (Trend Micro on three main computers & Norton on the travel computer)

6) Update the OS system online.

7) Install the backup files ... I've purchase a WD passport hard drive that is dedicated to backup files ... a second passport is used only for backing up photos.

What have I overlooked? What should I change?


Re: Data Backup ...

Posted: Wed, Jan 21 2009, 07:39 AM
by Babbman
if you are looking for a solution to saving your files before you end up in a situation like this, and we have ALL ended up here before), I have a couple.

1st, hard drives are CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP... $100 invested in another hard drive is nothing compared to the feeling of loosing something irreplaceable.

In business, I approach this a couple of ways.
1) I make a nightly backup of important files on to some medium... Tape, External Hard drives, etc... Right now, I have 2 1TB drives that hold backups made through Backup Exec. Each drive holds 1 week of backups. I always have the last 2 weeks available to me.
2) Offsite storage. If the building gets destroyed, my backups are probably gonna be useless. For this reason, I constantly rotate a media set out of the office and it's kept offsite.
3) Online Backups. There are several services out there that allow you to perform a backup that is sent out over the internet to a server farm somewhere. These services are not cheap for large amounts of data. My weekly backups are in the range of 800GB. But the thought of what it would cost to replace the data makes the costs of this insignificant.
4) NAS device. I have several NAS devices that are set up with RAID5 and my servers are all setup with RAID5. If a drive dies, I can stick a new drive in and it will rebuild. I have an additional NAS that is nothing but a backup that is updated on a weekly basis from my main NAS.

For the home user, there are a ton of options. All relatively cheap IMHO.

1) RAID. Almost all new computers have the ability to run RAID arrays. If you have the ability to do it, just do it. If a drive dies, it can be rebuilt and you lose nothing.
2) External Storage. External Hard drives are just cheap. There isn't any reason NOT to have an external drive who's only purpose in life is to hold backups of important information. There are also several external devices that will give you RAID capabilities.
3) Ghost. The home version of ghost is a good way to automatically schedule backups of entire hard drives or subsets of them. They can be scheduled to run when you aren't using the computer.
4) Offsite storage. Several companies offer either free or low cost offsite storage. The space isn't all that much, 1 or 2 GB, but most people don't have much more than that when it comes to important things like photos, etc.
5) Burn stuff to DVD's. We all have burners and if you don't, they are cheap and the media is cheap. Discipline yourself to make weekly backups on to DVD of your important data. Keep a copy somewhere outside the house.

I have thousands and thousands of photos, videos and other data I have no desire to lose. Over the last few years, I have invested in a bunch of external storage devices. I have about 10-12 TB of storage space and probably several thousand DVD backups that have been made over the years. Here's how I am doing things.

I keep all my important data in one place on my computer. I rarely ever use the default paths that my programs want to use to save things. Everything is either in a directory off the root or in My Documents or on an external device. This makes it easy to track, backup and move to another computer if necessary. I rebuild my systems about every 6 months and this makes it easy to move things. I am a computer geek and always have the latest of everything. I also install lots of software and because of this and Microsofts ridiculous way of dealing with common files, I break my systems regularly. I enjoy reformatting and reinstalling the OS. I don't know why, but I like fresh installs. I also run lots of beta software. When I reinstall the OS, I always use a new drive to install it on and move the old drive to a secondary SATA port so I don't loose anything I may have forgotten to move off the original drive. After a year or so, I format that drive and have a new one to play with.

I load up my computer with as many hard drives as it can hold internally. I currently have 1 drive that boots Vista, One that boots MacOS 10.5.5, One that is just video data and another that is a MacOS Time Machine Backup.

I have USB Drives that auto boot into XP, Linux, MacOS, MS PE and BartPE along with one that just holds diagnostic and fixit programs for recovering drives. I still have floppies that will boot me to DOS for things like Bios Uogrades, etc.

NAS - I have a Dlink DNS-323 that hangs off my network. It is setup to do RAID1 (mirroring). This is where I keep my most important stuff and I move data to this device that I don't regularly use but need to keep. This is all also copied to DVD's and moved offsite.

External Drives - I keep lots of stuff here.

Offsite - I have too much for free services. I burn DVD's and take them to work every few weeks.

Software - I don't use backup software at home. Instead, I use Microsofts Synctoy (free) and set it up to automatically synchronize Drives and folders to my external devices. I can schedule it to run at night and I have lots of options of how to sync my data. You can use Ghost or Memeo or any other backup software that you are comfortable with.

The real key here is to always have a backup so that you do not have to pay $1700 for a drive recovery in a clean room. I went through this before and really, it sucks cause these jokers can't do much better than you can by freezing your drive or opening it up inside of your own 'clean room' plastic

The best use for these services is when your company is going to cover the cost.

There are a ton of ways to do this and finding the easiest and most comfortable way for you is the key.

Re: Data Backup ...

Posted: Wed, Jan 21 2009, 10:37 AM
by Jeff
I have a similar plan to Chris, although not as much equipment.

First, my primary computer has 2 drives. One is for the OS (I only run one) and application files, and the other is for data. Pictures, music, documents, whatever. I don't use the default storage paths for anything either.

I have a NAS that I built from old computer parts and the open source software, FreeNAS. It sits in my basement, and is a network storage space for either of my 2 computers. I have software that makes daily backups from my main computer of my personal data for anything that changes. So that puts it in 2 places. The NAS has the ability to do RAID mirroring, which I am planning on setting up, just haven't done it yet.

Offsite storage is important because you can always lose data to a disaster like a fire or something even if it's on multiple drives but in the same place. I've only experimented a little with that. I use a service from Amazon called S3 to securely backup some files offsite automatically. It is dirt cheap, but it takes a long time to transfer a lot of data, so I only keep documents there, not media files.

There is a really cool product that someone told me about, but I haven't used, called Crashplan. It enables you to do offsite storage in a unique way. There is a one time fee associated with the purchase of the Crashplan software. But after that, there is no recurring cost outside of what hardware you choose to use. The way it works is that you get an external hard drive. You put it on a computer with an internet connection that is offsite to you...a friend, a family member, wherever you can. You install Crashplan on your machine, and tell it what to back up, and you put the drive on this other machine somewhere else, and install a small free software driver/application on that end. It automatically backs up your data to the remote hard drive. It does so securely. Everything is encrypted, and the person at the other end can never see your data.

Here is one of the neat things about Crashplan. Transferring a lot of data over the internet takes a loooong time. With Crashplan, you can take the backup drive, and connect it locally for backup and restore. That is, you can attach it right to your computer to do the initial backup, then take it to the other location where it will continue to back up as things change. If you need to restore all your data, while you can do that over the internet, you can also go get the drive, connect it to your machine, and restore locally much more quickly.

Re: Data Backup ... SyncToy Is A Great Program

Posted: Thu, Jun 04 2009, 07:16 PM
by RevJB
Thanks to Chris (Babbman) for the info on SyncToy. I was using a shareware version that wasn't near as good. I now have all important data in subfolders called "All Data - PC name" on each PC and use Synctoy to automatically keep a backup version on another PC.

It doesn't get backups out of the house, but will prevent the random hard drive crash from causing havoc.

:thanks: Babbman


Re: Data Backup ...

Posted: Wed, Jun 23 2010, 09:13 PM
by Jeepster
Here we are a year later and guess what happens ... yep, the dreaded "NTLDR MISSING" sign came up again. And yes, I became distracted and didn't replace the hard drive when the failure occurred last year. Was going to do it later, but never got around to it ... dumb! However, I had been backing up the data on a regular basis, so only lost about 30 minutes of work. All-in-all this failure was not as traumatic as last year's.

After a discussion with Dell last week, they volunteered to replace the hard drive. Love the image software that was on the replacement hard drive. Plugged it into the laptop and it told me to go away and leave it alone. The computer ground away for about an hour and ended up with an almost correctly configured hard drive. Had to update Vista and then add my software is all. Still the Vista update and software installations took much longer than I would have liked. After updating Vista and installing the software, I plugged in my WD Passport hard drive and told it to recover the saved data onto the new hard drive. The recovery software said the computer was new ... so, the reinstall wasn't as smooth as it could have been, but still doable by a village idiot.

I've purchased a new, larger hard drive that will be ghosted from the Dell drive and then used in the laptop. The Dell drive will go in storage as a primary backup for the OS and added software. The Passport will continue to be used for data backup. Or, is that a foolish approach. Would it be better to use the Dell drive as a single backup for OS, software and data?

Since the rebuilding of a hard drive doesn't excite me that much, I'd like to have ghost images of the desktop computers to speed up their reconstruction in case of a crash. Can a single hard drive be partitioned such that two different ghost images can be built/stored on that drive? Or is that foolish economy?