Check Your Backups

sync or swimThere you are, minding your own business, when your hard drive starts to make that suspicious grinding sound. Or you discover that your laptop is not where you left it. Or your web hosting provider suffers a catastrophic data loss.

No sweat, you say. I’m a ProfHacker reader, and so I’m all about the backups. (If you’re not yet all about the backups, you might take a moment to check out some of our posts on backing up your stuff, including Annual Reminders–Backup, Back Up Your Essential Files Using Dropbox, How to Back Up Your Cloud, Backing Up a Campus Email Account, A Few Ways to Back Up Your Website, and Backing Up Your Social Network, among others.)

Suffice it to say that this is not the moment at which you want to discover that your carefully laid backup plan isn’t working.

A while back, I wrote about the importance of backing up your WordPress blog, an issue I’d mostly been alerted to when our new co-author, Mark Sample, suffered a massive data loss thanks to a misplaced floor mat. (No, really.) So I wrote about the WP-DB-Backup plugin and felt all kinds of smug for having found a secure way to ensure that my hosted data would be safe, should something so untoward ever befall me.

Catastrophic data loss laughs at such smugness. Mark popped up in the first comment on that post letting me know that he’d been using WP-DB-Backup, but that the files that the plugin had been sending him were empty.

Fortunately, Mark was able to get his websites restored, but I’ve taken two points away from his horrifying tale:

1. Redundancy is key.

It’s vital that you back up your files twice—not just to two different locations, but in two different ways—just in case one of those systems fails. As I keep all my files synchronized via Dropbox, I’ve got one cloud-based backup available on their server (with versioning, in case I need to restore an older version of a file), but I also use Backblaze as a second automated off-site backup, and I use Carbon Copy Cloner to maintain one on-site bootable clone of my hard disk.

The belt-and-suspenders approach might seem a bit much, but if one ever fails, the other will become crucial. As Mark said in his comment, if it’s worth backing up, it’s worth backing up twice.

2. Check your backups.

Just as important, however, is making sure that the things you think are being backed up are actually being backed up. Once a month, as Mark recommends in his comment, you should go into those backup files and make sure they’re really there, that they’re really up to date, and that they’re really accessible. Test your cloned hard drive to make sure it’s really bootable, download a file from your remote backup system to make sure it’s readable, and generally make sure that you’re actually saving the information you think you’re saving.

The short version: a little paranoia now can save you tremendous amounts of trouble later. The moment when you’ve already lost data is not the moment you want to discover that your failsafes have failed as well.

Your turn: how are you ensuring that your data will be there when you need it? Let us know in the comments!

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user moominsean.]

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