Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Recently a friend mentioned to me a UNIX workstation at his work could not start the GUI or xwindows. The OS could start but since the desktop was limited to a command line, there was a bit of problem getting back to the applications on the desktop since the windows could not be started. Unfortuntaley my friend did not have any backup of the systems and the application looks like it was having problems so it could be more than a simple copy of a few files.

Thinking about backups, they are usually considered something nice but not always kept at a high priority. Often when a new system is purchased, the last item, if even remembered is the backup license or software. Not to mentioned how many stand alone systems are purchased with out a valid backup solution, or how many are in production with out testing the restore procedures.

From my experience at home and in the enterprise data center, a backup is a make or break point for the system. If you have a backup, even a old backup from a few months ago, it's far better than starting over from a base OS. In once case at my previous job, a key system in a multi-tier application crashed from a hardware issue. Basically the system ran a SQL server that was a key component for updating workers in the distribution centers. With this one server down, the entire work force of workers would have to be let go and this would impact the company with a lost of several thousand dollars of work and merchandise not shipped to the stores.

After I found the server lost a drive and was not mirrored (old HP ProLiant DL310) I installed a new drive and OS, but the problem was installing the applications and data. We had a process for emergency bare metal restores but it was never 100% successful, often requiring some fine tuning and slight fixes. We were lucky and the server came up with some tweaking from our SQL DBA but it was down to the wire. To say we were on edge is to say the least, I was there till 4AM on Sunday waiting for the ok from the application team.

Thinking back to how important backups are, I have been not taking regular backups of my personal computers. Mostly I think my reason why I skip out is I usually keep my files across multiple computers and take a backup about twice a year. It's lazy and after thinking if I lost everything, how much would I really loose?

I actually almost found this recently.

On my main workstation, I usually run Vista Ultimate on the workstation but it's been running slower and slower over the years. Thinking I'm going to upgrade when I have time, I backed up my files over the past few months. The past month I wanted to install a Linux workstation instead of working from a virtual desktop. Installing on a physical box involves some extra challenges such as locating the correct drivers.

After installing the Linux on my workstation, by changing the boot drive from C:\ to my D:\ drive, I found that some how my master boot record was changed. Tried some recommended steps, the reinstalled Vista, thinking I could reinstall to a junk directory but still copy off my data. To my surprise, I checked and all of my data was gone!

Actually, the Vista installer copied all of my data to a new folder Windows.old, I used a USB to SATA device and I was able to copy my data. I was extremely lucky, I had my resumes and other data that I could have lost and did not have a recent backup.

Like the issue at the old job, the lost of data or non tested restores can be the success or failure of any data restore. If I lost my resumes, that would be about a few days of work, not to mention that I would be behind on my job search.

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