Have a Plan for Backups

I recently ran into serious issues when I upgraded my computer from Kubuntu 8.10 to 9.04. (This seems to be a running theme. I’ve had issues with 9.04 before, as have other people.) My OS was sufficiently hosed that I decided to reinstall. After a few failed attempts, it became clear that I was going to be forced to format my hard drive. I had backups for some of my important data, but they were old. Luckily, I was able to back up data from my primary hard drive to my second one. I copied the vast majority of the critical data, but I missed my private key. (On that note, I’ll be updating my public key in the near future.) Now that I have things mostly working again and the smoke has cleared, I decided to take a look at what went wrong. (Not the upgrade process, although something clearly did go wrong there, too.)

Everyone knows backups are good. (Right?) Back up your data regularly and you limit the damage when disaster strikes. Making backups is not quite enough, though. How do you know you’re backing up everything important? If you have limited time or space, how do you know what’s the most important to back up in an emergency? What you need is a plan.

A backup plan should consist of:

  • what needs to be backed up
  • how often backups should be made
  • how to perform the backups (in cases where it’s not as simple as copying a file, such as exporting databases)
  • how important the data is (if you have several things to back up)

For a novice user, the plan could be as simple as burning your documents folder to a CD once a month. For an advanced user, the plan would likely consist of a list of folders to back up, export scripts to run, files to exclude, and priorities for everything. This is what I needed and what I was missing.When making a plan, there are probably three major scenarios to consider:

  • Regular backups – You need to have recent backups of everthing in case your hard drive fails, your house burns down, etc.
  • Risky operations – You’re upgrading your database software, and you want to back up your database first in case something goes wrong
  • Computer on fire – Something went seriously wrong, but you have a chance to save your data

Of course, the best plan involves running a few simple scripts to avoid human error.

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