I recently visited a friend of mine that lives in Raleigh. He is not a computer savvy person but did recognize that his computer was getting old and “starting to sound a little funny”. As parents of two children, he and his wife have hundreds of pictures of their kids that they have saved to the C:\ drive of their home PC. They use their PC to surf the web a little, “do e-mail”, and may occasionally need Word or Excel for something, but the pictures of their children are the primary reason that this PC exists. So they asked me if I could help them back up the data…
As an IT professional, I create and manage backup strategies, disaster recovery plans, and business continuity processes for medium to large sized companies. I occasionally back up my own important data at home only because I lose my main hard drive at least once a year. So I found it to be an interesting project to dive into while I was up in Raleigh on vacation. This is what we came up with:
The home PC in question had a 70gb hard disk drive (HDD) but only 30gb of it was in use. This PC is about 5 years old, so data growth isn’t a driving factor aside from the addition of new pictures. This led me to decide that a small USB drive would do the trick. We headed out to the store to see what we could find. Price wasn’t really a factor, but for what we were looking for I didn’t feel it necessary to get them the latest 1TB USB drive for $500. They only needed a 70GB drive to backup their entire PC if they ever even fill it up, much less just backing up just the pictures they wanted backed up.
The store we went to didn’t have a huge selection, but we got extremely lucky. We found a Seagate FreeAgent 320gb USB drive for $89. That was the obvious winner. Understand that speed, having the latest technology, and having the most available capacity were not drivers in the purchase. My friend simply wanted a place to backup his kids pictures to in case his PC ever crashed. Period. A DVD drive would have done the trick for the short term, but a drive and a spindle of blank disks would have been close to what we paid for the drive. (I actually bought the same drive for my own home system backup because the price was right.)
So we got home, unboxed the new drive, plugged it in, and waited about 10 seconds for Windows XP to finish installing it. After educating my friend on how to use the USB drive the same way he uses his local disk to store data, we copied over his pictures folder to get the initial backup handled. The original problem has now been solved.
My friend is actually really good about updating his virus defs, spyware pattern files, and cleaning out his temp folders, but this took a lot of teaching (and scripting) on my part to get him to that point. What we’ve now set up may be a little more complicated due to the fact that we now need to make sure that we protect what is considered critical data. I think the total size of all of his pictures now is only about 5gb, but it is pointless to instruct him to do a copy every so often to make sure his data is backed up. Efficiency is always forefront in my mind, no matter how inconvenient it may be to me.
I found a FREE application called, “Allway Sync” that will handle the task beautifully. I wrote a document for him that included some screenshots and written directions and now my friend never has to think about backing his important pictures again! The application is perfect for him because he stores all of his pictures in one folder and just needs to make sure those files are copied to a second location as new pictures are added.
I chose the synchronization route rather than the backup route because quite frankly, dealing with full backups, incremental backups, test restores, etc. would just make the solution unusable for him. Synchronizing the files between two folders will allow him a poor man’s mirroring of his critical data, while eliminating space waste with duplicate data.
So there you have it. With an inexpensive USB drive and a FREE synchronization application, I was able to provide a solid solution for a simple home backup scenario. Total time involved in setting this all up was less than 30 minutes and could be done by just about anybody.