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Mapping Your Backups

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Last week (it feels like last year, because I wrote that post in advance, unlike this one, which I am writing at the last minute) I wrote about the effective combination of WP-DB-Backup and WordPress Backup from Blog Traffic Exchange. These two plugins send backups by e-mail on a weekly basis. Given that I have (pause to count on fingers) five WordPress sites of my own (two for the Podcast Asylum, one for the Author-izer, the FileSlinger site, and the new personal site that I hardly ever get to work on, that would be a lot of backups coming in even if I didn’t also have client websites in WordPress to keep track of. (More counting on fingers.) Five of those, too, though I just added the fifth one this week and it’s not configured yet. It’s probably just as well they don’t all come in on the same day—or on the same e-mail account, for that matter. The database backups are mostly not that large (except the one for this blog), but the plugins and uploads backups can get hefty.

I’m starting to think that I should set something up in Outlook that automatically forwards the client backups to the clients. After all, it’s their data. Even if they don’t know what to do with it, they should have access to it. That’s why I always make sure to provide them with the passwords to the sites I set up for them. (Though that reminds me, I should probably make a couple of CDs or ZIP files with the themes on them…) But I digress, already.

Today’s topic is keeping track of where your data goes when you back it up. This can actually be an issue even for people who have only one backup drive or device, if they make manual backups and don’t put the files in the same place every time. (Not to mention any names. You know who you are.)

For people like me, who just keep adding backup software and external drives into the system, remembering what gets backed where becomes more than the naked brain can handle. I know that all my client and business-related files are backed up. But until I sat down this morning to map them out, I didn’t know how many backups I had. And I needed to update some of those backups, too, because I did some more file restructuring and created a catch-all folder for business-related files that affect all three of my business personas.

Creating a really complete map of everything on my system that gets backed up will have to wait until I can take a whole day to work on it, but here’s what I came up with for the four business-related folders (!Author-izer, !FileSlinger, !Podcast Asylum, and !Rhymes with Sketch Inc):

(click to see full-sized image)

Anyone who actually knows how to make an information flow chart in Visio will be dying of laughter right now, I’m sure. But even at this reduced scale, you should be able to see that the data goes from the C drive (that’s the pink one) to six different drives (the square boxes) as well as “into the cloud” to Mozy. And it gets copied twice to the F drive, once by FreeAgent Sync when the file is created or changed, and once by Karen’s Replicator when I boot up the computer.

Since you can’t read the annotations at this scale, I’ll list them here.

  • C drive to D drive: copied by SyncBack Free during system idle (just the 4 folders mentioned above)
  • D drive to Q drive: copied by SyncBack Free during system idle (this one copies the whole drive)
  • C drive to F drive: copied by Karen’s Replicator on Startup (the 4 folders mentioned above, plus several others)
  • F drive to L drive: copied by Memeo AutoBackup right after Karen’s Replicator finishes running (the whole drive)
  • C drive to F drive: copied by FreeAgent Sync, continuously, whenever the files change (selected folders, the Big 4 plus some others)
  • C drive to Mozy: copied by Mozy at 8 AM daily (selected folders, a subset of the Big 4)
  • C drive to Z drive: copied by Maxtor backup at 9 AM daily (the Big 4 plus My Documents and Download folder)
  • Z drive to nameless drive: allegedly copied on a schedule, but I can’t really tell what it is, just that it does in fact happen. It’s a rather mysterious process.

Eventually I want to streamline the processes a bit and transfer some of it over to Titan Backup, as I said a few Reminders ago. So I’ll need to sit down and make a complete map of what is and isn’t getting backed up. The business-related stuff is obviously covered—as long as it lives in those four folders. Some of it doesn’t. Windows Live Writer, for instance, stores blog posts like this one in a folder in My Documents. I’ve got that covered by FreeAgent Sync and by the daily Maxtor backup, but not by the others. Yet. Outlook gets backed up to the F drive by Replicator, and then to the L drive by Memeo, but there aren’t as many copies of my .pst files as of my documents. My audio and video files for clients don’t get backed up online because they’re too large to make that practical. (Of course, most of those are already online, on the clients’ websites, so I don’t worry about it too much.)

A word to the clients, though. Just because I keep what seems like exponentially expanding copies of the work I do for you doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for the work once I turn it over to you. I am not a backup service provider. There are dozens, if not hundreds—possibly thousands—of them out there. Many of them are free.

Take a minute to think about it—or more than a minute, if you have a complicated file system. Do you know where your backups go?

Twice as Fast May Be Fast Enough for Memeo: FileSlinger™ Backup Reminder 11-07-08

Friday, November 7th, 2008

Once in a while when I test a backup product for this Reminder, I get anomalous results. The anomaly usually takes the form of bizarrely slow performance. The causes are hard to pinpoint, but my chief suspect is conflicts with existing backup software, especially those that support open and locked files, or with some other background program. I seem to have an inordinately large number of programs and processes running in the background at any given time, from Skype to SyncBack.

Back in May when my BFF Jay Pechek gave me the Buffalo LinkStation Mini and the MiniStation DataVault, both drives came with Memeo AutoBackup.

Memeo is the kind of company you want to like. Its history is rather like that of Spare Backup. According to the bio provided to me by Memeo’s helpful PR representative in response to my July request on HARO, Memeo CEO and Co-founder Hong Bui was inspired to develop backup software because of a particularly egregious data loss experience:

“A TSA guard at the airport dropped Bui’s laptop as he went through the security checkpoint. It fell apart and he lost everything. As a passionate software developer, Bui immediately wanted to solve the problem of media management and identified three use cases that encompass the digital life: backup, sync and share. As we continue our transition to an entirely digital world, Bui is leading the development of products that allow people to make this jump seamlessly by protecting content, syncing it to multiple locations for ease of use and seamlessly sharing media with friends and family.”

Despite being a geek himself, Bui managed to create a product that’s easy to install and easy to use. I’m pretty sure Memeo is the only backup program I’ve used that specifically backs up to an iPod. It also lets you keep more than one version of a file, something that my main file backup tools, Karen’s Replicator and SyncBack Freeware, don’t. (Ooh. I just noticed there’s a new version of Replicator. Pardon me a minute while I download and install it…)

Since there was no need to duplicate any of the backups I already had in place, I set up a backup of my D drive (the second internal hard drive, which acts as a first backup for my client data) to the new network drive.

And had one of those anomalous experiences. It took five days to back up somewhere under 80 GB of data—and that’s five days of leaving the computer running all night. And though subsequent backups (performed when data is updated, as well as on start-up) were much faster, that seemed unreasonable.

Since I hate writing negative reviews, I was hesitant to talk about this. Besides, I was waiting to hear from the Memeo support team, but nothing developed until recently. In fact, I had just about decided to uninstall Memeo, which I was no longer using (it seemed to interfere with performance if I left it running). But a week or so ago the abovementioned helpful PR person connected me with an equally helpful Memeo support person, who asked me to send him the log files and recommended that I download the newest version of Memeo. Apparently the development team has nicknamed it “AutoBackup Accelerator” because it’s twice as fast as the version that shipped in May.

Installing the new version of AutoBackup was simple. Setting up my new test backup plan was a bit more challenging. Memeo’s backup configuration wizard automatically excludes external hard drives as sources for files to back up. Without the exclusions, Memeo’s “Smart backup” by file type could create a real mess: imagine what would happen if you tried to back up your source and destination drives simultaneously.

But I wanted to back up a USB drive, and not just to be difficult. When I start up my computer, Replicator copies all the files that have changed since the last startup to the F drive (the Seagate FreeAgent Go drive, now named Freya). But an external hard drive can fail just as easily as an internal hard drive, and I wanted to be sure that all the data on Freya got backed up to the Buffalo LinkStation Mini (Lachesis, because it’s mapped to drive letter “L”). It turned out that I not only had to remove the F drive from the exclusion list in the new backup plan I was creating, but to remove it from the older backup plans. I ended up deleting the older backup plans.

This time I was backing up slightly more data—about 93 GB instead of 70-some. And instead of being copied from my internal hard drive, the data had to move through the USB cable from Freya through my laptop’s CPU and then through the network onto the NAS drive. I assumed that would slow things down a bit, and that the average user backing up her C drive to a USB 2.0 hi-speed drive would get a faster backup time.

Nevertheless, the current version of Memeo lived up to its promise of being twice as fast. The initial backup required only three days, and that only during working hours, since I didn’t leave the computer running overnight. Memeo seemed quite happy to have me shut down in the middle of the backup without having to start over at the beginning when I rebooted.

I’ve decided not only to continue using Memeo, but to leave it set to start up when Windows does, which it does by default. The idea behind having Memeo start with Windows and run in the background is to provide continuous data protection. Since the data on Freya only changes when Replicator runs (or when I manually copy a file to it), there’s no real need to have Memeo running in the background all day. I let it start up and update the backup (it doesn’t seem to cause any problems with the function of Replicator, which also runs at startup), and then shut it down.

And while this is not quite what the AutoBackup team had in mind when they designed the program, it’s working just fine.

Backing Up Social Networks, Part 1: FileSlinger™ Backup Reminder 03-21-08

Friday, March 21st, 2008

I’ve been using profligately in the last six months or so. It’s a handy way to keep track of things I want to read, and things I want other people to read. But it suddenly occurred to me yesterday that whereas my Firefox bookmarks get backed up along with the rest of my critical data thanks to Karen’s Replicator, I had no backup of my bookmarks.

It turns out that it’s just as easy to export bookmarks from as to import them: just go to “Settings” and check “export/backup” under “Bookmarks.” settings Export bookmkarks to HTML

Admittedly, the resulting HTML file is just a long list of links, rather than having the formatting provided by tags, but it beats losing the links altogether if you’re still in the middle of using them for research. (Not that I’ve ever experienced a outage, but it’s always possible.)

You can also export your bookmarks to an XML file by pasting the following link into your browser and entering your username and password: But unless you know what to do with an unformatted XML file, I’d recommend the first method.

Once I had my bookmarks backed up, I started to think about other “social” sites. I’ve been spending a lot of time answering (and occasionally asking) questions on LinkedIn. A few months ago I asked my network about their backup practices and got enough information to fill up a Reminder column. For today’s column, I searched the existing LinkedIn Answers for information about backing up LinkedIn itself.

The easy part is backing up your connections: you can export them to a .csv (that stands for “comma-separated values,” if you wanted to pick up some additional jargon today) file and then import them into Outlook or pretty well any other contact-management program. If you go to your Connections page in LinkedIn and scroll to the bottom, you’ll see an “Export Connections” button. This takes you to a page with instructions for exporting to Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, Yahoo! Mail, or Max OS X Address Book.

export LinkedIn connections

That’s all well and good, but anyone I’m connected to on LinkedIn is pretty much guaranteed to be in my Outlook contacts already, because I’m scrupulous about not connecting to people I don’t know well enough to recommend in some capacity, and if I know you that well, chances are I have your e-mail and phone number already. (And LinkedIn doesn’t include phone numbers in their contact info anyway.)

I was more interested in whether I could back up my profile, my recommendations, and my answers to questions. It turns out that it’s possible to back up your profile, after a fashion, by saving it as a PDF file. This includes recommendations people have written for you, though not recommendations you have written for others. You can do this with other people’s profiles, as well, which may be more useful than just exporting their contact info, if also more cumbersome.

It’s possible to copy and paste text out of this PDF, so having it would spare you from re-typing everything if something happened and you had to re-create your profile from scratch. And it would save you some typing if you wanted to re-use the information for another social network.

Curiously, this handy convert-to-PDF feature is not available for your recommendations or your answers. My recommendations page at least shows the full text of the recommendations I’ve written, so I can use the “print” function to create a PDF version. But the tab with my answers doesn’t show the full text (perhaps because I’m inclined to give long answers), and if there’s an option to subscribe to your own answers, I haven’t seen it. (Besides, the feeds you get from LinkedIn aren’t full-text feeds, anyway.) And it only shows the 30 most recent answers.

I guess I know what new features I’ll be requesting from LinkedIn!

How do YOU Back up Your Computer? FileSlinger™ Backup Reminder 12-28-07

Friday, December 28th, 2007

Here it is the end of another year of backups—almost time to make those special year-end copies of your important data to store with your tax records. I thought I’d do something a bit different for today’s column, so I put a question out to my LinkedIn network asking the people I know what they do for backups. (And no, this is not what “networked backups” means.)

Most of the answers came as private messages, so I won’t quote them in their entirety here, but I’ll list the different tools people are using and write a bit about each, so you can decide which ones might be good for you.

  • Amazon S3. The person who mentioned this isn’t using it yet; he’s got a couple of 250 GB external drives. S3 stands for “Simple Storage Service.” It’s fairly inexpensive: $0.15 per GB per month for storage, plus similar rates for data transfer in and out. Jeremy Zawdny has made a list of S3-compatible backup software, since otherwise S3 isn’t really a backup solution, just a storage solution.
  • Buffalo TeraStation. This is network storage for people who have serious data to back up. It supports full RAID 5 configuration, which offers protection from disk failure (unless something kills off all the disks at once), and comes in capacities up to 4 TB. It’s big, solid, and expensive: about $700 for the 1 TB version. The TeraStation comes with automated backup software called Memeo AutoBackup, about which I know nothing, but will try to find out more. If you’re a photographer, musician, or videographer, or just run an office that generates masses of data, this could be the product for you.
  • Carbonite got two recommendations—or was it three? It’s been around longer than Mozy, and costs $50/year for unlimited online backup. They’re working on a Mac version, but it’s not available yet. Instead of backing up on a schedule, it backs up files as they change. That’s known as “continuous data protection” and has advantages and disadvantages. One potential disadvantage is slowing down your computer; another is backing up changes that you didn’t want to make. The advantage is that you’ll never lose a whole day’s data. Also, unless you’re working on several large files simultaneously, you won’t have to wait through endless uploads after the first backup is finished.
  • Cobian Backup. This was a new one on me, but it turns out it’s been around for a long time. Cobian is free open-source backup software for Windows. It allows scheduling, encryption, and backup online via FTP. The user interface looks fairly similar to that for SyncBack SE and for Backup4All. I guess there are only so many ways to configure setting up a backup program. There’s a tutorial for version 7 online. (You need Internet Explorer to view it, though.)
  • EMC Retrospect for tape backup. Retrospect comes in a lot of flavors and is compatible with both Vista and Leopard—or so their website claims. The Express version that used to come bundled with external drives is easy enough to use, but stores your data in a proprietary format and doesn’t let you browse through the backed up files. (Norton Ghost stores files in a proprietary format, but at least there’s the Ghost Explorer to let you retrieve individual files.) The Professional version supports tape drives, which most consumer backup products don’t. I’m not a huge fan of tape, but it does provide a way to get your data off-site, and it’s still common in enterprises.
  • Genie Backup Manager comes with two recommendations, one from the owner of the TeraStation and one from a respected IT colleague. It comes in Home and Pro versions. Both of them seem to be pretty comprehensive tools for backing up everything on your computer to just about any medium you could imagine. The site also features a backup encyclopedia. The Home version is $50; the Pro version is $70, and the server version is $400—which is probably a good deal if you have 50 computers to back up. Windows only.
  • Karen’s Replicator. Yes, there is someone besides me in the world who’s a big fan of this free program for Windows file backup and synchronization. I suppose I might be slightly biased in its favor because it was created by a woman, but it’s been doing a great job of backing up my files for years now, and it’s easy to use. Very handy for copying files onto one of those USB external drives mentioned above. It’s less sophisticated than Cobian, so which you use depends on your needs.
  • Mozy. I’ve written about this online backup service before, and it seems it, too, has other fans out there. The free version gives you 2 GB of storage and is available for Vista, XP, Windows 2000, and Mac OS X. The Pro version is available for all flavors of Windows (including servers), but not for Mac. Pro licenses are $3.95/month plus a $0.50/GB/month charge.
  • USB External Drive. Given all I’ve written about such drives already, I don’t think that needs a lot of explaining. But if you have an older machine with USB 1.1, consider getting an XHD with a FireWire connection instead. (Assuming you have a FireWire port, that is. You can use an external drive for manual drag-and-drop backups or with automated backup software.
  • Windows Home Server. This is network storage and then some. I have read good things about WHS, and the person who uses it says it rocks. In addition to doing automatic backups of multiple computers, it acts as a media server. (Sort of like my Maxtor Shared Storage II, but more so; the interface on the MSS-II is designed for simplicity rather than flexibility.) You can install it on a not-too-old computer yourself, if you’re on the geeky side, or you can buy it pre-installed on something like the HP MediaSmart Server. The software costs about $189; the full rig about $600. There’s a good description with screenshots over at Tiger Direct. Best for those with multiple computers and lots of audio and video files.

If you use a backup service or program not listed here, feel free to post it in the comments to the blog or e-mail it to me. I’ll be happy to produce a second list. Indeed, I might try to twist the arms of my Mac-using friends to get a list of different Mac-compatible backup products that people actually use.

Meanwhile, try not to spill champagne on your hard drive when celebrating the New Year, and I’ll see you again in 2008.

We Wish You a Merry Backup: FileSlinger™ Backup Reminder 12-21-07

Friday, December 21st, 2007

Merry Backup photo of Sallie's hard drives

Whatever you celebrate at this time of year, I’d like to wish you a very merry backup. As I did last year at about this time, I want to urge you to give your friends, family, co-workers, employees, clients (check all that apply), and most of all yourself the gift of backups.

Free Online Backup

If you’re strapped for cash, try sitting down with your loved ones and setting up accounts for them on Mozy. Of course, the ones who just got new digital video cameras for Christmas are going to need more than the 2GB of storage that comes with a free account, but for many people, it’s plenty. And it has the advantage that once you’ve set it up, it runs automatically and you don’t have to think about it again unless you use up your storage quota or need to retrieve a file. (There are other online backup services, and I’ll mention some of them next week, but Mozy is the one I have the most experience with.)

Bear in mind that the first backup with any online service will take several hours, and it’s definitely not suitable for people with dial-up connections.

Free Backup Software

I remain a fan of Karen’s Replicator for file backups, and also use SyncBack Free, which can be set to copy data from one drive to another whenever the computer is idle. I just recommended DriveImage XML to a client to replace his outmoded version of the now-extinct Drive Image 7. If you’ve got a little bit of technical know-how, you can download one of these and set it up for someone as a present.

USB Flash Drives

USB sticks (also known as key drives or thumb drives) are ubiquitous and cheap. They don’t make good long-term storage, but they’re still better than having no second copy of your data at all, and you can easily store them in a safe deposit box away from your office. You can also get them branded with your company logo. Your employees and customers are sure to find them more useful than pens or key chains.

External Hard Drives

Capacities are going up and prices are coming down. Large-capacity external drives make good gifts for people who take thousands of digital photos, have massive music collections, and make videos of every event in their children’s lives. (For these people you might even want something that acts as a media server.) All those things can take up a lot of space.

If the intended recipient travels a lot, one of the smaller external drives like the Western Digital Passport, Maxtor OneTouch Mini, or Seagate FreeAgent Go is probably a better choice. The Ur-guru has a good half-dozen of the Passports, all in shiny (fingerprint-attracting) black. I’ve got one each of the Seagate and Maxtor drives. All of them come with backup software pre-installed.


If you have technophobes with new laptops on your list, it could be worth investing in a Rebit. They’re pricier than ordinary external hard drives, but they’re very simple and they run continuously in the background without noticeably hindering performance. And they’re cute. Like the online services, though, Rebit takes a long time to create the initial backup.

Network Drives

If you have multiple computers in one home or office, a network drive may be the way to go. I’ve written extensively about my Maxtor Shared Storage II (also pictured above–it’s the one that looks like a cinder block). Other options include the Buffalo Linkstation and Western Digital’s My Book World Edition. The My Book has a little problem with multimedia files, though: it doesn’t want you to upload them to the Internet, even if you made them yourself and own the copyright.

Network drives tend to be on the expensive side, not to mention being a bit large to fit in stockings, but they can be very useful.

Merry Backup to all, and to all a good night.

FileSlinger Backup Blog at Blogged


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