Back Up Blues

by | Mar 14, 2002

In a previous article, I discussed the importance of backing up your entire hard drive (not just your data) periodically as protection against computer viruses. Of course, there are other equally important reasons to back up your entire hard drive. You can have a hard disc crash, as I did last month. You can install […]

In a previous article, I discussed the importance of backing up your entire hard drive (not just your data) periodically as protection against computer viruses. Of course, there are other equally important reasons to back up your entire hard drive. You can have a hard disc crash, as I did last month. You can install an application that, for some reason, screws up your hard disc so badly that it is rendered useless. Or you might be upgrading to a larger hard disc, and you need to transfer the contents of one disc to another.

Earlier, I sort of recommended tape back ups as a nice, unattended solution. Based on my recent experiences, I hereby recant my earlier recommendation. There are two major problems with tape back ups.

Firstly, tape back ups take a long time to complete. I’m talking about 24 hours to back up 4 gigabytes of data, and 24 hours to restore. If you have more data, we could be talking about several days. Back ups take so long that it discourages one from backing up as often as one should.

Secondly, tape is notoriously unreliable, as I learned first hand when I had my disc crash in December. When I tried to restore to my new hard drive from my most recent tape back up (which I admit was not recent enough for reasons described in the previous paragraph), the restore failed when it was about 85% complete. You can’t imagine what word poured out of my mouth when I got the error message, “unable to read media.” Well maybe you can.

Fortunately, I was able to do a restore from a much earlier tape back up. It was almost a blessing — it took less time to do the restore because there was less data on the earlier back up.

Once my restore was complete, I worked for three long days to bring my new hard disc up to date. First, I had to copy my latest data back up from my CD RW’s to my new hard drive. I was fortunate in this respect — I had backed up my data the day before my hard disc crashed, so I didn’t lose any data.

Then I had to reinstall a number of missing applications and update my existing applications. Lacking a complete inventory of applications (now I keep copies of install programs in a separate folder), I was working from my imperfect memory.

Finally — and this was the most difficult, time consuming part of the task — I had to reset all of the options and preferences in each application to the way I had them previously.

As you might imagine, this experience is what has brought me to the point of recanting my recommendation of tape back ups.

As soon as I completed my post-restore activities, I began a quest for a more reliable, faster back up solution. I started looking for a program that would enable me to back up my hard disc to CD RW’s. I quickly discovered that there were many such programs from which to choose.

STOMP out Simple Back Up

After doing some investigation, I selected and purchased Stomp’s Simple Back Up because, according to a review I read, it was simple and straightforward. Oh, it doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles — you can’t do incremental back ups, and you can only back up to CD’s — you can’t back up to tape. But these shortcomings mattered not to me. All I wanted was an idiot proof way of backing up my entire hard drive to CD RW’s.

Well, I tried in vain for three days to get this stupid product to work. Finally, I learned something interesting from Stomp’s technical support. The software won’t work if you have any other packet writing software installed on your computer. In layperson’s terms, this means that if the only thing you want to do with your CD writer is take back ups, this is the product for you. But if you want to do other things, like copy data to CD RW’s, Simple Back Up won’t work. Stomp’s solution is to uninstall the other applications every time you want to take a back up and then reinstall the other applications. No thanks. Wonder why they don’t mention this in their marketing material?

Well, no problem, I thought. I’ll just try another product. Lots of alternatives from which to choose. So I went on to try trial versions of every other CD RW back up product on the market. Yes, I tried them all: Retrospect, BackUpExec, BackUpNow, Get Back, Back in the U.S.S.R. (you don’t know how lucky you are, boy) — and to make a long story short, NONE of them worked. They all crapped out somewhere during the process.

After an exhaustive search, I can report to you that there is one and only one CD RW back up solution that actually does work: Norton Ghost.

Only one small problem. The documentation was dictated in Chinese to somebody who only speaks Arabic, and then transcribed into English by somebody who only understands Greek.

Norton describes their product as being designed for “the savvy user”. In truth, it’s designed for Albert Einstein’s smarter brother, Alfred.

Well, that’s not exactly true. Actually, Norton Ghost is extremely easy to use. It’s just extremely difficult to understand the documentation.

Once you understand how to use Norton Ghost, your back up is but a few clicks away.

So please allow me to offer a few suggestions that will make it easier for you to understand the documentation, and then, once you have checked to make sure your CD writer is on Norton’s compatibility list, you can rush out and buy it, or download it from Norton’s web site.

The basic problem is this: Norton doesn’t know how to market this product, and their inability to understand their market is reflected throughout the documentation. For example, nowhere in the documentation will you see the words “back up” or “restore”. Ghost is not marketed as a tool for backing up and restoring your hard disc. It is marketed as a disc cloning tool

For example, do you want to back up your hard disc to CD RW’s? Well, in Norton-speak, this is called “cloning your hard disk to an image”. Want to restore from your back up? Well, in Norton-speak this is called “cloning an image to a hard disc.”

Norton Ghost works in DOS mode. You use Norton’s boot wizard to create a special boot disc that is used to boot up your system and take a back up (clone an image). What Norton doesn’t make clear is that you have to create a different type of boot disc to do a restore — one that will enable your new hard drive to access your CD ROM to perform the restore (clone the image to the disc.)

And Norton conveniently forgets to put two important commands on this second boot disk — FDISK and FORMAT, both of which you will need to prepare your new hard drive before you can do a restore. (Norton says that they provide their own utility called GDISK to perform the FDISK function, but I wouldn’t use it. I know Microsoft’s FDISK and FORMAT commands work — I am not going to mess with anything else.) So I suggest you manually copy these two commands to your second boot disk so that you can partition and format your new hard disc, which you will need to do before you do a restore.

So Norton Ghost has my qualified recommendation. That is, I recommend the product, but people who wrote the documentation should be put in front of a firing squad.

Now, because the back up process is 100 times faster than tape, I plan to back up my entire hard drive every few months in addition to backing up all of my data every few days. The faster your CD writer, the faster the back up process. I suggest taking your back ups without compression. You will use a few more CD’s, but the process goes much faster. And compression is not a good idea if you are backing up digital photos, as compressing and uncompressing these files can create some artifacts that degrade the image.

Your welcome, as always.

Copyright 2002 e-Broadband News. All rights reserved. E-Broadband News provides readers with news, commentary, and analysis pertaining to companies whose products and services increase bandwidth and storewidth for faster internet access.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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