Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Let's Talk About Data Backups

Some wise person (sorry I don't remember who, but they were very wise) once said there are two kinds of computers - the ones that have failed and the ones that haven't failed yet. Since I believe that to be true, I've always been pretty diligent about backing up my work. My personal backup plan has evolved over the years to what some might consider extreme but I can sleep at night believing I have covered every base.

So what do I backup? All genealogy files (my Legacy database and backups of the database, all records, files and photos that were scanned plus everything that came in a digital format; absolutely everything), all non-genealogy photos, personal files, e-mail and contacts/address book are all in my backup set.    

Today my backup plan looks like this:
  1. Daily - Online backup service runs at 6:00 p.m. I use Mozy but there are several others available. As of today, they have 36.2 gb of my data for safekeeping.  
  2. Daily - Backup to one of two portable hard drives (the reason for 2 will be explained shortly). 
  3. Monthly - Back up to a 3rd external hard drive. This is a complete genealogy backup as of that day. Previous month's versions are also retained on this hard drive. 
  4. Quarterly - I keep one of the two hard drives mentioned in item #2 at my brother's house. These two drives are swapped about every 3 months and whichever one I have is the one that gets updated daily so it's always ready to be swapped out. Quarterly might not seem like often enough for off site storage but keep in mind that this is really my last option. I would only need to restore from this backup if Mozy, the laptop, the desktop and the 2 external hard drives at my house all five failed. 
  5. On The Fly - I backup my Legacy Family Tree database every time I close it. If I'm entering a lot of data, I back it up every 30 minutes or so. I had been using flash drives for this but recently started using Dropbox. Since I use a laptop and a desktop both I had also been using flash drives to transfer data between the two. (BTW, having everything on two computers is yet another backup.) Dropbox seems to be less trouble plus files are immediately backed up to their servers. New scans also go into the Dropbox folder until they are processed and filed in the appropriate folder on bother computers. 
  6. Other - There are several photo-sharing sites on the web. Some are free, some charge a small fee. I use SmugMug. My main goal for using a photo sharing site was just that - photo sharing. The extra backup is just an added bonus. Having a genealogy website is also a form of backup. While I can't get a GedCom from my website and it doesn't include recent generations, I would have access to the information from my grandparents generation back if all other backups failed. I'm not really recommending a website as main backup option but the more places you have recoverable data the better as far as I'm concerned.
So why am I talking about backups today? One of the categories for the Winter 2010 GeneaBlogger Games is Back Up Your Data and I'm not sure what level of medal I should get. This category is set up a little different than the other categories in the game where there are 5-7 tasks and the more tasks you complete the higher level medal you earn. The Back Up category assigns a specific medal to a specific task. For instance, a Gold medal is earned for backing up all data using a flash drive, external drive, CD/DVD or an online resource so I definitely have a Gold medal since that happens daily in my plan. The Platinum requirements are a little confusing to me and maybe to some others since Granny Pam at Granny's Genealogy blogged about this a few days ago.

According to the rules, a Platinum is earned if "all your data is backed up digitally and secured physically and you can recover from any disaster while losing only one month or less worth of research." I can definitely recover from a disaster and shouldn't ever lose more than 1 day of work but I'm not sure about the rest of that sentence. Here's what I have - every record has been scanned, hundreds of pictures have been scanned and all family pictures are in photo boxes in the big safe in my office (see photos below). The only thing that isn't "backed up digitally and secured physically" is copies of pages from books. Any information used from those copies has been entered in my data base and sourced so it's backed up there. I rarely, if ever, need to review that stuff after it's filed so I don't really see any harm if it was lost plus I'm not sure those copies even count toward "all data".

Photos in the safe.

So which level have I earned? I'm leaning toward Platinum but if you disagree please let me know.

Oh, and if you see any holes in my backup plan, let me know about that too. Seriously, I want to know.


  1. Nice to see someone else highlight this, Linda. You look platinum to me!

  2. Linda,
    I believe that the Platinum Medal should be given to anyone who can recover from a disaster without losing a months worth of research. I don't have documents that need protecting as they are all scanned and backed up online. I think that both of us can claim the Platinum Medal for this category since we both have backup plans that work for us.