02 February 2008

Backing up is easy, but restoring is slow with Mozy

Hello -

This note is a public service announcement to remember that some little piece of your hard drive is likely to fail one day, and, so, preserve your sanity by performing frequent backups and, just as important, try out the file-restoring procedure at least once before becoming complacent.

Executive summary:

  • Put the time into backing up your computer - there are online services, like Mozy, that do it in the background (as long as you have a very fast Internet connection), and smarter local ones (like a USB hard-drive, or the Time Capsule thing for Macs).
  • I wish that I had been using Symantec's Norton Ghost because it takes a 10 GB machine about an hour to back up and just an hour to restore... and does it in an idiot-proof method that magically restores the "image" of your hard drive as if nothing happened.
  • All the "little things" aren't little when you're recovering from a crash, like: thousands of mysterious and forgettable Windows XP settings and browser preferences, big fat applications, and applications settings.
The long story:

Hi! I have been out of town at a conference, where I gave two talks despite my ThinkPad T41's refusal to boot into Windows (I was neurotic enough to have saved my talks on a USB stick).

I hope you, dear reader, will benefit from my tale:

I have been backing up my stuff
My work machine has important data on it. So, I am careful to back it up. In three ways, plus two extras:

1. It seems hardened from HD failure because its important-looking (but evidently unreliable) "Access IBM" button provides access to a feature that uses a hidden partition to create a constant, behind-the-scenes backup of your drive. The "Access IBM" button sometimes acts improperly - at times, it throws me to the text-only boot in safe mode? prompt rather than the Rescue and Recovery environment. Also, its features are poorly documented. I turned on the rescue setting a few years ago, and that was it. Was it working? Who knows.

2. I spent several hours reading reviews of backup services and ultimately signed up for MozyPro, which is EMC's online backup service. It is moderately easy to set up, at least for a techie. Sure, the first backup takes forever (e.g. 3 days), but it runs in the background, and after that, only uploads changes to your data to the big server-in-the-sky. Oh, but if you log out of your account mid-backup, it seems to forget where it was, and starts from scratch. Oh, and, also, it refuses to operate if your web connection is too slow. (E.g., 700k up / 100 k down, per RCN, is too slow.) Third oh, I have two passwords for it, but I'm never sure which is the right one.

3. Last year, I made a complete backup to a USB hard drive, just in case I needed to restore the machine to some primordial but not-quite-zero point. It is hard to predict when Windows will recognize the drive.

4. My common, for-the-good-of-the-company files are actually stored on our network's server, which is also backed up. However, some stuff that's I'd prefer to keep local is... well... local. I don't like the idea of encrypting data because I have this fear that a corrupted encrypted file is completely un-restorable.

5. Presumably, all of my data (minus some driver file or something) is still in the hard drive. Which, I might add, is protected by IBM's technology that deactivates the drive if the laptop is tapped or pushed in even the slightest way. On the train, I can't use the machine, because the hard drive is too scared to reactivate.

So, heck, five ways in which I should be okay..... right?

My hard drive crashed
My computer won't finish booting. When I try safe mode, it hangs on one particular driver file (AGP440). I restored that one file, but it didn't help.

The Access IBM button stopped working
Does anyone have a ThinkPad with this blue button? It worked the first few times I pressed it, but now it dumps me to the boot-in-safe-mode? screen. Augh! I had hoped to use that to restore the system from the USB hard drive.

This could take a while... better tell Mozy... better buy a replacement hard drive...
I logged in to Mozy and requested a system restore.

Do they have a manual for this? Yes, but it is not written for the average user. There is no "holy crap! my hard drive died, can you zap the image back to me so it works again?" section. Also, it defaults to a mode where only documents are saved, as in "just save my .doc, .ppt, .xls, and my Outlook data, please. Oh, and my MP3s." Mozy needs a save-a-disk-image mode.

The next day, Mozy informed me that my data are ready for download (as four 3 Gig files, with no indication of what's in each file). Also, I purchased a set of DVDs just in case, I get tired of waiting for a 24 hour download to finish error-free.

Symantec Norton Ghost to the Rescue
Thank goodness, our head of software was able to make an image of his T41 that I could install on the replacement hard drive.

It took an hour to back up and an hour to restore. My computer instantly became a clone of his.

(Which is why, folks, I wish I had been using Ghost instead of Mozy for backups.)

Windows Settings
There are many settings to deal with to make the machine think it's me, not someone else. Stop synchronizing to the server. Give myself administrator privs again. Figure out why "number lock" asserts itself upon every log-out. Tell Internet Explorer that yes, you're my default browser, and no, I never want "Microsoft Live" to be my default search engine ever freaking again.

At the moment, the first of four multi-GByte downloads is happening. From our study, at home, which now has so many Ethernet cables and hubs in it that it is starting to remind me of the computer-laden CTU on 24.

Will they have a simple executable that will restore the machine to where it was?

Will it be a lump of disorganized files that I must drag to their proper homes?

In Conclusion
For your own sanity, and in the name of preserving the domestic tranquility that your frustration will erode once your hard drive loses just a few bits, you might want to visit these:

Mozy (backup service)
Mozy review one: "Everybody likes Mozy -- Except Me," C|Net
Mozy review two: "It turns out Mozy isn't so hot after all"
(See, there are lots of Internet backup reviews, but few actually tried to restore data.)
Symantec Norton Ghost 12.0
Apple's Time Capsule

Questions for the Reader
Have you ever experienced problems with the Access IBM button? How do you make it work again?

Have you had a hard drive fail that reported zero errors under chkdsk?

Have you performed a restore with Mozy? Will this go smoothly for me?


1 comment:

Anthony said...

Ouch. Sorry to hear about your hard drive woes! I have a T42, and even when the Access IBM button works, the backup software behind it is crap. I couldn't get it to reliably restore over a home network. I use Acronis True Image over Norton Ghost. The products are very similar, but Acronis tends to have the edge in head-to-head comparisons:


Of course, neither is going to help you if your house burns down and takes your backup with it. I think that's the main advantage of something like Mozy. I don't have any experience with it though... sorry. :-(