Monday, 30 November 2009

Backup the Apples and Pears

It's often said that a backup strategy is only as good as the corresponding recovery strategy. Your backup is useless, after all, if you can't restore from it. Unfortunately I have recently had to test the backup strategies I have been using for my two most frequently used computing devices; my iPhone and my Macbook.

The sad demise, and subsequent revival, of my iPhone has already been documented in a previous post. Thanks to the joy that is iTunes, my phone was automatically backed up the day before the incident, minimising the amount of lost data. The worst thing I lost was my Rally Master 3D save-game, so no big deal.

I have used several mobile phone sync/backup tools before, and suffice it to say that they suck. Often flaky or having badly integrated 3rd party components, I have yet to find one that really syncs properly. Even the venerable Palm handhelds (yes, I know they're not phones, or at least, didn't used to be) became a nightmare to sync once they started doing more than the old Pilot 1000 could manage. Compared to such irritating clunkiness, iTunes is a breath of fresh air.

After blatting my iPhone and ending up with a very dull, boring base install, I simply plugged it in. iTunes asked if I wanted to start afresh or restore a backup. 10 minutes later, backup restored, iPhone was as good as new. Better in fact, seeing as it had all my data back on it! So, a win for iTunes and iPhone backup for easy recovery from disaster.

Less than two weeks later, my Macbook underwent a very strange little glitch and the hard drive just ... stopped. One second it was working, the next, halfway through loading a page in Firefox, it just stopped. It make a feeble little groan and a squeak, and it was gone. It was three and a half years old, so I can't really complain at lifespan, especially after the way I've treated it at times. But there I was, hard-drive-less, and so laptop-less to boot.

Out of morbid curiosity, I check the Maplin website for offers on 2.5" SATA drives. It's very handy living 5 minutes' walk from the town centre! What a surprise I did discover. A 320GB, 5400RPM, 2.5" SATA hard drive for the measly sum of £49.99. Cheap as chips, and twice as convenient.

After acquiring a nice set of precision screwdrivers, since I've lost mine, I replaced the drive with the shiny new one and popped the Snow Leopard disk in. After 4 minutes (official installer time), or 75 minutes (real time) the installation was done and it rebooted. At this point, I had an external drive with an up-to-date Time Machine backup on it. I expected to have to perform some sort of voodoo to get the info off the drive without having to use the awful Time Machine UI. Thankfully, that was not to be.

As part of the first startup, it asked if I wanted to restore from a Time Machine backup. I clicked "yes" and plugged in the drive. Up it fired, and my lovely data went streaming over on the the shiny new hard drive. About thirty minutes later, the machine rebooted and I was presented with my own login screen. I entered my password, and was greeted with my own desktop. No messing, no manual steps beside plugging in the drive, and no lost data.

So I'm not sure the state of simple local backups in the rest of the world. It's always been something of a chore to remember to make backups, but Time Machine and iTunes make backing up your Apple products so simple you literally have to do nothing. And when disaster strikes (and it will) it's only a matter of moments before your data is safely back where it belongs and you can carry on like nothing happened.

Unless you've had a 60GB to 320GB upgrade, that is, and decide to spend the rest of the day filling it!

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