When You Lose a Different Kind of Everything

Most people today rely on our computers, whether for business, pleasure or personal use. We store family pictures, documents and dream projects. Increasingly, our computers are our lives.

What happens when your computer fails – and you lose everything? I’ll tell you, because this situation recently happened to me.

When my PC tower went on the blink last year after seven years of use, I thought I was smart to have foresight. I bought an external hard drive as my backup plan.

The external drive was perfect. It had 400 GB of space and I could install programs on it. It was portable, and if my tower died for good, I could easily plug the external drive into the laptop. Life would go on without missing a beat.

I never expected the external drive to die within a year.

Now What?

Last week, I tried to access my external drive, and it just wasn’t there. Talk about feeling as if your house had burnt down.

The external drive held numerous client files, several folders’ worth of notes on our novel, pictures of my cats when they were kittens (not even James dared to laugh at this loss). I couldn’t access our iStock images and various other files in my image library. Many of those files were not easily replaced.

Contact the Manufacturer

Contacting the manufacturer to see if they can help is always the best course of action – why not go straight to the source to get the information you need? In most cases, manufacturers have sites where you can submit help tickets or at the very least get a phone number to call for help.

When my laptop lost its power source three weeks ago (no, this hasn’t been Harry’s month for electronics), Gateway was right there with the support I needed via a live chat found right on the site. They took my order for the part I needed and shipped it off.

I expected the same level of support from my external hard drive manufacturer, but no such luck. Their site was difficult to navigate, and I had to jump through sign-up hoops just to leave a help ticket.

I still haven’t heard back from them. Thanks for nothing, Acomdata.

Calling In the Troops

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Geek Squad rocks. When there’s a problem with my computer, the Geek Squad is right there for me each and every time.

They were there, yes, but I can’t say that they’ve managed to recover my files yet. They attempted to access the external drive in house, knew the disc was spinning, but couldn’t get the drive to show up on their computers.

I discovered that the Geek Squad could send the external drive out to a data recovery service at their headquarters. Sometimes it pays to ask questions.

The good thing is that in-house analysis costs $150, but if the Geek Squad can’t solve the problem, they’ll refund half the money. If you do send your drive out for in-depth data recovery, it’s only a $60 deposit. They call with an estimate after they’ve had a look before they do any further work.

What’s Your Backup Plan?

Face it; no one is immune to a hard drive crash. It’s like that old biker saying: “There are two types of riders; those who have dumped their bikes and those still waiting to dump their bikes.”

Eventually, you will face a hard drive failure. You can never fully save all the files you own or protect each file from elimination no matter what you do. But there are steps you can take to have a solid backup plan to salvage what you can.

Email: If you have Gmail (and you should), you have plenty of space to store correspondence, notes and files. Email the important stuff to yourself and archive it. A quick search retrieves the file from online storage.When I send clients their final designs, I send all the pertinent files. These files include theme images and CSS as well as any Photoshop files I used to create images for that particular project.

I have a folder set up in my Gmail for each client, and I can go back through those folders to salvage missing files.

cPanel: Many of the files I had were for website designs. They had already been uploaded to our host server or to the host servers of clients to whom I am webmaster.Poking around in these cPanels, I was able to restore much of what was lost.

Seagate Free Agent: The Seagate Free Agent has 500 GB of space and allows you to program backups of specified files and folders, even to online storage sites. It runs continually in the background and stays up to date.

So far, my new Seagate drive seems to be working well. My computer runs slower when I use graphics programs and another program is running in the background, but the SFA adjusts to give certain programs priority.

This particular external hard drive also comes with a built-in fan and automatically shuts off when the computer goes into Sleep mode. The drive also goes to Sleep mode when there’s nothing new to back up. My old Acomdata ran continuously and had no cooling system.

The SFA also comes with a free 6-month trial subscription to their online storage service. Oh, and it looks slick – it’s black with amber lights. (Yeah, call me a sucker for packaging and design).

Installation is easy, with the install programs on the drive itself for plug-and-play use. I even made a copy of the install files and saved them on two other drives in case the Seagate decided to act like my old drive and deny me access.

Online Storage Sites: We’re looking into online storage services, specifically Mozy and iBackup. When subscribing to an online storage site, it’s important to make sure the site is a reputable one. You don’t want to save your valuable files to some schmoe site that looks good and then be left empty handed when they go bankrupt or shut down.

iBackup doesn’t look as slick as Mozy, but it has better reviews, notably a very strong one from PC World Magazine that pitted iBackup and Mozy against each other. iBackup also had live chat for instant support, and James tested it with a question to see whether the technicians knew their stuff. They did.

Mozy has a site that looks more professional, but there was no live chat and James had to email Mozy for some information missing on their site. It took four days to get a reply. That immediately tells us that despite the good looks, Mozy may not have our backs when we need them. The upside is that Mozy may be cheaper – but cheaper doesn’t always mean better.

SaaS: Sofware as a service is hot these days, and many businesses now offer hosted versions of popular programs so that you never lose your work. All your data is stored on safe, protected servers. Hint: Gmail is SaaS, and it rocks for retrieval, so why not check out what other online versions of your favorite programs are available?

Burn, baby, burn!: Get thee a DVD burner! They’re cheap and easy to use. Go through files regularly and back up your data to DVDs. Why DVDs? Well, a DVD can store far more data and files than a CD. You can burn and store the DVD out of sight and mind for about $2 total and 15 minutes of time. A regular DVD burn of your files makes sure you’re always covered.

The good part of all this electronic mess? We haven’t skipped a beat, and we haven’t lost anything that is job related. (The kitten pictures may prove a different story). In fact, had I not written on the experience, our readers would most likely would never have known about this technical difficulty.

Make backing up your data a priority. Don’t rely on thinking, “That’ll never happen to me!” or believing you’re protected. You’re not, it can and it will.

Note: I wrote this post last week. You can imagine how unsettling it was to find out that Melissa Donovan had written on an almost identical situation a few days prior to this post’s publication. It just goes to show that losing everything is more common than we realize.

Post by Agent X

Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.