Backing up a Hard Drive

Why bother to back up your software? If you have to ask that question, you probably have never lost any data to operator error or equipment failure. Hard drives have become inexpensive and reliable when compared to drives of twenty years ago, but they are still mechanical devices and prone to catastrophic failure.

We do our backups using Acronis True Image Home disk utilities. We prefer using the drive cloning utility exclusively. This requires the use of an extra hard drive, the cloned drive, but delivers the ultimate in backup reliablity and flexability.

Here is a condensed summary of the procedure. The main drive is cloned (exactly duplicated) using the drive utility. The target drive can be installed as the slave of the primary controller or as either master or slave of the secondary controller. Cloning takes about 30 mins for a 5gig partition. Once completed the cloned drive can be jumpered as the master in the primary controller. (The original primary master will need to be removed.) Then the system can be booted from the clone drive and function exactly as it did before off the original master drive. Note: When cloning ensure that the cloning mode selected preserves the data on the source drive.

Hard drive manipulation is made easy by the use of plug-in hard drive trays for each hard drive. This allows reconfiguration, replacement, installation and removal of both hard drives attached to a single controller without need to open the computer case.

Once the cloning process is completed, both drives are verfied for operation and the cloned drive is stored away for use in case of primary drive failure.

The drive to be cloned needs to be of sufficient capacity to receive the data from the main working drive. For instance if the main working drive has a capacity of 80gig but only holds 10gig of data, that data can be cloned to a 10gig drive. Of course if normal usage will cause the size of the data to grow, the size requirements of the target drive will grow as well. It is a good idea to use a cloned drive that is either the same size as the drive to be cloned or larger.

The main working drive is normally identified as drive C: or hda0: or drive 0 in the bios and is jumpered to be the master drive in a two drive IDE system. The target drive is identified as the slave drive if it is running off the same IDE controller as the main working drive. The target drive can be either master or slave if it is running off the secondary IDE controller.

Backups are done to preserve data that, once lost, needs to be reconstructed in the same way it was accumulated originally. In the past, when data storage was expensive, it was considered adequate to backup only the data. Operating systems, application programs, preference files, could all be reloaded from their distribution disks or reconstructed with little effort. This may have been true when operating systems were distributed on a couple of floppies and applications were single floppy affairs. Nowdays we have operating systems and applications requiring gigabytes of hard drive space taking many man hours for reinstallation and configuration. Today it makes sense to backup everything, even the operating system and applications programs.

Current backup software allows backups to be generated by file to file copy, creation of image files of entire partitions, and cloning the entire hard drive. Some backup schemes suggest creating an image file and storing it on a special partition of the drive being backed up. Such action is justified by the convenience afforded in the recovery mode. Should data be corrupted through operator error, a restore can be accomplished merely by reloading the image file as though it were a simple, large, data file. Similar convenience is had in creating the backup image file in the first place and the entire backup process can be easily automated and executed without any operator intervention or physical moving or reconfiguring of hard drives. However, such a scheme does not protect against mechanical hard drive failure. Since the backup may be housed on the primary drive, it is subject to loss in the event of a mechanical hard drive failure. Obviously, the backup could be stored to a second hard drive to reduce the risk of loss, but that drive will have to be energized continuously along with the main drive for this backup scheme to work. Drives that are run continuously are much more likely to fail than drives that are cloned and stored in reserve.

That is why we are using drive cloning to create backups.

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