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More backup, please

© February 2009 Anthony Lawrence

Last week I had one of those horrible experiences that actually turn out sort of OK but still leave you feeling cheated and sick. The situation was a customer who needed to restore some backed up data. Well, fortunately she really DIDN'T need to restore data..

It was simply that her app vendor wanted her to test something but wanted it done with the previous day's data. So she simply renamed her current data directory and fired up the software (Yosemite Backup on Windows 2003 Server) to do the restore. That's very easy: a point and click interface, badda-bing, badda-bang and it's off and running.

Understand that the data we wanted had just been backed up and verified the night before. It's possible that they hadn't even yet removed the data cartridge from the drive (they use a Dell RD1000 for backup). One (or two or three) would think that this restore would be a slam-dunk.

One would be a fool. After many hours of chugging away, they got this:

error alert 1401 Please insert compatible media

Yosemite is unable to find usable media. Please insert media into the loader or stand alone device which is compatible with the job options. If this is a restore or verify job, make sure that the version you selected reside on the media available to the device or auto loader

Some of the data had been restored; 71% according to the screen. That's great, because 71% is a tremendous amount of data and is just 29% shy of being what was expected and needed. All that is necessary is for the customer to reduce her expectations by 29% and this should be completely satisfactory. I asked her to do that; for some reason she thinks that she should be able to get back 100% of her files. Gosh, talk about a perfectionist!

Sadly, that's not the first time a Windows backup has failed to do a Restore. These programs all do a bang-up job of backing up - it's the restore where partial results seem to be the norm. I'm more accustomed to the Unix world where if the media is good, so is the backup, but I suppose that's too simple a concept for Windows. The backup probably has to write registry keys and double check them against the phase of the moon and some magic formula before it can read back data that it just finished writing not twelve hours prior!

Anyway, I don't know what we'll end up doing there. The customer wants to shoot someone - this wasn't a critical need so all's well that ends well, but she has this quaint opinion that someday she might actually NEED to restore data and is feeling just a little mistrustful of those "100% Verified - No Errors!" reports that come to her inbox each morning. Again, she's persnickety like that.

Meanwhile, on the Home Front..

This situation dredged up some guilty thoughts about my wife's XP machine. It would have been very easy for me to push those thoughts back into the murk from which they rose had I not carelessly mentioned this little backup snafu to my wife. She very quickly asked "Is my machine backed up?"

Ahhh. Well, yes, sort of..

Because she's a woman she wanted to know exactly what I meant by "sort of" and I had to confess that I meant "Not so much.."

I really did have good intentions. There is a network backup to a server that in turn goes to removable media, but that only has room for some of the most critical files, and no, her Word documents didn't make the "critical" cut. But, I also bought a 250GB USB drive some time ago with the express intention of using that for her backup. Unfortunately I needed that on my Apple MacBook because Time Machine ate up my 550 GB USB drive. If it hadn't been for Time Machine, that other drive would have been hers. Honest! So..

So I ordered a 320GB USB drive. A discontinued model, cheap money and to my complete surprise it arrived overnight. It was formatted for Apple (!) so I reformatted it for NTFS and then did three distinct backups:

That last one is very nice to have available if the system dies outright and you need to buy a new machine.. unfortunately the new machine's File and Settings Transfer program may be incompatible by then, but if not, this is a big time saver. It's a shame Microsoft isn't smart enough to make this stuff always backward compatible for restore, but they are morons in general and we know not to expect much..

I'll instruct my wife on how to copy important files she works on and I'll freshen the other two backups once a week. Between these and the network backup, we should have a decent chance of being able to get data back if we ever need it.

Or at least 71% of it. We're not perfectionists.

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Thu Feb 12 00:56:47 2009: 5382   NickBarron

Close to an ongoing situation I have with a new client but we are talking into the 10's of TB of data.

Problem with manual backups is that you invariably will stop or forget to do them at some point.

Thu Feb 12 05:10:13 2009: 5383   jtimberman

No backup system is completely implemented until a successful has been performed and tested.

Backups are completely useless if you don't (or can't) trust the restore. I may sound like a marketing droid for a certain backup utility[*], but it's true, no matter which one you use.

* - I won't specify exactly which, as I used to work there and I want to "avoid" bias :).

Thu Feb 12 11:36:01 2009: 5390   TonyLawrence

Unfortunately, Windows seems to have real problems in this area. I've yet to use a Windows backup that I trust - I have horror stories with all of them. Testing is useless - the verifies are a test and anything else just says "Yeah, it worked here" but doesn't give me any faith that it will work when we actually need it!

Of course this could be the RD1000's fault and not Yosemite at all (though a Google search for that error seems depressingly common).


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