Back Everything UP: Don't get caught with your pants down

by Jess Brown


When I first started my company in 2008, my backup plan was simple: I had an external hard drive and I just backed up to it once a week.

After I while that started to become too much of a burden, and I had also setup a Ubuntu dev server that I wanted to try backing client work up to. So I followed this popular article about setting up TimeMachine on Ubuntu and it worked great. Then Rack Space bought a little company called Jungle Disk and they had an option for Unbuntu to backup files to S3 or Rackspace's cloud files for an off site solution.

This worked really well because I had everything in one place and lots of redundancy. I had a 2nd hard drive in the dev server that I rsynced to. I also had another computer in the office that I rsynced to, and I had the offsite backup in case of fire, theft, flood, etc.

What changed?

In 2009, I really started to get into rails development which works best when you have your files locally. You run a local web server, local database server, Git (git is slow over a network for large projects) and things just work better in my local env. Also, I started using Dropbox a lot and enjoyed how easy it was to share files/folders and also came with the convenience of backing up your files automatically in the background. Around that time I also ordered a new dev server with a RAID setup to mirror the data.

This is when things started to get a little off. After setting up my new server, I never resetup JungleDisk. We started putting all new client directories in Dropbox. We ended up with having a lot of old client data on the server, some internal applications (ie billing/time tracking) and lots of old resources (images, videos, etc).

I've had it on my todo list for sometime now to find an offsite solution for my dev server, and I've looked a few times, but just haven't found anything that seemed to fit for what I wanted.

No OS Found

My wife and I take turns each day exercising. Once day she does CrossFit and the next I ride my bike. On Friday's (her day) the CrossFit class is a later in the morning and I usually take some time to hang out with my 3 year old Nate. We were about to go and see my 93 year old grandfather and I was trying to get a deposit ready in the office when Nate came in and simply pushed the power button on my battery backup for the dev server.

I got a little flustered, ushered him out and didn't think much of it (thinking it would reboot itself as it has before after long power outages). Later that afternoon, I went to enter so time in my time tracking app and it wouldn't come up. That's when I went to the server turned the monitor on and saw No OS Found.

I instantly started to get a little nervous. I rebooted and rebooted several time and tried going into the setup and RAID setup and had no luck.

This is when the regret started puring in and I started kicking myself in the rear. How difficult would it have been to just have a simple local copy on one of the other 5-6 machines I have around the office? It wouldn't have taken any more time than to write this article.

The Outcome

I was fortunate that I hadn't lost any client work. I did have a few old client directories that had some graphic source files, but the biggest thing was a months worth of billing / time tracking. How could I ever I recreate that?

This happened on a Friday night, so I couldn't take it immediately anywhere. I was going to wait until Monday, but my anxiety got the best of me and I took it to a place that had done good work for me before, but after taking a quick look, they said it'd be Monday before then had any answers.

Well, this made for a really crumby weekend.

Finally on Monday (afternoon) I got the answer I'd been looking for: my data was safe. There was actually nothing wrong with the hard drives. If we turned off the RAID controller in the BIOS, you could boot the drives fine (so they were perfectly mirrored), but something got messed up with the RAID configuration and it was no longer recognized. You have to erase the HD's to redo the configuration, so I immediately picked up the computer to make backups!

The Takeway

Don't get lazy and slack about your's easy to do over time, especially if you haven't had a scare in a while. Also, with all the focus on the cloud (Dropbox, Google Apps, S3, etc), it's easy to distance yourself and be naive about how covered you are. I incorrectly felt way too comfortable about the RAID setup and figured I had good coverage and I was very close to being WAY wrong.

Take backing up seriously and don't just rely on one source and/or service.

comments powered by Disqus