New Year’s Resolution – Backups

no-backupMy recurring New Year’s Resolution is to do a better job on my backups. And it doesn’t matter how well (or badly) I did last year – I can do better!

I have my home environment well protected  thanks in part to a cloud based service called CrashPlan.  Read about that here.

But my corporate notebook always provides a challenge.  Copying private corporate data to a public cloud such as CrashPlan  – probably not the brightest idea. And the corporate provided solution is meant for “regular users” that have a few GB’s – not the “power users” with 100’s of GB’s of data.

My goal is simply to backup my data. I assume that, if required,  the installation of the OS and any applications will be done by a corporate imaging process, or even manually with a DVD or an ISO.

Here is my solution – a bit old school – but it gets the job done. 

The target for my backups is an external USB disk. Any disk will do – as long as it is big enough. Doesn’t have to be particularly fast or even portable.

truecryptFirst step is encryption. Yes – ENCRYPTION!!  Stuff happens. I might lose the disk in transit. It might be stolen. I can’t leave myself vulnerable to having sensitive data end up in the wrong hands. My tool of choice for that is TrueCrypt. I created an encrypted volume on the USB disk and I mount it as required during the backups. There is a Beginner’s Tutorial on TrueCrypt’s website that has all the details needed to get started. 

teracopyThe next step is seeding that first backup. Windows File Copy is fine for a few files and directories, but when I am copying 100’s of GB’s, I need something better. The tool I use for this copy is Teracopy. Teracopy claims to be faster than Windows Copy (I never tested that), but more importantly, it provides the ability to start/stop/pause and recover from errors during the copy process. I actually use Teracopy ALL the time – not just for backups.

What data am I going to copy? For me, I backup the Documents Library. (I don’t bother with Pictures, Music and Video Libraries since I don’t have any such content on the work computer). I copy my Desktop, Downloads and Favorites folders as well. And I also copy my VMWare Workstation “Virtual Machines”.

synctoyTeraCopy is great for getting that initial copy. But you don’t want to manually do each of those steps every time. The last utility in my toolbox is the Microsoft SyncToy. This allows me to build “folder pairs” – a source folder and a target folder. I setup a folder pair for each of the directories above.  Advanced options also allow me to determine what to do when I delete a file in the source folder. Do I want to keep it’s copy in the target folder? Or do I want to delete it there as well?

Once it’s all setup – I can run a backup with a couple of clicks!!

But can’t I automate it further?  Well – maybe… If the target location was mounted all the time, a simple “scheduled task” could take care of the backups. But because of the Encrypted Volume – which requires a password when it’s being mounted – this is not going to work. For now, I have a recurring Outlook reminder to start the backup a couple of times a week.

And what about Offsite? I have not gone that far – but there is no reason that I couldn’t rotate through a number of USB disks – and keep a copy on my desk at work, and one on my desk at the home. 

Your turn – tell me how you’ve solved your backup dilemas. 

Backups with CrashPlan

Twenty years ago, a power outage brought down a Novell server I was the sys-admin for… When the power came back, the  data volume was corrupt… And the backup was three weeks old… And 50 folks or so lost 3 weeks of email…  That’s when I learned the lesson that backups were important!!

In the last twenty years, I have successfully recovered from a number of hard drive failures, scripts gone wrong, and even the occasional stupid user error…  All because backups are pretty much the first thing I do once I build a new machine – whether for work or for home…

My current home solution for backups includes CrashPlan… Specifically, their “CrashPlan+ Family Unlimited” offering.CrashPlan

My main box is backed up in full to the Crash Plan cloud – and also through their software- to a local hard disk . The local copy is not because I don’t trust the cloud (I do), but simply to speed up a restore in the event of a major failure. My less critical (and smaller)  boxes are sent just to the cloud. There are even options to backup to your friends computers. Although I’ve not ventured down that path yet…

The initial seed is a bit of a nuisance… My experience shows that I can do it at about 100 GB/ day… So, it would take a while to do an initial backup… But the good news is of course  – you only need to do that full backup once… After that, only changed data gets sent to the cloud.

The backup is only as good as a restore…. So, you need to test that out. In my case, doing a full restore is impractical. But I will routinely bring back a few  GB’s just to prove that it works, and to get a feel for the rate to expect. (I brought back 5 GB’s in 3 minutes while writing this paragraph).

And as an added bonus – CrashPlan gets me remote access to my data… If I’m looking for a file, all I need is their App installed on my iPad, or any old web browser… And I can magically bring up that file… Even if I am not at home…

I would recommend Crash Plan to any home user looking for a backup solution…

(Before CrashPlan, I was a user of  EMC’s Mozy backup solution. And that too was great!  But their pricing model made it prohibitive with the amount of data that I have…)

OpenDNS and OpenDNS Umbrella

opendnsI have been using OpenDNS at home to keep the kids from getting onto questionable sites for over a year….

The process is quite simple…  Whatever device is doing DHCP for your home network (your wireless router, or maybe you have a residential gateway)… Just tell it to give out OpenDNS’s  name servers instead of the name servers provided by your ISP…

That alone is sufficient to keep all you

But you can take it a step further…If you set up a free account with OpenDNS, and download and run a client somewhere in your home network (so they know your IP)… Then you can set up filters to block out DNS lookups to specific web site categories, or even individual websites on your home network…r internal devices from  known malware and phishing sites…

It’s not full-proof of course – but it was sufficient to keep my kids out of trouble..


That was… Until one of them got a cell phone, and she figured out that all she needed to do was shut off her Wi-Fi, and access the sites over 3G..

Well… OpenDNS has a solution for that too… OpenDNS Umbrella

The “mobile” service offering –  probably meant for the corporate world – sets up a VPN tunnel between the phone and OpenDNS proxy servers…  And then leveraging that proxy to filter out web sites as above. Cost is $20/year for an individual plan…  

Again, not fail safe… And it does slow down the older phones (Apple 3GS) a bit… But it’s been effective at keeping her out of some sites.

For now any ways…

Dropbox Cache Growing Out of Control…

[Originally Posted to Tumblr. ]

I love DropBox… But it’s not perfect…

Over the last couple of days, one of my machines has been having trouble keeping in sync… The trouble is limited disk space…   So, I went looking for where this disk space was being taken up, and DropBox was the culprit…

Whenever a file changes on one of your other linked machines, DropBox grabs the latest copy (as it should), but it moves and renames the current copy to a .dropbox.cache folder. It stays there for up to three days.

To solve the problem, a little batch file…

@echo off
taskkill /f /im Dropbox.exe /t
del /s /f /q  D:Dropbox.dropbox.cache*
start “” “%APPDATA%DropboxbinDropbox.exe”

You’ll have to adjust the D:Dropbox path to match the location of your Dropbox.

For now, I’m just running as needed. But I am considering putting into a scheduled task.

You don’t have a Dropbox yet? Get one!! Follow this referral link for an extra 500 MB.

New Home PC

After months of deliberation, I finally settled on the components
that will make up my new Home PC…

It’s fast… It’s quiet… And I’m quite pleased with it so far..
(This is not a gaming system – that was never the intent – but
it should run modestly most currently shipping games.)

Motherboard: ASUS P8P67 Deluxe

CPU: Intel Core i7 2600K Quad Core Processor – 3.4 GHz

Case: Fractal Design Define R3 Black Silent Computer Case

Power Supply: Corsair Professional Series Gold AX850

Cooling: Coolit Systems Eco CPU Water Cooling

RAM: G.SKILL Ripjaws – – DDR3-1600/CL7 – 2*4GB

OS Disk: OCZ Vertex 3 Sandforce Solid State Disk – 120 GB’s

Data Disks: 2 x Western Digital Caviar Green – 2 TB’s each

Optical Disk: LG Super Multi 22X DVD Writer

Graphics: ASUS Radeon HD 6870 DirectCU

Operating System: Windows 7 Professional