Data, backups, and CrashPlan

Wow, we almost got through October without making a post. I’m not ready to let this journal die (or be updated less than once a month) yet, so I guess it’s time for a general update.

Theme of the past couple weeks have been hard drive deaths. It started a couple weeks ago with Greg’s work, where they had a RAID drive fail (apparently resulting in data loss because the RAID controller hadn’t previously reported that the other disk was dead… so both disks dead == unhappy data).

Not to be outdone, last Wednesday, my external hard drive decided to start issuing checksum errors everywhere, and slow reads and writes down to unusable speeds. This prompted a panic and a rush to get new drives and restore my backups. (At least I’m super anal about backups, so I didn’t lose any data.)
(This is actually my first hard drive failure ever, which is kind of interesting. It’s not my first data disaster, as I previously had rogue virus scanning software wipe the hard drive while trying to clean a virus, but it’s the first time a drive has actually become unusable.)

Now today, Greg’s laptop seems to be having problems and freezing shortly after boot. Hopefully it doesn’t indicate another hard drive failure. But regardless, it seems this is not the month for technology.

Ben has previously written about cloud backups. I’d previously written them off (after all, I do local backups and off-site backups at my parents’ every time I visit them), but after the recent not-really-a-problem-at-all-but-still-scary “disaster” that was my hard drive failing, I took another look at them. After all, my data is priceless to me (especially my photos), and all of my careful backing up would be worthless in the event of theft or fire.

The service of choice for a lot of people seems to be CrashPlan. We use them at work, and I have 4 friends who use it (including Ben), so it seemed worth a look. The main benefit there (in addition to their great pricing and support for external drives) is their $125 seeding service, where they’ll send you a hard drive in the mail for you to do your initial backup on instead of having to upload everything over the internet. For me, with over 1TB of data to back up, this was a no brainer, and combined with their extremely reasonable prices, I decided to take the leap.

It took less than 24 hours from my order for the drive to ship, and less than 24 hours after that for me to actually receive it. This was last Friday (before my backup had even finished restoring onto my new drive!), so I kicked off the seed backup and it ran through the weekend. After it completed Monday morning, I realized I’d forgotten to exclude a couple directories, so I excluded them and ran an archive maintenance on the backup to permanently remove the files. Little did I know this process would take days to complete… it’s now Tuesday night, and it’s on the third step (of who knows how many) of maintenance.

So, as far as CrashPlan goes, a few first (and second) impressions:
1) Their customer service is amazing. Their reps are polite, knowledgeable, and responsive. It’s everything you want in customer service. So bonus points for that.
2) Their client is written in Java and therefore hogs memory like nobody’s business. My backup actually crashed on Saturday because the client had exceeded the default 512MB RAM limit, and I had to increase it to 2GB. Woke up some mornings to it using over 1.5GB, and had to reboot to get it back down to reasonable levels.* Negative points for that (although the Java aspect means they do support Linux, which I suppose is a plus).
3) Don’t do archive maintenance on your archives. :P It takes literally days to run (at least when you have 1TB of data like me), and there isn’t any warning beforehand about how long it could take. (And, as far as I can tell, there isn’t a way to cancel or delay the operation once it’s started.) Negative points for that.
4) Seeding service (assuming it works, of course, since I still haven’t sent back the drive) is awesome and totally worth the money if you have a lot of data to back up. It would have taken me months (like… almost a year) to send my 1TB of data over the internet. Seeding gets it done in a matter of days. So bonus points for offering that service.

*This is actually concerning to me, as my laptop only has 4GB of physical RAM, so CrashPlan regularly consuming half of that would be a serious problem. Fortunately, memory usage seems to only spike while a backup is actively occurring, and it otherwise uses a reasonable 150MB of RAM to run in the background and monitor files.

Anyway, this post has gotten a bit longer than I would have liked. I haven’t had a chance to do anything with photos while my computer has been restoring and backing up and maintenance-ing, so there isn’t anything to break up this wall of text for you today.

But yay for cloud backups. And boo for hardware problems.
(Also? Boo for the NSA being able to easily access my data now. But I suppose that’s a given for anything you put online, and I’d rather have a safe backup than worry about the government seeing my not-at-all-interesting files.)