Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How do YOU spell relief?

Let me start by telling you a little story that happened to me recently.

About five or six years ago, we started using a web content management system from Frontier called Manila. Manila has allowed us to provide web page services to teachers who otherwise would probably not have a web presence. It has been a great addition and a tool that has helped countless teachers, students and parents. But it has not been without its problems. Although we know about every issue a Manila server could throw at us, there is the occasional curve ball. The service grew and grew to the point we needed multiple servers and it required quite a bit more maintenance. We have about 2000 accounts with I don't even know how many pages, files and other resources on these servers.

Well, about two weeks ago, two of my colleagues walked down the hall and into the workshop I was presenting in to inform me they were unable to access the Manila server. Although rare, it did happen that the server web service would die and we would need to restart it. So I informed our workshop participants we need to take a little break while I assessed the situation.

As we walked down to our server room, the first words out of Marc's mouth were, "Just a flashing question mark on the server screen." That's when I knew we were in trouble. But that was only the beginning of my troubles. The drive was not responding to anything we tried. Booted from a recovery disk. Didn't work. Put the drive in another server. Didn't work. Took the drive out of the sled and put it in a desktop machine. Didn't work. Starting to sweat now. Need to get back to my workshop. I asked my colleagues to hunt for the backups so we could start rebuilding the drive. At least we would be able to get thing back on track by the end of the day.

That's when things really started to fall apart. After much searching, no backup was found. I had realized I was working with no off-site backup solution for the last 3 months. And the firewire backup drive that we were using also had hardware problems. I had NO data! My stomach turned. I started sweating. I felt the world crashing down around me. My head was in a fog. What could I do? There were many people who relied on this server to host their websites with very important information. Phone calls were coming in. "I can't get to my website. What's wrong?" "I'm doing a presentation that uses my site. When will it be back up?"

I was off to the boss to keep him abreast of the news. Crushed, I had to admit my failure to keep a good backup and ask him for permission to send the failed drive off to a data recovery service. That meant BIG BUCKS to fix my mistakes. Oh - I didn't feel real well. I had to face up to the fact that there were a lot of people who relied on this and it need to be fixed. ASAP!

The boss was great. He told me to get the drive off to the data recovery people and do whatever we needed to get the sites back. So to the UPS store I went. And to California the drive went. A week later, the data came back on another drive. All sites restored to full capacity. With the exception of a few uploaded supporting files, everything was back. A HUGE relief. (Contact if you happen to run in to the same problems. They were great and offered an educational discount.)

What did I learn from this lesson? Since this post, we have a redundant off-site backup for all of our Manila sites. I have 2 daily local backups with an archive copy going off-site to another city over our high-speed wide area network. With all of the nasty weather such as tornados, thunderstorms and flooding around here lately, I didn't feel we could be too safe.

Everything is back to normal and I feel much more relief since we have our automated backup plan in place. However I still had something bothering me. A nagging pang that just wouldn't quit. And it hit me. What about my personal computer? Of all the stuff I have and everything that is now digital, what would it be like to have to recreate all of my data? What about all the documents, presentations, movies, music and everything else that is there? What would I do? CRY!

Last night a brown box arrived at our doorstep. Opening it revealed a new "Time Capsule" from Apple. After about 5 minutes of unboxing and setup, it was up and running. It took about 2 hours to do an initial backup of my 67.7 gigs of data (and that wasn't the system or application files.) Now, every time I open my laptop at home, it will have an incremental backup done in the background.

So how do you spell relief? I spell it B.A.C.K.U.P. What are you waiting for? Back up your digital life NOW. Don't wait until something happens. You'll regret it. Automate it with something like Apple's Time Machine/Time Capsule product. It will be worth every penny you invest.


cpultz [lps] said...

Great post Jason.

Last month I sat down to work with a woman who has been an active computer user since 1994, and never once in her life backed up a file - anywhere! She knew she should, but never did. Her world revolved around her files, and she's upgraded computers many times in 15 years bringing them along for the ride.

I dragged her 2GB of word documents to a FW drive and burned a DVD of them. Then we migrated them to our content management system for her. We DID NOT put them back on her computer. She now has access to them from anywhere, and does not have to worry about losing them.

She knows she has dodged a bullet, and admits that a huge weight has been lifted from her shoulders. For 15 years she had a nagging feeling that everything could disappear in a moment.

Maybe we have hit upon something here. We should do a reality TV show - "Extreme Technology Makeover"!


Jason Everett said...

Thanks for the comments Chris. I think you helped her definitely dodge a bullet.

I really like your idea about an extreme tech makeover for teachers. Maybe a guide they could use along with a grant they could submit to actually get the hardware, software, services and training.

What would you include? I might have to have a topic just on this. You have my wheels turning. Thanks!

Jason Everett said...

Wanted to include an article I just read:

Taking The Plunge: Jungle Disk 2

dstall said...

That is some of the best storytelling I have seen in a long time! (non-fiction of course since I was sort of a witness) Congrats on a great blog! And I am so happy that things are fixed. You have inspired me to take a day off and back-up my computer. I don't know when but maybe I can find one more date in July to do that so I can dodge THE bullet!