Worth the money: Automated, online backup

*10 February 2010*

Yesterday, I found out I’d lost over three thousand calendar entries, and I had lost them five months ago. Fortunately, I had been using an
automated, [online backup service](http://mozy.com) and was able to restore the missing data.

I found out about my loss when I searched for a phone number on my Palm TX that should have been in my calendar, but was missing. I wondered what was up, and started going through my calendar a month at a time. I noticed that calendar entries after Sept 7, 2009 were present, but nearly everything before that was missing.

My Palm TX is synchronized frequently with Windows, and infrequently
with Linux. My Linux copy of the calendar wasn’t going to help me,
because it was missing the calendar entries as well. The same was true
for the Windows copy.

The Palm-to-SD-card backup that happened every night wasn’t going to
help, because it deletes any backups older than seven days old to make
room for the new backups. I needed something that stretched back five
months or more.

The backup of my Linux computer wasn’t going to help me, because I _overwrite_ my old
backups with new copies of the same files, using ‘rsync’.

I thought my Mozy backups worked the same way. Fortunately, I was
partially wrong. Mozy keeps point-in-time backups of some files. I don’t
know how they determine which files to do it for, but they did it for my
Palm Pilot calendar database file. I was able to restore my missing calendar entries, which was a huge relief.

I heartily recommend automated online backups. Manual backups aren’t
done by most people and if they are done, they’re sporadic and
incomplete. My intermittent manual, replace-the-old-files style of
backup to USB hard drive wouldn’t have allowed me to restore the
calendar entries. The $5/month that I spend for online backup was very
worthwhile, and easy to justify considering that it’s less than the cost
of eating out for lunch. It’s less expensive than a cell phone or
monthly internet service.

If you aren’t already doing automated backups, I recommend that you sign up with an online backup service today. Here are some recommendations:

1. [Dropbox](https://www.dropbox.com/) is the most popular. Works on Windows, Mac,
Linux, iPhone.
1. [Spideroak](http://spideroak.com/) is the second most popular. Works on
Windows, Mac, Linux.
1. Alternatives to these, including [Mozy](http://mozy.com), which is what I use for Windows: [http://alternativeto.net/desktop/dropbox/](http://alternativeto.net/desktop/dropbox/).


A word of caution: backups can’t work miracles. If a file was
corrupted BEFORE it was backed up, no backup solution is going to be
able to solve the problem. This is why I make two copies of all photos
from my digital camera BEFORE deleting them from the camera. Still, if
the memory card in the camera contained corrupted images, even this
wouldn’t be good enough.


The missing calendar entries were, in fact, not missing. They were
corrupted. I found this out by running `jpilot-dump -D | sort -r` on my linux computer. I had 3462 blank entries listed on 12/31/1969. The first time
I restored my Windows datebook.dat, and hot-synced, all of the restored
records were again “deleted” because my Palm though it had the more
current copy of those records in 1969. I had to purge the records from
my Palm _before_ hot-syncing with the restored datebook.dat file.


Techrepublic has a [Review of 10 outstanding Linux backup utilities](http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/10things/?p=895), many of which work on
other platforms as well.

Personal solutions (not hosted):

– [Simple Backup Suite](https://help.ubuntu.com/community/BackupYourSystem/SimpleBackupSuite) for Ubuntu and Fedora, which does full and incremental backups, on a schedule or manually. Install it on Fedora by running “`yum install sbackup`”. Configure and run by running “`/usr/bin/simple-backup-config`”
– [fwbackups](http://www.diffingo.com/oss/fwbackups), of which Techrepublic says, “This is, by far, the easiest of all the Linux backup solutions.”
– [Rsnapshot](http://rsnapshot.org/)
– [Duplicity](http://duplicity.nongnu.org/) which is a command line utility, and is recommended by http://rsync.net