Reliable Backup is hard to do

I believe in triple copies after working with Cosmos at Bing and other similar services and reading recommendations and descriptions of backup schemes.

So at home, we have 2 disk copies and a cloud copy of every file.
So I thought I was covered.   Not quite.
We have a lot of old static files (photos and videos and old docs) that we keep on a read only disc and a backup on a disk kept in our basement.
For active files, we used a mirrored (two 3TB disks) from Buffalo.

Well, the Buffalo HD-WL6TU3R1 device failed.  It wouldn’t boot.  When turned on, both disk access lights blink red for a few seconds and then shut off.   The manual doesn’t describe this diagnostic code and contacting Buffalo was useless. They just told us we are out of warranty.

My recommendations:

  • Don’t buy Buffalo
  • If you do buy Buffalo, toss it immediately after the warranty period, because it is useless.

My suspicion is that the controller in the device, a Single Point of Failure, failed.

No problem, I thought, I removed the individual drives and using my Coolmax multifunction converter, I temporarily hooked up the drives individually to the PC via USB.  They were readable, but it turns out about a third of the data when being copied produced
“ERROR 87 (0x00000057) Copying File . . . The parameter is incorrect”
Tried running chkdsk to repair the disk, but it failed with several errors.

So now 2 of our 3 copies are incomplete.   No problem, we use Backblaze.

In general, I love Backblaze and have recommended it to all of my family and friends because it is truly unlimited backup, reasonably quick, doesn’t seem to slow down our systems, and works smoothly, quietly, automatically behind the scenes.   The annual price is extremely reasonable for backing up our current 6TB of data.

I have previously restored from Backblaze a few small files while I was travelling and realized the file I needed was on a computer back home.
I also previously restored my 200GB music library with a series of restores over just a couple of days using downloaded zip files.

We replaced our dead Buffalo 3TB mirror with 8TB mirror (two 8TB disks) WD MyBook Duo.   Now we have room to grow as GoPro 4K Videos dump 27GB/hour (instead of HD 9GB/hour).

But now we had to restore the 2TB of data we had mirrored.
Backblaze provides a very reasonable alternative, for $189 refundable, they FedEx us a disk.  We ship the disk back in 30 days and they refund the $189.  We just pay shipping back!

Only 2 problems:

  • It took over a week for Backblaze to “gather” the data and then to “build” the disk, before shipping it. Backblaze recommends doing online .zip restores for files you need during the week.   We had to do a few.
  • Backblaze keeps your “data”, but not the meta-data, specifically the timestamps on the files. So all of your files lose their date and become created, modified, and accessed at exactly the same time – when the disk is built to send you.

I find the lack of timestamps screws up a lot of things for us.  We can’t tell when a picture or video was taken unless it happens to have it inside the metadata of the file (and most of our oldest pictures do not).    Many of our documents for business have different versions and to know when a tax document, corporate motion, or other such file was created or modified is useful.

So Backblaze gives us our data, but not our timepstamps.   Beware.

Ultimately we chose a a multi-step solution:

  • Restore those files I had made a 4th local offline copy of 8 months ago.
  • Restore those files we could read off the broken Buffalo raw disks.
  • Restore using Backblaze ZIP files instead those we really cared about
    (750GB downloaded over 3 days in multiple 100GB downloads)
  • Restore any missing files (about 15% of all of them) using the Backblaze data, with wrong timestamps.

Now, I think I need to create a periodic job that dumps into a file all of the timestamp data, so Backblaze will back that up.   Then I can use a program to reset the timestamps to those that I have logged after I’ve done a restore.   Backblaze can be a hassle.



About testmuse

Software Test Architect in distributed computing.
This entry was posted in software testing. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Reliable Backup is hard to do

  1. Ralph Case says:

    Rats! You’d think that by now we’d have figured out a better solution for backing up important files! I assume you had tested the normal restore process for both Buffalo and Backblaze. It was the exceptional cases that didn’t work well. Still, there are many opportunities for improvement!

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