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When disaster strikes, strike it back

I knew the moment my laptop didn't wake from sleep mode something was amiss. Having retired to my office safe haven for the evening I just wanted to wrap up a few items, log my time and call it a night - the basic end to any Drupal developer's day. My Macbook, however, had other plans.

It was the quintessential nightmare for those of use who live on our computers, a dream we often visualize as worse-case situations but often do nothing to lessen the pain of actualities: a complete computer crash with limited hope of a reboot. But despite the Macabre vibe usually surrounding such thoughts, it's something that doesn't always have to be the ultimate disaster. 

In my case this was a four-year-old Macbook that had morphed to become my entire life. Everything was on there, my work, important documents, bookmarks, saved mementoes - not to mention the sites and files I needed on a daily basis to tackle my tasks at hand as a Drupal developer. But because of prior planning I was prepared for such unpleasantries.

A few years back an ailing disk drive on a previous Mac had caused me to stop being timid regarding backups and take the plunge into data safety. Since then it's been a cascading effect of storing data in obscure places for emergency situations that often borderlines on obsessed. Here's how I emerged from this potential catastrophe unscathed.

The Basics: Nightly backups

If you don't already have one, go to your preferred electronics dealer of choice - I enjoy both NewEgg.com and Amazon.com - and purchase an external drive. Do it, you can finish this article while waiting for the order to process. Stop saying "That's a good idea" or "I'll get to it, eventually" - order one right this very instant. Computer crashes don't wait for convenient times.

I utilize a Western Digital Passport 500 GB Firewire external drive which I can't rave about enough. It's small, barely larger than a deck of cards, extremely portable and requires no external power source. I use SuperDuper! to do a smart nightly bootable backup, that is only the files modified since the last backup get written and as it's bootable I can transfer/restore to and from another Mac with ease.

Cloud Storage and File Syncing

Cloud-based storage is another fantastic investment for keeping your data safe, and there are a myriad of options to choose from for every budget or need. For me, this is Dropbox. The must-have option for me was its multiple platform support, thus I'm able to mount my shared folders on my Linux, Windows and Mac workstations. Accounts are free for a 2 GB allocation, more than enough for simple documents, but can be upgraded to 50 GB for a meer $9.99 per month - ample storage for important keepsakes.

When my laptop went down I was able to switch to my Windows 7 box the next morning and continue working on my current tasks with minimum downtown thanks to my shard Dropbox folders.

Besides computer crashes there are more than can happen to the electronics in our lives that are beyond our control and it's not a matter of when we deal with these unforeseen events but how. House fires, theft and acts of God are all possibilities regardless of how cautious we may be. External drives with backed up data are worthless when they're stolen from your dwelling alongside everything else. 

Please note that there are security implications regarding these types of storage solutions. While I'm sure these storage companies will rave about their security guidelines and measures, the reality is that putting items such as password file and documents containing personal information such as tax returns into the ether of the Internet will always carry a larger degree of risk than simply storing them on your hard drive. Please consult with your own technology staff and use common sense before throwing sensitive documents onto Internet-based storage. 

The after effect

Back to the tragic task at hand, despite having lost my friend of four years I was only out of the picture for a matter of the time it took me to drive to the nearest Apple Store and pickup a new laptop. I knew the staff there could fix my logic board but after being told the timeframe for repair and the basic price it became very apparent to me it was not in my best interest to get it repaired - to the sales desk for me.

But having a new laptop created a new workflow issue - how to easily transfer the data from my dead computer to the new one? Sure, I could restore from a backup, but my machine crashed at the end of the day (before a backup could fire off) and I wasn't one to lose those 8+ hours of work so easily.

Back at home I sat down at my kitchen table with tools in hand and began to disassembling my laptop with the purpose of cooking it in the oven as some sort of electronic turkey neatly carved up for Thanksgiving dinner, using a hastily read article I read on the Internet as my guide - I was determined to see this laptop return from the dead even if it came at the expense of burning the house down because of melted electronics in the oven. After a blissful 30 minutes or so and a disheveled laptop later, I had freed the logic board from its tomb. To the oven we go.

I propped the device up on two crafted balls of foil, perched it atop the wife's best cookie sheet and slammed it into the oven with gusto. I set the timer to 8 minutes, as if these were some sort of circuit board cookies waiting to rise, and proceeded to pace around the room nervously, half expecting black smoke to come billowing out the oven.

No such event happened. In fact what did happen following a tumultuous 2 hours of putting Humpty Dumpty back together was a once again working laptop.

I wish I could say this was a happy ending upon which I reunited with my old friend, only to return the outlander to his home for a full refund, but oven-baked logic board repairs are a temporary solution at best. I wasn't willing to risk such a crash again so I used the opportunity to connect the machines via Firewire, boot the old one into transfer mode and do a complete migration.

End result

Despite a logic board crash on my primary work environment I only lost 1.5 hours of work - the time it took me to purchase a new one. This was not a tale of 'you got lucky', this was a tale of being prepared for the worst, something everyone is capable of doing regardless of technology proficiency. Even the worst case of data loss, such as a hard drive crash, could have been repaired with ease utilizing recent cloned backups.

We're all warned continuously throughout our technical lives to backup our data but few actually take the next step and do it. Those of us toiling on the Internet day end and day out, utilizing various applications and/or writing software as part of our lives, we owe it to our sanity to prepare for the worst.

Still not convinced or have that shopping cart open in the next tab? Ask yourself this: If your computer crashed right and your hard drive was unrecoverable, what would you lose?