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   ► KBComputer TechHardware   Print This     
 
Tech Hardware:
Modern Storage Media Is Great, But Ya Gotta Use It
 
Posted 105 days ago on 2/11/2018
Take Away:

This article discusses how storage media has improved dramatically since the early 1990s.

KB102839



External hard drives, cloud based back up systems, camera cards, DVDs and thumb drives…these are modern forms of storage media we all take for granted nowadays. And they work very well, but the storage media world wasn’t always so rosy.

When I was starting out in the early 1990s, I could only fantasize about the marvels of modern storage media. Back then, the options for backing up your data were much more limited and the outcome was often a gamble. Tape backup cassettes could easily de-spool, which meant you were stuck unless you were able to rewind it. Floppy diskettes were often prone to physical defects and failure after only limited use. When you made a back up to a series of floppy diskettes using a back up and restore application, it only took one bad diskette to ruin the entire back up, because it had to restore in the same sequential progression as the data was originally backed up.

People were getting so fed up with floppy diskettes and tape cassettes that they invented something called a "zip disk", which was the forerunner of the modern external hard drive. Iomega was the most recognizable brand for the "zip disk". You had to install an internal zip disk drive inside a vacant drive bay in the computer. Later on they had external ones. Then you had to use the zip disk software to back up and restore your data. This was a big improvement over the floppy diskettes and tape cassettes, because the zip disk storage media was much more reliable. I think this is where the storage media industry turned the corner, because I don’t remember having any problems with zip disks.

I think many young people take the ease and reliability of modern storage media for granted, because they have nothing else to compare it to. I do have something to compare it to and the stories I’m about to tell are downright frightening:

In the early 1990s I was working for an industrial pattern shop that used a MS DOS based Foxpro software database system to run their orders and job costing. They made multiple backups of their data tables to 5-1/4” floppy diskettes. I think there were 5 back up sets all together. They were all stored in a covered plastic box in the office. From the office, you could enter through a door into the plant where they made their industrial patterns. There was a lot of sawdust in the plant, because lumber was the main commodity they used to make industrial patterns. One day we tried to access the backed up data tables on the floppy diskettes and every single one of them failed, because they were damaged by the sawdust that entered the office from the door to the plant even though they were in a covered plastic box!

A few years later, I was working for a window treatment company that used old monochrome computer terminals that networked to a server that ran a Business Basic order entry program. The back ups were made to tape drives. One day the owner of the company needed to access their mailing list of 10,000 customer names and couldn’t do it. So a representative for the computer company came down from Michigan. He tried to access the customer names from all the tape drive back ups they had – I think there were 15 to 20 tape drives. None of them worked and the entire customer list was lost.

That’s how it was back in the bad old days. Today’s storage media is far superior and I should know, because I work with it all the time. Even if an external hard drive fails from a read/write head crash, you can still rescue the data from it as long as the disk platters are not broken. If you can't recover it yourself, there are many professional data recovery services that will gladly do it for you, but they aren't cheap.

Frankly, the biggest problem we have today is not storage media itself, but the willingness of people to use it after they have bought It and their competence for using it. Consider for a moment if you are one of the people who do back up your files and folders religiously. But unknown to you what is being backed up isn't what you think it is. I have seen many instances where people thought they had backed up files or folders of data to a flash drive or external hard drive, but it only turns out to be shortcuts to the data from the Windows desktop. It's a recipe for teeth mashing!

I have been on a number of computer repair calls where a computer crashed and there were no backup copies of data to be found. Not even old ones. I had to use my data transfer cables to connect the ailing hard drive to my laptop and recover the files and folders from the crashed hard drive. And some of these situations were very close calls, because the disks were so banged up that they wouldn’t even configure as distinct drive letters after I plugged them into my computer. I had to use special software to recover lost/damaged files from the hard drives that wouldn’t distinguish themselves as drive letters in Windows. It typically took a very long time, because of all the bad sectors on the crashed disk the data recovery program had to work through. People seem to prefer playing a high stakes game of assuming there will be some data recovery angel out there like me, rather than taking responsibility for themselves. Fortunately, there are scheduled back up applications for external local storage media as well as the cloud that relieve much of that responsibility, but you still need to get it set up initially and many people just don't do it.

Now, let's say you are skilled at making frequent back ups of your data (no Windows desktop shortcuts, you are making copies of the real thing). Congratulations, you are way ahead of the multitudes of people who do nothing. If your computer crashes, you can get your data restored without a hitch. But what if you are running a business and a catastrophic hard drive crash occurs. You can certainly restore the data back ups you made, but you may be ill prepared to do a full blown reinstallation of Windows, device drivers, Microsoft Office and many other installed applications. TIME IS MONEY AND YOU HAVE TO GET UP AND RUNNING LIKE NOW... WHAT TO DO?

There is an excellent way to quickly becoming fully operational after a PC crash. It is called a “System Image Back Up” and this utility is readily available through the control panel under "Backup and Restore" to those running Windows 7 and newer. Many people who buy new computers are unaware of this terrific utility, but they should be.

It’s actually pretty simple to make a “System Image Back Up”. You just plug in the USB connector of an external hard drive to the computer you are backing up. Or if you’re a data recovery geek like me, you can use either IDE or SATA data transfer cables with a separate internal hard drive (older disks have IDE connectors, newer ones are SATA). Next, you need to enter the PC’s control panel and double click the “Backup and Restore” icon. In the upper left hand corner of the following screen that comes up, just click the “Create a system image” link. A new screen will appear that will detect any external hard drives connected to the computer or any DVD disks in the DVD tray. Although the DVD option will work, I still think dealing with multiple DVDs would be too much of a pain, especially if even one goes defective then your “System Image Back Up” is toast. You ought to select the hard drive option and specify which external drive you are copying the image to if more than one is available. Then just follow the prompts to start the “System Image Back Up”. One thing to note is that this process will not work unless the target hard drive being copied to has been formatted with the NTFS file system – the older FAT32 file system will not work with this.    

Upon restoring a “System Image Back Up”, your computer will now look and function exactly the way it did at the time the image was created. Of course, you will probably want to copy back some more recent back ups you made of your data after the computer is fully operational.

Now that you have your newly created “System Image Back Up” at your beckon call, how would you actually use it to recover your PC in the event of a catastrophic hard drive crash? Using a Windows 7 64 bit OS as an example, you would need to boot your crashed computer with a Windows 7 64 bit recovery and boot CD/DVD. You can easily make one of these by burning an ISO (disc image file), which is available for download at no cost. The one I use is called “CyberNetNews.com_Windows_7_64-bit_Repair_Disc.iso”. You can also create one of these at the end of “System Image Back Up” operation. You will see a prompt that asks you if you would like to make a boot CD/DVD, which it can do easily and quickly for you as a convenience.

After the Windows 7 64 bit recovery/boot CD/DVD starts up, it will look for all Windows installations (usually there is only one). Upon selecting the OS, it will next take you to a screen showing links for several options. The one you want is “Windows Image Recovery”. After selecting this, you will be taken to another screen showing the most recent “System Image Back Up” as well as older ones if they exist. Next, just follow the prompts and your crashed computer will be restored using the “System Image Back Up” you selected a short time later.

Like the adage goes, you only get out what you put into something. Modern storage media is superb, but if you aren't utilizing it through localized back up applications or the cloud, then it can't help you in your most desperate time of need. I personally think people need to change the way they think about this. I remember when high speed internet first appeared, people were being eaten alive by rivers of viruses that entered their computers from the new high speed connections. After enough of this, the public came to embrace the need for security software like Norton, McAfee, AVG, etc. Today most people install some kind of malware scanner to protect their computers from attack - it's merely an afterthought. I firmly believe the same kind of shift in the public's attitude needs to occur with regard to making periodic back ups of user data. Flash drives, CD/DVDs, external hard drives and the cloud are terrific strides towards this worthy goal.


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