Personal Disaster Recovery for the Masses

A few people make fun of me because I have a personal disaster recovery plan for my computers, data, and applications that are located in my home. These people aren’t in the IT industry. Those in IT usually nod thoughtfully and muse, “I should do that too.”

At least once a month, I back up all my important data and documentation, burn it to some CDs and place it in one of those lockable fire-proof boxes. I include my bookmarks and any software that I’ve downloaded and installed recently, like some of the open source projects I’m trying out. If I’m working on a specific project from home, I copy the data to multiple machines daily and usually burn it to CD every couple of days.

I also put my address book in the fire-proof box in various file formats as well as actual print-outs. This includes all my business contacts, credit card and utility companies, insurance companies, etc. If a fire ever burns my place down, I just need to find that box in the rubble, open it up and start making calls. I think most people could benefit from this regardless of whether or not they’re in IT.

My software documentation usually includes step-by-step instructions for getting back up to speed should disaster strike. I try to document everything as I use it the first time so that documentation isn’t a separate chore. I still have a lot of work to do here but I am definitely making progress.

Well, this weekend, my Fedora linux box up and died. The power supply keeled over (at the ripe old age of 10 years). When the power failed it corrupted the hard drives because it wouldn’t let me boot back into linux. So, I had to replace the power supply and then just re-install linux. I had documentation on all the options to choose during install. I also had docs on installing/configuring Apache, mySQL, PHP, Perl and its modules.

Now, I am far from perfect and there were a few instances where I had to make educated guesses on setups but I was sure to add those into the docs as I went. There’s a kind of recursive nature to disaster recovery. The more disasters you have, the better you get at it I suppose.

The whole install and configuring process took me only about 5 hours. This could have been faster but my linux box is a Frankenstein, with most parts being pretty old and slow. I was pretty impressed that the whole process only killed one morning.

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