Home Backup for the DBA

I’ve been giving a Prepare for When Disaster Strikes talk at SQL in the City this year, and it’s designed to get you to think about problems before they happen and take steps to mitigate issues. It’s important at work, but it’s also important at home.

If you read the story of the Amazon/Apple hack, you might worry about the security of your information, and you should. However I was more concerned over the data loss, specifically pictures, when I read that account. I take a lot of pictures, all of them digital these days, along with various writings and videos, and I worry about preserving those for my own memories and for my kids. I don’t trust Facebook/Google/etc, to store them, so I needed my own solution.

I installed Windows Home Server (WHS) a few years back on an old Dell Dimension E520. It was a good workstation, and plenty powerful to run the previous version of WHS (prior to WHS 2011) on its’ AMD CPU. It worked well, but across two years I had 3 boot drive failures. Each time I needed to not only replace the drive, but reinstall WHS and then copy off and back my files from the data drives. A PIA.

I’d looked at Drobo, and other NAS type solutions, but none were very automated, rather expensive. I had a desktop, a laptop, my wife’s laptop, the kid’s iMac, and sometimes another machine to back up. After my 3rd boot drive failure, and the server sitting idle for a couple months, I decided to virtualize my WHS.

I had planned on using Win7 for a host, but the older desktop didn’t seem to want to install it with my new RAID card in it. Rather than futz with it, since it wasn’t critical and isn’t connected to the Internet on my home network, I installed WinXP and then Virtual Box. Inside of Virtual Box, I installed the older WHS software, putting my data on separate virtual drives that were protected by RAID. I used 2 separate arrays, which should give me some protection if any of them fail. The host WHS drive is also on a RAID array, which should give me some protection from drive failures.

And if my boot drive fails, I replace it, install WXP, Virtual Box, and then run my VM without messing with data.

I like WHS as a central place for us all to share pictures, video and music, and for backups. I’ve recovered a few files from the system that I had accidently deleted, and I know all our machines are protected right now.

It’s not perfect, and I really need an offsite solution for a second backup since I’m a DBA. I get a little paranoid about restoring things, and I know one copy isn’t good enough.

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4 Responses to Home Backup for the DBA

  1. Will H says:

    Thanks for the follow up. I just had my second boot drive failure on my WHS (EX 485) while I was away on vacation last week. Seriously debating rebuild (again) or replace…


  2. way0utwest says:

    That’s why I went virtual. Got tired of rebuilding. By putting the WHS in a file, I can just back that up, or protect it with RAID 1 as I have, and not worry about the rebuild part. An install of WXP goes pretty smooth, and I could always upgrade the host to W7/W8 as needed.


  3. John says:

    I have also been following Mat Honan recent postings about his system being hacked, and been thinking about this from another perspective. System backups at multiple sites are all well and good for electronic information, but what about paper documentation?
    They are just as much a part of home backup. While they are not subject to theft through electronic means, loss of such information (eg through burglary, fire etc) could be just as diastrous and possibly less easily recoverable than through electronic means. Such data falls into the following categories:

    – birth certificate, passport etc and other personal documentation that define identity
    – qualifications, licenses and certifications (academic and vocational)
    – information about banking/savings/pension accounts, utility providers etc
    – insurance policies
    – correspondence
    – employment contracts, payslips etc

    In the case of official documents, one should be able to get copies from the issuing body, but for items like personal correspondence, paper family tree history etc, things are far less clear cut. Should we not also be considering things like that in the wake of both electronic sabotage such as Mat Honan’s work, and extreme weather events.

    At work when I find paper documentation that isn’t duplicated electronically, I ask the person concerned:
    – why is this not stored in the relevant computer system?
    – is it critical to their section’s needs? (I have never had a negative answer to this)
    – do they photocopy it and take to a secure offsite storage location for backup and DR/business continuity purposes?
    sometimes this has given rise to purchase of a scanner with OCR or adding new functionality to relevant computer system, but there is relatively little I haven’t found that can’t be stored electronically.

    So far I haven’t found a suitable substitute for personal paper documentation because online storage for personal use is either prohibitively expensive or the providers have recently been subject to successful attack without putting precautions in place to minimise risk in the future (you won’t totally eliminate it).


  4. way0utwest says:

    John, excellent points. I do “back up” my wallet, with pictures of my various cards and things, but I haven’t done that with some other documents. I haven’t been overly worried since I can easily replace birth certificates, and things like diplomas aren’t worth replacing. They’re nice keepsakes for me, but not critical. Most of the other stuff is online already, but I’m sure I have holes that need to be filled.


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