Last week I started writing an article about my attendance at the Software and Technology Vendor Association (SATVA) meeting. That quickly went by the wayside as my time was gobbled up by the crucial task of restoring my laptop computer to a usable state. On my return from New Orleans at the end of March, it stopped working, a bit at a time until I could not get it to boot in anything but Windows SAFE mode.
Oh no, I can hear you say. She had a computer crash and did not have a backup! But, you see, I did have a backup. I am an avid Windows Live OneCare user. My computers are backed up weekly…and all of the data produced on both machines is backed up daily on our network, which is, in turn, backed up several different ways. I did not lose any data, but I was still faced with the ordeal of getting my computer back to where I need it to be so that I can be productive. So what happened?
I have become the victim of an infamous catch-22. I had complete and incremental Windows Live OneCare backups of my computer…but I could not run Windows Live OneCare in order to restore my backed up files. Even if I could restore the files backed up by OneCare, chances are that Windows would still be broken to the point of unusability. My computer even has built-in recovery support, so I had a complete backup of the machine stored on the hard drive. But the problem was in the operating system (OS)…Windows itself had become corrupted. And here’s the kicker…I bought the laptop with Windows Vista pre-installed, so I did not have CDs from which I could reinstall the OS, and the built-in recovery program on the hard drive would not run.
Once we had tried all the restore options we thought we had in place here locally with no success, I called Lenovo for support. They determined that I needed to reinstall Windows and sent me CDs with which to accomplish that task. Before getting to this point, I had easily spent three days trying to recover from the fatal problem; Seth had spent two additional days of his weekend trying to do the same. This was just the beginning.
The CDs from Lenovo arrived while I was at the SATVA meeting and Seth started the installation process for me while I was away. When I returned, I spent another day monitoring the computer while it completed all the necessary updates. Then I began the time-consuming process of re-installing the software I use on the machine. That was last Monday. I got Microsoft Office installed along with a couple of smaller programs I use all the time.
Next I performed what we have decided is a crucial step to keep this total waste of time from happening again in the future…I created an “image” of the hard drive including all the programs and registry settings for everything I had installed up to this point. An image backup differs from the usual file backup in that it is a bit for bit copy of the hard drive, a snap-shot of the entire hard drive at a specific point in time. It can be restored without the need to install Windows first.
While we used an inexpensive “techy” Linux-based program to do this image, there are many excellent products on the market. Some traditional backup programs, such as current versions of NovaBackup, also include image backup capability. I had not yet installed all the programs I use, but we were still uncertain about the stability of my computer, so we wanted to be sure to have an image of the hard drive sooner rather than later. I will repeat this step when I have completed installation of all of the programs I use and do not want to have to reinstall the next time something like this happens.
Twenty days later, I am almost back to where I started. Today I am installing the last of my frequently-used software. I cannot even imagine where I would be if most of my data were not stored daily to our network and backed up each night. At least I have been able to access most of my data files once reinstalling the program that created the files. I am fortunate that I also run a desktop computer from which I can operate most of my critical computer functions. The original purpose of this dual computer capability at my desk was multi-tasking and minimizing wait times, but during recovery I have been able to keep up with email and customer contacts and bookkeeping because all of that is done on my desktop computer. I will create an image of that machine tonight! I did that immediately after we originally setup the computer, but the image has not been updated since then. As I have learned, that is a disaster waiting to happen!
It does not matter what you use your computer for. If you do mental health billing or medical billing; if you use the system for a behavioral health EMR or for a psychiatric clinical record; if you are the bookkeeper and maintain the financial records for your organization; if you are a home user who maintains emails and pays bills and shops on the Internet…you need more than a backup. If your computer is used for crucial functions of any kind, or if your time is limited and you don’t want to spend days rebuilding your machine’s contents, you need more than just regular backup of your data. You need an image of your hard drive and you need it somewhere other than on the hard drive of your computer!
The lesson learned from this experience is that we cannot afford the down-time and rebuilding time that it takes to get a machine functioning again after a crash. Data backups are not enough. We are now developing a schedule for regular imaging of each computer in the SOS network. Perhaps you will do the same without needing to go through this experience first hand.
Feel free to share your experiences with computer crashes and restorations. Do you have particular image and/or backup software to recommend? Let us know what you think. Just click on the title of this article and enter your comment in the box at the bottom of the page.