Why Cloud Backup Is Not Enough

Why Cloud Backup Is Not Enough

If you have a computer, tablet, or mobile you most likely have some of your data stored in the cloud. It may just be syncing your contacts or calendar, or even backing up your photos from your iPhone or Android phone. Whatever the reason it is now a cheap way of keeping your data safe. Or is it?

Never take for granted that your data is getting backed up correctly. Check it yourself.

I had a situation just recently where my wife’s iPhone had just gone through a 60℃ wash.

“That’s okay,” I said,  “We have all your data on iCloud…”

A few days later we replaced the phone (thanks insurance) and restored the data back from iCloud.  That’s when we discovered iCloud hadn’t been copying Contacts and some other data. Fortunately I had  also kept another backup using iTunes on my Mac so was able to restore from there.

Now would be a great time to check your iCloud settings and make sure there’s a green tick next to everything you don’t want to lose!

Another thing to look out for, especially if you have a lot of data, is your upload speed. Unless you have fast broadband,  uploading large amounts of data can take time. You’re unprotected until all of the data has reached the cloud. In some cases it can take hours, even days, depending on how much data you have and the speed of your network.

Once you have uploaded all your data, your device will only need to copy new changes so won’t take so long. As a Plan-B, don’t forget to backup to a computer once in a while. You can thank me later.

Don’t leave it until it is too late. You never know when your phone will take a spin in the washing machine.

APFS Data Recovery

When Apple release the latest version of macOS (named Sierra) in Autumn, it will include the new APFS filesystem. Apple haven’t launched a new FS for a long time, and this filesystem won’t work for bootable disks at first. Eventually Apple will make this the default filesystem across the whole product line, from the iPhone, through to the Mac.

APFS Data Recovery
APFS Data Recovery

APFS Upgrade In Place

I have heard that Apple will release a tool to upgrade an existing HFS+ volume to APFS. If you run the upgrade I strongly advise you to make at least a couple of backups first. I would suggest a Time Machine backup and a bootable full disk copy, with online backup if you have it. While the upgrade is cleverly designed to minimise the risk of disk corruption, there is always the chance that failure could leave you with no option but wipe & start again. This is especially true of older Macs that you may have updated through multiple OS versions and accumulated all sorts of nasties along the way.

APFS Data Recovery

We are already working through the APFS documentation to keep ahead of these failures. We will have some recovery tools ready soon. As with most recoveries, the most important thing is to stop as soon as you hit a problem. Remember my new catchphrase, “Most damage to data happens AFTER the original failure!” Or, “It’s not the failure that killed the data, but the failed repair.” (I know, snappy right.)

If you’ve lost data from an APFS disk, contact us now, or have a look at our Mac Recovery Services for more info.

Easter Backup Tips

Easter Backup Tips

The long weekend is only hours away, so if you’ve got a few spare minutes over Easter, why not get your data in order & sort out some backups. Save yourself the dread of losing all your documents or photos, and then sit back and eat some chocolate eggs!

Simple Start

First, when people talk about backups, they actually mean just make copies of your files. It sounds obvious, but this is often misunderstood. If you have a few really important files, you can make a backup of them my copying them somewhere else. That could be a memory stick, SD card, CD, DVD, Dropbox, whatever. The important thing is when you’ve copied the file, do not delete the original. For a backup to be useful, it must be a copy of some data.

The Plan

If you want to take things a step further, you probably want a way to automate the backup process. That way, your computer keeps track of new & updated files, and you don’t need to think too much about it.

Step 1

You ideally want to have enough space in your main computer to hold all your important data. This may mean investing in a larger hard drive or SSD, but is by far the easiest way to stay safe. Now whenever you use the computer, you always store the files on the large internal disk. This means any backups you make can simply be copies of this main disk.

To sidetrack slightly, imagine if you instead stored photos on one external disk, documents on your laptop, and movies on another disk. This would be a nightmare to keep backed up, as you would constantly need to attach and reattach different disks.

Step 2

Now all your data is stored on the main disk inside your computer, backups are simple. On a Mac, point Time Machine at your external disk. On a PC, point Windows Backup to your external disk. Both will create a copy of your main disk, and then take care of scheduling future copies to keep you up to date.

Never store files manually onto the external disk, as you will lose them if the disk fails. Now, when you make new files on your computer they will eventually get backed up to your external disk too. Just remember to either keep it plugged in, or plug it in regularly to catch up.

Step 3

Once you have a single backup sorted, you might think of a few ways you could still end up losing data. For example, if the external disk is always plugged in, any spike through the power lines could kill off both disks in one go. It does happen, even if you have a surge protector! Also, what if there was a fire or flood. Both disks side by side could get damaged. Then there is also the risk of the computer and all the surrounding equipment being stolen.

Luckily, there are also ways to protect yourself here too. A simple way would be to use another external disk to make a backup, but then unplug it and store it in a safe somewhere. It could be in a family member’s house, or at work, or anywhere really. Ideally not in the same building as the other disks, to cut down the chances of all disks being lost at once.

There is another way to avoid the worry of storing another disk outside your house. Online backup. Sometimes known as cloud backup, online backups give you storage on a server somewhere, and a small program on your computer to send the data over. We’ve heard great things about Backblaze for online backups. Their ex-Apple engineers have created a really simple service, that’s super cheap with unlimited storage.

Done

So now, with your backup disk humming away on your desk, and your files beaming over to a Backblaze server online, you can relax and stop worrying about losing all your files.

If you’re reading this too late and have already lost data, get in touch and we’ll see if there’s any way to get it back.

When Backups Go Bad ~ Revisited

I was recently going through some old posts on here, and found the one with the clickbaity headline When Backups Go Bad. Despite the title, I thought it was worth looking again at some of the common ways backups can go wrong. A bad backup can be as useless as no backup at all. There is an old phrase that applies perfectly to backups. “One is None. Two is One.”

RAID Instead of Backups

This is a common one. Although RAID can protect against some hardware failures, it does nothing to protect against corrupt partitions, virus attacks, accidental deletion, formatting, multiple disk failures. The list is endless. Add to this the fact that you can have 12, 24, even 48TB stored in one massive array, and you stand to lose an awful lot of data in one go if the whole thing goes south.

Same Disk, Different Day

There are ways to partition a disk so it appears to the computer as multiple disks. The danger is, if you don’t know there are two physical disks inside the computer, you could be making backups to the same disk. When it fails, both partitions will go with it. Best backup to an external drive and then you know for sure.

Break the Encryption

Encrypting any data is risky without careful consideration. By design, your encrypted data is not accessible without the password, or perhaps a recovery key that was created during the original setup. If you don’t have either of those keys, you can wave goodbye to the data.

Inbetweener

If you’re ever left with a single copy of your files, you’re on thin ice. If something goes wrong, you’ve lost one copy of the data already. We always suggest multiple backups for this reason.

The Space Maker

New computers can have painfully small storage, (hey Apple) so a common solution is to start dumping files off to an external disk. This is fine if you just move over replaceable movies & music, but you have to be prepared to never see those files again. Don’t store all your photos & documents on an external drive unless you keep another copy somewhere. External disks are no more reliable than internal ones and can fail at any time. If anything, the risk of dropping or losing an external drive is higher as they are so small and portable.

I’m sure there are more ways backups go bad. I could probably make this into a regular feature. Remember, when it comes to backups One is None, Two is One…

This drive has a hardware problem that can’t be repaired

This drive has a hardware problem that can’t be repaired.
Back up as much of the data as possible and replace the disk. See an authorised Apple dealer for more information.
S.M.A.R.T. Status : Failing

If you see the message above, your hard disk or SSD has started to fail and has reported faults to the Mac. If caught early enough, these disks can usually be recovered. You can try to copy important data to another disk but if the copy process gets stuck for a while, it’s safer to stop. If you leave a failing disk in that state it can deteriorate until the disk is ruined.

If the data is really important, and you’d rather not take the risk, you could have a look at our Mac Data Recovery Services. We have been dealing with these sorts of problems for years and have a developed a really safe way to get the data off in good condition.

This drive has a hardware problem that can't be repaired

Whatever you decide to do, don’t ignore this message. The broken disk cannot repair itself, and will only get worse. In many cases, the disk won’t even be readable by the time you see this warning.

It doesn’t matter if the disk is still inside your iMac or MacBook, we can remove it for you, and even replace the drive at the end of the recovery process if you want. Ask about our Mac Setup service if you are interested.

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Seagate Barracuda ST2000DM & ST1000DM Problems

Seagate Barracuda ST2000DM & ST1000DM Problems
Seagate Barracuda ST2000DM & ST1000DM Problems

This year we have seen a fair number of these particular model hard drives with internal media damage caused by a head crash. These are 3.5″ hard drives from external cases such as Seagate Freeagent Go-Flex and Seagate Expansion Desktop. They are also used as internal hard drives in PCs running Windows 7 & 8 also used in Apple iMac’s running OSX.

It has been difficult to confirm whether the media damage seen has been caused by an impact such as a dropped drive or from general electronic failure. What we do know is that as soon as you hear one of these hard drives start to click, then if you have not already got a backup in place, backup your data immediately.

On an Apple Mac running OSX the first sign of a problem is usually a spinning beach ball resulting in slow access. On a PC running Windows 7 & 8, the signs of a hard drive problem are once again slow access and lack of movement from the mouse icon.

If you have a problem with a Seagate hard drive, have a look at our Seagate Data Recovery Services. If we catch it early enough we should be able to recover the data!

 

Windows 10 Upgrade Problems

Windows PC Data Recovery

If you’ve had a disaster during the Windows 10 Upgrade, don’t panic. Chances are your data is fine, but whatever you do next could change that!

If You Have a Backup

If you made a backup of the data before the upgrade then check the backup files on another computer. If the backup is good, the safest way forward is to restore the backup onto a fresh drive. Then if you find a problem with the data later, or if the restore fails, you still have the original “broken” drive to send to us for recovery. A common mistake is to restore the backup onto the failed disk, but if that goes wrong you’re left with nothing!

Windows 10 Upgrade Problems
Windows 10 Upgrade Problems

If You Don’t Have a Backup

If you don’t have a backup you need to be really careful what you do next. If you send / bring the computer or disk to us, we can safely recover the data using the techniques we’ve developed over the last 15 years.

Whatever you decide, give us a call first, and we can warn you against doing anything that could harm the data.

Bitlocker Data Recovery

For the last few years, newer editions of Windows have the ability to encrypt the whole disk with bitlocker. This means far more users are experimenting with encryption. We have seen an increase in recoveries from drives secured with bitlocker.

When Backups Go Bad

Is Data Recoverable From Bitlocker Drives?

In many cases the data is recoverable. It is important that we get the recovery key or password, as bitlocker security has not been compromised.

Common Issues

The most common problems we see with bitlocker encrypted drives are when the disk starts to fail, or when Windows becomes corrupt. This can prevent the built-in decryption process from working correctly and leave users locked out of their data. These drives can fail like any other, but the encryption adds an extra layer of complexity to the recovery process.

Solutions

If using bitlocker on your drive, it is important to keep a copy of the decryption keys in a safe secure place away from the computer. It is also extra important to keep a constant and regular backup process. Although recovery is usually possible from a failed bitlocker drive, it could take a number of days. You probably wouldn’t want to live without your files for that time.

If you have a failed bitlocker drive that needs recovery, (and if you have the recovery key) get in touch.

OWC Mercury Elite Pro Qx2: Data Recovery

OWC Mercury Elite Pro Qx2
OWC Mercury Elite Pro Qx2

This OWC external enclosure is a common sight on the desks of Mac users with big storage needs. It’s a pretty standard 4-bay box, styled somewhat like a cousin of a PowerMac G5 or 1st generation Mac Pro. Inside are the usual options of RAID 0 to RAID 5 with a few additions like JBOD & RAID 10 thrown in for good measure. There are a few variations of this device but the back panels commonly have USB, Firewire, and eSATA ports for direct connection to a PC or Mac. There is no ethernet port on these drives which makes the Qx2 a DAS (Direct Attached Storage) rather than NAS (Network Attached Storage).

Aside from massive name, the OWC Mercury Elite Pro Qx2 also comes with a potentially huge amount of storage. Currently up to 32TB on the OWC store, but also available diskless or BYOD (Bring your own disks). With so much storage space, these drives often become the one and only repository for vast lumps of important data. The benefits of RAID give a false sense of security that the data is safe from drive failures. Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons why the RAID array alone will not protect from certain failures. Most of  these failures can be overcome by us in our workshop, but they are not one-button fixes. It is helpful to understand why a seemingly rock-solid platform can be even more risky than a simple external USB drive.

Redundancy

Under common settings, the Qx2 will use RAID 5 for the array. With four 2TB drives this gives you a 6TB volume on a Mac or ~5.5TB on a PC[1], and can cope with a single disk failure. There is a lot of debate about how good RAID 5 really is for such large drives[2]. In our example this means that if a single disk fails, it will need to be replaced, and then the new disk rebuilt with 2TB of data calculated from the other disks. This will take many hours, even under optimal conditions, but if anything goes wrong before it completes the array could stop showing up all together. At this stage, the data is probably recoverable but don’t panic. One wrong move and the data could be gone for good.

If the data is crucial then get assistance from a RAID recovery service now and you should get back all or most of the data.

If any disks are removed or replaced at this point the array could get reinitialised and either make the recovery more complicated or wipe the data completely.

Other Failures

Aside from all the problems with a RAID setup, the volume could also fail in the same ways that a standard hard drive can. There could be deleted files, a reformatted or corrupt partition, or even the RAID controller failure. RAID cannot protect against those types of failure at all.

Recovery

Our first step would be making read-only copies of each disk in the array. This protects against further disks failing, and also allows us to work from copies without risking the original disks. In fact, once the disks are copied, we put the originals to one side and don’t touch them again until all the data is recovered and supplied back to the user.

Once we have our copies, they are loaded into our own hardware where we recreate the RAID in a virtual environment. Again, we don’t use the original hardware, as that may have been the root cause of the problem.

When the virtual RAID has been loaded and all the data extracted, the files are supplied back on whatever alternative storage is suitable, (not the original device!) Once the data has been delivered to the user, and backups made, the old unit can then be destroyed, or returned and reused.

Avoidance

Anyone using RAID on a regular basis should know that RAID is not a replacement for backups. If anything, the increased number of disks makes failure more likely. This needs to be addressed by either making backups to another device, or an online service (preferably both). You ideally want backups that keep historic versions of the files, so that inadvertently deleting a file or changing a file by mistake will not also replace the backup version.

If you are having problems with an OWC Mercury Elite Pro Qx2, give us a call or send a message via the form on this page. We give free advice and could help you avoid permanent data loss.

1. Macs now use 1000 bytes for 1KB but PCs use 1024 bytes.

2. Even RAID 6 does not solve the long time required to rebuild a disk, even though it allows for two disk failures.