Here as promised is the first installment in the reminder miniseries “The Family that Backs Up Together.” The truth is that my family doesn’t actually back up together, or even all on the same schedule, but with three generations of computer users spread across the U.S. and beyond, my family provides a kind of microcosm in which to explore different backup options as applied in real life.
As I mentioned in my previous column, I spent the week of July 16-23 in the company of 14 relatives by blood and marriage: my father and his brother and sister, their respective children and grandchildren and spouses and in-laws. Even though I’d pre-loaded a newsletter to go out while I was on vacation, I spent some time on that Friday hounding my family members about how they backed up their computers.
“I don’t have one,” my sister-in-law Donna said. “Alex has one and the kids each have one, but I don’t have one, so I let him take care of that.”
My not-so-little brother wasn’t there to ask at the moment, but his e-mail response arrived in the nick of time: “We do nothing to back up at home. I occasionally have burned pictures to CD, but found some that became unreadable after a few years.”
I can see I’m going to have to work on Alex.
My uncle Robert, last of the family to get online, doesn’t own his own computer either, though he uses them at work. (Very few people these days can avoid using computers at work, even if they want to. Auto mechanics and laundromats have computers.)
Alex, like Robert, works for a law firm, but Alex has a company laptop and Robert doesn’t. Alex is spared backing up any data on the laptop by virtue of the fact that there isn’t any data on it: everything is kept on the company network.
That’s a sensible approach for companies to take, given the frequency and ease with which laptops are stolen. The data on the machine is definitely more sensitive and probably more valuable than the hardware. Alex’s firm, in fact, uses a web-client based system, so the data actually lives at the IT company’s facility and not on the law firm’s premises. As far as Alex knows, the IT company backs up to tape every night and sends the tapes to a secure facility for storage.
My father’s sister Jean (mother of my cousin Jason the Mac geek) also uses a laptop provided by her employer to work from home, though in her case she’s restricted to dial-up connections and didn’t feel any need to bring her work with her on vacation. (Given the fact that the land line only seemed to work in one room, and that was Alex and Donna’s bedroom, it’s just as well.)
Because Jean’s employer takes care of backing up its own network, Jason doesn’t do anything with her laptop. He does back up his mother’s desktop machine (which runs Windows 98 SE), though it’s a bit tricky.
Jason, as I said before, is a Mac person. The software on his network/firewire external hard drive (which he keeps plugged into the router) doesn’t work with Windows computers. So before he runs his own backups, Jason has to back up Jean’s hard drive over the network. He does this by copying her drive (about 6 GB in total) onto his own hard drive. That way Jean’s data gets backed up along with his when the software does its thing.
“And what about you?” I asked my cousin Amanda after her brother had finished explaining this. After years of working multiple jobs in restaurants, salsa bars, and real-estate offices, Amanda and her husband Jose-Luis now run a business buying, fixing up, and re-selling houses in the Los Angeles area, so their business data is on their home computer.
“I haven’t set anything up for them yet,” Jason said. Since getting laid off from his job as an Earthlink help desk staffer a few years ago, Jason has been helping out with the construction business, so it would be natural for him to be interested in the technical side even if not for the family connection. But Jason lives with Jean in Pasadena and Amanda and Jose-Luis are in Santa Monica, so he can’t supervise their computer 24/7.
“I don’t know,” Amanda answered on her own behalf. “Jose-Luis does it about once a month. Onto disk, I think. Our housemate the computer expert set up the scripts.”
At eighteen months, Amanda’s son Andrew doesn’t have his own computer yet, but he’ll happily sit in Amanda’s lap at the keyboard. Still, he’d rather watch Elmo on DVD. At seven, my nephew Zachary explained to me the dinosaurs-versus-dragons game he’d popped into the computer in the office at Grouse Nest. I wonder…is it too early to start educating Zachary about backups?
Tune in next week for part two of “The Family that Backs Up Together,” when you’ll get to Meet the Parents. But first—go make your own backups!
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