Whether you’re a home user or part of a business, backups are important. These posts will discuss backing up files, databases, and other resources.

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Files organized by date.

Five File Organization Tips

File organization isn’t fun. That probably explains why so few people actually do it.  We all think we’re far too busy to organize our files until the day we’re stuck spending hours searching for files we needed for a meeting that started five minutes ago.

Since we’re already talking about a dry topic, let’s not drag it out.  These are the only file organization tips you’ll ever need.

Tip 1: Don’t Just Click Save

Are you the type of person who just clicks the first button you see when a window appears?  Shame on you! That’s how you lose files, accidentally install malware, or print sensitive documents to the wrong printer and you deserve a firm spanking for your behavior.

When you save a file, always check where you’re saving it if you plan on needing it later.

"Thy HIPPA protected information hast been compromised. I deserve a spanking!"

“Thy HIPPA protected data hast been compromised. I deserve a spanking!”

Tip 2: Decide on a File Organization Method

So you want to organize your files.  Awesome! But how?  Your computer lets you structure your files into folders and sub-folders, so use them to organize your files into a structure that fits your workflow. Organize from general to specific.

  • If your work is time sensitive that might mean you create a structure likeyear\month\day and store files for each day under the appropriate day. Take advantage of your computer’s ability to sort by name by using full years like “1999” and “2015” and two-digit days like “01, 02, … 31” so they’re always sorted from first to last.
  •  If you manage a lot of clients, you might want to sort by client and by project like clients\client name\project name.

These are merely suggestions, so think about it and come up with a structure that suits your needs. Then, proceed to Tip #3.

Files organized by date.

Files organized by date.

Tip #3: Stick to It!

So you’ve got a slick file organization structure.  But you’re a busy person with many important things to do.  You certainly can’t be bothered to spend two seconds saving your files to the right place, can you? You can if you want to find them! Think about the productivity lost looking for files, or recreating them when you give up on finding them. Take the moment it requires to put your files where they need to go, and add to your folder structure as needed.

File organization isn’t a thing you do once or a service you buy. It’s an ongoing process.

Tip #4: Your Desktop is Not a Dumping Ground

Many people turn their Desktop, their My Documents folder, or both into a dumping ground for everything. Don’t.  Just don’t.  Finding a file on a cluttered desktop is annoying and time-consuming.  Instead, place a shortcut on your desktop to the folder where your organizational structure starts.

Saving everything to My Documents is problematic too.  Eventually you’ll have so many files under that single folder that nothing is easy to find.  It’s fine if your organizational structure starts under My Documents, but you should have multiple sub-folders instead of a single folder containing hundreds of files.

Saving everything to My Documents does not constitute File Organization, and will earn you another spanking.

Saving everything to My Documents does not constitute File Organization, and will earn you another spanking.

 

Tip #5: Use Cloud Storage

Now that your files are well-organized and you can easily locate the information you need, the next step is have access to your files whenever you need them.  Use a cloud storage service like DropBox, OneDrive, or Google Drive  to sync your files to the cloud. These services act just like any other folder on your computer, but when you save files into them they automatically save to the Internet.

What do you gain? You gain access to your files wherever, and whenever. It also means you’ve got a copy of your files sitting out on the Internet, so they’re protected from crashes.

Of course there are some exceptions. I take a lot of HD GoPro video.  I store these outside of my DropBox because saving Gigabytes of video to the cloud would be both expensive and time-consuming.

Bonus Tip: Other Backup Options

If you’re not storing your files to the cloud, you should make sure you’re using some other form of backup.  One good option is a cheap external hard drive and the backup software integrated into your operating system.

GoDaddy Managed Backup: This is Why We Can't have Nice Things

GoDaddy Managed Backups: Are They Worth It?

So here’s today’s website WTF. GoDaddy Managed Backups. What are they, and can you trust them with your data?

A client has a VPS (Virtual Private Server) through GoDaddy on which we host a variety of websites. He pays an extra fee for GoDaddy Managed Backups which, well… who the hell knows what it does.

In this article we’re going to explore GoDaddy Managed Backups and try to make an informed decision on whether they’re worth the price.

What are GoDaddy Managed Backups

GoDaddy Managed Backups is an add-on service for GoDaddy Dedicated and Virtual Private Server hosting. We know that much. We think. And it’s not cheap, so we can only assume that it’s doing something productive. (Because nobody in the history of the Internet has ever charged money for something utterly useless.)

According to GoDaddy,

A Managed Backup account allows us to backup content from your VPS or Dedicated Server to an off-site location. What are Managed Backups, GoDaddy Support

Great! So as a GoDaddy Virtual Private Server or Dedicated Hosting customer, all I have to do to protect my investment is purchase GoDaddy Managed Backups and my entire server will back up off-site, and I can restore it any time I want!

Nope.

You are not able to access these backups to recover your data; however, you may ask us to restore your data at any time. What are Managed Backups, GoDaddy Support

Okay, so I can’t restore my server myself, but GoDaddy will restore it from Managed Backup as soon as they get around to it, right? 

Nope.

No, we will not overwrite your current data. We will restore the requested content to an empty folder you can access. It will be your responsibility to move the content and overwrite any data. What are Managed Backups, GoDaddy Support

Okay, GoDaddy won’t restore my files. They’ll put the backup in a folder, and from there I can cherry-pick what I need.  So even though it’s going to take hours to move the files, the backup does have everything I need to totally restore my server, right?

Nope!

Our Managed Backups create a copy of all non-system data which is not in use on your server. If a file is in use during the time of our backup, it will not be processed. What are Managed Backups, GoDaddy Support

Goodness.  Well… it backs up all the important stuff, right?

Yeah… about that…

By default, your MS SQL/MySQL databases are not backed up. This is because they are typically in use while we back up your server. What are Managed Backups, GoDaddy Support

So the databases that hold all my data for WordPress, Drupal, Magento, and other programs… they’re gone?

Yeah, you’re pretty much boned. Reich Web Consulting

At this point I decided it was time to have a nice chit-chat with tech support about what my client actually pays for.

Hello Diego at GoDaddy Tech Support. Is Managed Backup sufficient to rebuild my server completely if we experience a catastrophic failure?

… if your server crashes and you see yourself rebuilding it  you can use these backups to get all your files back. But this is not an image of the server, so it wouldn’t work to build the entire server. You would need to configure everything back again. Diego, GoDaddy Support

So in the unlikely event that my entire VPS gets hosed, not only will Managed Backup not contain all the files and databases I need to rebuild my sites, but it won’t contain any of the hours of configuration changes I’ve made to CentOS or Windows to support the services it ran.

Well that’s not good. Hardware fails. Servers get hacked. Virtual environments exist to mitigate these disasters. So if I have a catastrophic failure and Managed Backup doesn’t provide what I need to restore my server, GoDaddy can still roll back to an earlier snapshot, right?

Chances of this happening are close to none but we don’t guarantee that your server will be restore back to a previous date if something like hardware failure occurs. You are responsible for your backups however in this case the Managed Backup plan your client pays for is external and stored with redundancy protocols in place. I wouldn’t worry if I were you. Diego, GoDaddy Support

Diego’s final answer attempted to both cover GoDaddy’s behind, and to reassure me that our sites were totally safe. You can’t have both, Diego. If you actually unpack his reassuring platitudes, he’s saying,

In this case the Managed Backup plan your client pays for–you know, the one that doesn’t actually include everything you need to restore your service–is external and stored with redundancy protocols in place.  I wouldn’t worry if I were you.

You can store my backup on 1,000 disks across 100 different countries, but if that backup doesn’t actually provide what I need to restore my server, it’s still just as useless.

The only possible conclusion I could reach is that GoDaddy Managed Backup is neither well-managed nor a full backup. It offers nowhere near the protection you’d expect out of a serious hosting service, and with so many better options (Azure, anyone?) I wouldn’t make the choice to host with GoDaddy again unless this situation improved.

Unfortunately, this particular GoDaddy Virtual Private server hosts a lot of websites for a lot of clients, and porting them somewhere else on the client’s dime isn’t a realistic option.  So in my next article I’ll talk about some options to make GoDaddy Virtual Private Servers and GoDaddy Managed Hosting a safer long-term hosting solution.

Choosing a WordPress Backup Plugin

One of the first things you should do after installing a new WordPress blog is configure backups. Though WordPress does feature an export feature that allows you to save much of your content to XML, there isn’t a full-blown backup feature built into the WordPress Core. You’ll need to download a WordPress backup plugin.

Features to Look For in a WordPress Backup PlugIn

These are the minimum features that I look for in a backup plug-in.  You may have different requirements than my own but if your backup plug-in doesn’t provide these features, you will eventually find it lacking.

  • Backs up the entire database, not just the core WordPress tables. In the event that your site crashes and needs to be restored, you’re going to need a backup of your database.  The last thing you want is to restore your database and find that plug-in content such as purchase records in a shopping cart plugin or images stored in a gallery plug-in no longer exist.
  • Backup the entire WordPress Directory. Some backup plug-ins only backup the database, but there is plenty of content that’s stored on the filesystem and not the database including uploaded media, plugins, and theme customizations. Choose a plugin that backs up the entire file system for your blog. That way when a crisis occurs, you can simply dump the files and database back to the server and continue business as usual.
  • Scheduling. Your backup plug-in should provide some sort of scheduling feature that can automatically perform backups as a daily, weekly, or monthly task. You shouldn’t have to remember to manually backup you blog, though a manual backup feature is helpful as well.
  • “Off-Site” Backup.Your backup plug-in should have some way of saving your backup off site. It could be by emailing them to you, uploading them to an FTP site: anything that duplicates your blog data to a second server in case your server is physically damaged. A plug-in that simply saves the backup to the same server that hosts your blog doesn’t protect you from the all-to-common hard drive failure, your hosting company going belly-up, or any other scenario that prevents you from getting access to  your data.

Backing Up WordPress to DropBox

I use DropBox to store business records and other important files, and so I’ve settled into using the WordPress Backup to DropBox plugin for most of my sites.  The plug-in provides all of the features that I mentioned above.  In addition it gives me access to those backups from my PC via the DropBox desktop application, and gives me confidences that my backups are occurring when I scheduled them because I can see the files updating in real-time.

Another excellent and popular plugin is Backup Scheduler. It allows you to specify what gets backed up (database, files, or everything), and has the option to send you the backup via email.

Evaluating Online Backup Services

As a followup to my previous article recommending the use of an online backup service versus hardware based solutions such as external drives, I plan on reviewing several online backup services. In the interest of fairness I believe that all these services need to be judged on the same criteria. Here is what I’ve come up with for my reviews.  If you have features or requirements you would like to see evaluated, leave your thoughts in the comments section.

1. Ease of Installation

The service should be simple enough for non-technical users to register and install. I’ll document the registration and installation process and note any problems that arise.  A successful, hassle-free setup awards the service 10 points. Each hassle I encounter during the setup process will result in the loss of a point. Failure to get the service installed results in 0 points.

2. Platforms

Platform support earns the service 10 points. I will be testing all products on Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, but each service must work on all versions of Windows XP and Vista, including both standard x86 and x64 editions. For each operating system that is not supported, a point will be docked.

3. Speed

For fairness I will re-image my test machine with a clean install of Windows XP Professional x64 Edition before I test each product. I will upload the same batch of test files and will track the length of time it takes to upload the files to each service. The service that uploads the quickest will be awarded 10 points. The service with the worst speed performance will be awarded no points. All other services will be awarded points in between based on their relative performance.

4. Storage Space

The service with the highest storage capacity on their free service is awarded 10 points. The service with the lowest capacity is awarded no points. All other services will be awarded an amount in between the two extremes.

5. Automatic Backups

The service must have a method of doing automatic or scheduled backups. Ten points are awarded for 100% automation, no points for manual backups, and partial points for any level of automation in between.

6. Reliability

I will test each service for 5 days. Each day backups are finished without error the service will be awarded a point.

7. Unique and Notable Features

Up to five additional points may be awarded for features that make the product stand out from the competition. Such features include file revisions and HIPAA compliance.

Backing Up Your Files Online

Hard drives crash, USB drives disappear, and laptops get stolen. Sometimes bad things happen to good data.  In fact just six months ago a student of mine lost 9 months of projects and homework when his dog peed on his laptop. Work in IT long enough, and you’re bound to experience or hear dozens of “worst-case” scenarios like this one. But in the face of such daunting odds, how do we protect our data?

Apply Corporate Thinking to Your Home Computer

In the corprorate world users are often secure in the knowledge that their files are safe in an off-site backup somewhere, sometimes on tapes stored in a bank lock box, or maybe even on a server on a different contintent. Off-site storage is key to any backup plan because it protects an organization’s data not only against day-do-day data loss (accidental deletion of a file), but also against acts-of-nature. If your corporate office in California shakes to rubble from an earthquake, your accounts are still secure on a server somewhere in Deli.

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Think about it: backing up your critical files to an external hard drive or CD’s doesn’t protect you if your house burns to the ground, or when thieves disappear into the night with not only your computer but your external backup drive as well. You need off-site storage.

Off-Site Storage On a Budget

So how can you apply the big-business idea of off-site storage to your home PC? If you have broadband Internet access it’s not only easy but cheap as well. There are dozens of online backup services available, some more feature-rich than others.  Most of these services will provide a small application that you download and install on your PC that allows you to manually perform backups, or schedule them for a specific time. PC Magazine has provided a short list of quality online backup services. I’m currently evaluating a service called ADrive that doesn’t appear on their list, and I’ll be back with a review of that tomorrow night.