One of the computer industry's dirty little secrets is hardware failure. The few of us who work in, near, or otherwise around large computer installations take this for granted. Companies like Yahoo have people on staff that spend a lot of their time dealing with failing memory, buggy motherboards, smoked power supplies, bad disks, and overheating CPUs. Google, from what I read, doesn't even bother anymore.
But the larger world probably doesn't see this very often. Many are likely just blissfully ignorant of how fragile their precious data is until the first time disaster (or mistake) strikes. I know I was. I still remember the two hours I spent at the Commodore 64, typing in that BASIC program listing from the back of a computer magazine. It might have been "Compute" or "Byte."
Over the last two weeks I've been reminded of this fact. While back in Ohio, helping my Dad with some computer stuff I witnessed one hard disk failure. It was a Maxtor that was literally 1 month past the warranty date on the label. After being powered up, it just started to do that "I can't move my head like I used to be able" click ... click ... click thing.
He lost all the data on that disk. It was his Windows 2000 desktop. He proceeded to curse out Maxtor (it was not his first Maxtor failure in recent history) and then we installed Knoppix on the machine--after replacing the disk.
The next day (or later that same day? It's all blurry now), we turned our attention to his old Linux server. I managed to do a Bad Thing on it remotely a few months ago and it needed some help. Along the way, he stuck in the "D:" drive from the former Win2k box so we could extract the data and archive it elsewhere.
Linux wouldn't talk to it.
After a bit of head scratching, I booted the machine again and paid more attention to the boot messages. IDE errors reported trying to talk with that drive. Strike two.
Then, earlier today, I decided to figure out what was wrong with my virtually new Linux desktop at work. It had mysteriously stopped working just before my trip, so I brought it home (it's mine, not the company's--and that's a whole other story for a different day) to hack on later. I suspected the video card but was surprised to find it was one of the two 512MB sticks of DDR-3200 memory. So it's running with 512MB for now. Strangely, I have an identical spare at work as the result of an ordering mistake when I got the parts for the machine.
I can safely say that in my 20+ years of computing (and I'm not even 30 yet), I've seen everything die and almost everything die twice. And this is on equipment that's always been less than 5 years old.
Memory, disks, CD-ROM drives, floppy drives, video cards, mother boards, CPUs, fans, power supplies, monitors, disk controllers, and so on. Of course, some things fail far more often that others. Usually it's the disks, or maybe the power supply. All the others combined are much less common that either of those--at least in my experience.
This is why I no longer put data on anything fragile without an off-site backup, RAID, or BOTH. That new machine has a hardware RAID controller in it. The one above it has software RAID for all the partitions. And I just won a 3Ware 7500 card on eBay to install in my home server. And I use rsync quite a bit between machines. It's run via cron so that I don't forget.
My data's too important for this shit.
From now on, I'm no longer buying the cheap parts. Saving $12 per DIMM probably wasn't worth it. I should have gone to Crucial and got the stuff with a real warranty. At least I buy good CPUs, motherboards, and cases already. After 20 years, I'm still learning. Call me a slow learner, I guess.
Do most computers, which means "Windows" I guess, even come with backup software? I know they don't come with big fat warning labels on the box that explain how much data you could possibly loose and what sort of havoc it might cause in your life.
If you do nothing else this new year, make sure your data is protected. Well, at least if it's important to you.
Posted by jzawodn at December 31, 2003 10:07 PM