What does Leeds, England resident Adam Jefferson have in common with California-based Pixar Animation Studios? A shared appreciation for that panic-inducing moment when you lose data. For Adam, that moment led to the creation of World Backup Day, which is March 31.
Years ago, Adam’s laptop died. He hadn’t backed up his data so he lost three years’ worth of documents, and photos of outings, events and people. On March 23, 2011, he logged into Reddit and suggested a day focused on the importance of backups.
“I propose we have a ‘Back-Up Day’, a day when everyone remembers to check that they have good back-ups of all their treasured data,” Adam wrote.
He logged off Reddit. When he logged back on two days later, he says he was “pleasantly surprised” by the way people had embraced his idea. During those two days, another Reddit user picked March 31 as World Backup Day, and secured the worldbackupday web domain and the Twitter handle @WorldBackupDay. Join the conversation with the hashtag #WorldBackupDay.
With 2,625 points and 95 percent upvoted, Adam’s post remains “the most popular thing I have ever posted.” And the message of World Backup Day remains just as relevant – “I hope it outlives me.” Ever since losing files that weren’t backed up, he backs up twice – once locally and once on cloud storage.
“Aside from all the important data, it’s our memories that are now stored on our computers, and a lot of people are not prepared for the inevitable failure of a harddrive or USB,” Adam says “They have a limited lifespan and a limited number of read/write cycles before they expire, and relatively few people are aware of this.”
Panic at Pixar
Individuals aren’t the only ones who’ve looked data loss dread straight in the eyes. Enterprises sometimes do, too. Perhaps one of the most well-known examples is what happened with Pixar and its “Toy Story 2” movie.
The Mental Floss article “How One Line of Text Nearly Killed 'Toy Story 2’ ” explores a story that Pixar Co-founder Ed Catmull shares in his book “Creativity Inc.”
A year before the release of “Toy Story 2,” somebody entered a command on the drives where Pixar stored the film’s files that deleted everything.
"First, Woody's hat disappeared. Then his boots. Then he disappeared entirely," he recalls in the book. "Whole sequences—poof!—were deleted from the drive."
Oren Jones, one of the film’s technical directors, called systems support to pull the plug on the “Toy Story 2” server. When the person on the other end of the phone asked why, Oren screamed, “Please, God, just pull it out as fast as you can.”
But it was too late. Ninety percent of the film was gone. Pixar regularly backed up data on tape – as was standard practice at the time – but it wasn’t testing its backups as it does now and newer data was pushing off older files, according to “How Pixar’s Toy Story 2 was deleted twice, once by technology and again for its own good.”
The team working on “Toy Story 2” wouldn’t realize that 10 percent of the film was missing until a week later after discovering inconsistencies with the shots they were working on. And even then, which 10 percent was lost? They didn’t know.
During a meeting to discuss what to do, “Toy Story 2” Supervising Technical Director Galyn Susman remembered that she had a Silicon Graphics workstation with a full version of the film on it. She’d been working from home because she’d recently given birth.
She and Oren drove home and swaddled the workstation in a blanket, seatbelting it into her Volvo’s backseat. They drove 35 mph back to the studio with the blinkers on.
“Eight people met us with a plywood sheet out in the parking lot and, like a sedan carrying the Pharaoh, walked it into the machine room,” Oren recalled.
Backup tips for World Backup Day
Technology has come a long way. At Igneous, we help enterprises avoid backup headaches with modern backup and restore for data. Technologist Nick Kirsch, who has spent years in the storage industry, offers the following backup tips just in time for World Backup Day.
“We've all experienced that heart-wrenching moment when we realize we *may* have lost data,” Nick says. “Hardware failure, application error, and user mistakes all lead to missing information - at which point, it's too late to consider backup.”
Backup Tip #1 - Backup is only as good as your restore
You’ve heard of backup, Nick says. Creating a second copy of your data so you don’t lose it in case something happens to the original files in your primary storage, like the death of a laptop that Adam experienced or a fire or a power outage at the datacenter.
But being able to restore your data quickly from backup is equally as critical, whether you’re an individual or an enterprise, he said.
"And it’s really fundamental to leverage regular, automated testing of the restore process,” Nick says. “Only at this point can you say backup is working.”
Backup Tip #2 - Aim for 100% reliable backups
Most backup errors are caused by a lack of automation, Nick says. People forget to change tapes, don’t re-enable scheduled jobs, or inadvertently fail to capture all the data they should.
“Regular and automated verification of the backup data eliminates the potential for bit-rot, system failure, and human error,” he says.
Remember Tip #1. A backup isn’t reliable until you restore. Restore early and often. Automatically.
Backup Tip #3 - Don't forget that backup isn't archive
Backup and archive both create copies of your data and it’s often easy to confuse the two. Whereas backup creates a second copy of the data in your primary system onto a secondary system or offline media, archive involves moving the primary copy to a secondary system or offline media for the purpose of reducing cost and preserving inactive data.
In other words, don’t forget to backup your archive!
Happy World Backup Day! Visit the World Backup Day website for details on the day and backup stats. Check out our Igneous Backup page for details on how we offer high-performance protection for your massive file systems.