File Backup and Recovery
One of the virtues of our storage area network system (SANS) is the ease with which we can protect, backup and recover data. All of the networked drives, such as your personal "O:" drive or your research group's "S:" drive, live on the SANS. The SANS is basically a big rack full of disk drives. The data is stored redundantly across the entire set of drives so that no single drive failure can cause any loss. The system also tracks changes in data and makes "snaphots" of file activity. These snapshots allow rapid restoration of recently changed files that may accidentally get deleted.
The SANS is backed up in its entirety every night to a second disk array in a different location. This protects us from any sort of mass hardware failure or natural disaster that might destroy the primary SANS. This second array is then archived to tape backup to provide long-term data protection. If you need to restore a file from an hour ago, we get it from the SANS snapshots. If you need a file from a month ago, we get it off the live disk backup. If you need a file from a year ago, that has to be retrieved from tape. The snapshots and disk backup recoveries are fairly quick and easy to do; the tape recovery is not.
It is important that users store their important data on the networked drives and not on local disks in in computers themselves. Only the network storage gets backed up - the individual PCs do not! If you save anything important to a local "C:" or "D:" drive and that disk fails, your data will probably be lost forever. Always use your personal "O:" drive or your research group's appropriate network drive to be safe.
If you have an accident and lose a file, send an e-mail to pcschelp requesting a restoration. Tell us who you are, what research group you are with, when you lost the file and the name and path of the lost file. An example of a complete path and filename would be "O:\Documents\ImportantFile.docx".
Application Auto-Save and Recovery
In some cases you may be able to recover files for yourself. Many applications, such as any of the Microsoft Office suite programs, have auto-save features buit-in. When you open a Word file, for instance, Word automatically creates a backup version. If Word or your computer crashes while you are editing some document, all is not lost. When you restart Word, it will automatically discover the backup of the last autosaved version of that document and ask if you want to restore it.
Of course, you should also cultivate the habit of saving early and saving often. Nothing is more frustrating than losing an hour's work because you never bothered to save the file you were working on. Almost all applications recognize the keyboard shortcut "Control-S" as meaning "Save". Make it a habit to hit those keys regularly, perhaps whenever you pause to think about what you're doing or to proofread your work.
Your Home Computer
The Physics Department has an elaborate, expensive, enterprise-class backup solution. Your home PC and your laptop probably do not. You are responsible for that data, and you should do something to preserve anything that you consider important.
Personal backups can be as simple as copying important files to a flash drive or to a DVD. There's a good chance that you already save your personal files to some central folder. Windows automatically generates a personal folder for each user, for example, and most applications offer to save files there by default. Making a copy of this folder would save most of your important stuff. You need to remember to do this and do it regularly.
Both Windows and OS/X have capable backup programs built-in that allow more sophisticated and automated backups. Large USB or wirelessly connected disk drives are now inexpensive, and together with the default backup programs can make an effective solution. There are complete instructions available for Windows Backup and for OS/X Time Machine available online.