CrashPlan discontinuing home plans

I’ve used Crashplan as an offsite backup solution for several years and have really liked it. Today the company announced that they are transitioning to being an enterprise-only solution, and that they are ending support for personal and family plans.

This is pretty disappointing. It’s been a good product at an affordable price, and now I have to find something else. The company is going about this in a nice way: they’re giving their users 14 months’ notice. I’ll post about this again when I figure out what I’m going to do. And I’m certainly open to suggestions.

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Personal backups are important

This post is a little different. It’s not about writing believable characters or situations. It’s about protecting your (the writer’s) computer files.

The hard drive in your computer is eventually going to fail. It’s inevitable, and it’ll likely happen with little or no warning. If you don’t have good backups, you’ll lose everything on your computer: your manuscript(s), research for your writing projects, pictures you’ve downloaded from your camera, banking information, all of it.

This happened recently to a relative. She didn’t have good backups, and her hard drive became unreadable. This was devastating to her, especially the loss of ten years’ worth of photographs. She later realized that she could recover many of the photos from an online photo service she’d been using, but she still lost a lot of files.

Backups can protect you against several other things things, too:

  • accidental deletions
  • the theft of your computer
  • malware that encrypts your files and asks you to purchase the decryption key (ransomware)

When you set up backups, you need to figure out where you are going to store your backups. Storing the backups on the same hard drive that you are backing up only protects you from accidental deletions. An external hard drive (something that connects via a USB cable) can be a good choice here. A quick search on amazon.com shows 1 terabyte external hard drives for around $55.

I’m not much of a Windows user, but it looks like backing up Windows files to an external device is a straightforward affair via the Control Panel.

Backing up a Mac is also pretty easy with Time Machine (I did this on my relative’s new Mac, and it just took a couple of minutes).

Backing up to an external hard drive is a great start, but it still doesn’t protect you from really terrible things like a fire, theft, or natural disasters (like a tornado). Even some malware may be able to delete or mangle your backup files.

You may also want to consider setting up off-site backups. This is something that backs up your files to some place that isn’t in your house. I’ve used CrashPlan for this1. It runs in the background on your computer (Windows, Mac OS X, even Linux) and backs up your files to the cloud. It also backs up every version of each file, so if your computer becomes infected by ransomware, you should be able to recover versions of your files prior to infection.

UPDATE (22 August 2017): CrashPlan is no longer offering personal or family plans.

Looks like current pricing for CrashPlan is around $5 or $10 per month per user. I have a family plan which is around $15 per month, and it lets me run backups on up to ten computers.

The files on your computer are probably even more important to you than you realize. They are worth protecting.

1I don’t own stock in CrashPlan or anything, I’m just a happy customer.

Being a sysadmin is not sexy (part 1)

A sysadmin is someone whose job is the care and feeding of one or more servers (sysadmins frequently look after several servers). This is a job which is mostly boring (day-to-day stuff) but which is occasionally terrifying (when something unexpectedly stops working). There’s often not a lot in between those two things. If you are writing a story with a character who does this kind of work, don’t portray them as someone whose job is constant excitement, because no one will believe that.

A sysadmin’s celebrity among the non-technology people in the organization is often inversely proportional to how well she does her job. If this sysadmin is effective at her work, people tend not to know who she is. If that sysadmin is not good at her job, many people tend to know her name. This is a job where anonymity can be desirable.

Servers tend to run server applications (also known as services), which can be all kinds of things:

  1. A server might run an application commonly called a web server (Apache and Microsoft’s IIS are popular web servers). You typically interact with this service through your web browser.
  2. A server might be a file server. If you’ve ever used the “map a network drive” feature, then you’ve downloaded files from (or uploaded files to) a file server.
  3. If your organization runs a centralized accounting system, then that accounting system likely runs as a service on one or more servers. You might interact with this service through a desktop application or even a sophisticated web-based interface.
  4. email is another good example of a high-profile server application. Although users interact with email through a single desktop application (like Outlook), email usually happens by way of a pair of services: one for sending and receiving email (to and from other email servers), and one for retrieving email messages from the server to the desktop application.

A single server might run several different services.

Ideally a server and its server applications run smoothly and don’t need a lot of help beyond ordinary maintenance. This is the relatively tedious part of the job:

  • The server requires backups, which are frequently automated processes.
  • If the sysadmin manages a complicated application running on a server, that application may have many users. As people come and go, there’s a lot of giving this new person access to that, taking away that person’s access because they left, etc.
  • The server and its applications often have upgrades become available. This is a never-ending chore. It’s not uncommon for the organization to schedule a maintenance period during which the services will not be available to users. This is called “downtime,” and it is unpopular with users. The sysadmins use this time to apply the updates. This is typically routine, but can be stressful, because it can be difficult to recover from a failed upgrade (this may require restoring data and/or the operating system from a backup). These maintenance periods are commonly at night, over a weekend, or even during a holiday, which is not a fun time for the sysadmin to have to work.

In the next post we’ll look at what happens when things don’t go smoothly.