Thursday, October 16, 2008

Data is fragile

I pulled a few small rabbits out of small hats this week. Two of our users had partial hard drive failures, and it was a relatively simple matter to boot Ubuntu and salvage their data. Luckily, I didn't have to deal with total drive failure- just an amount of time to physically move the data from a suspect device to a known good device. Presto, happy and relieved users.

One kind of data loss: the physical media fails.

One of the two machines had some moderately old AppleWorks files, which poses another kind of data loss: obsolescence making your data impossible to read. AppleWorks is a productivity suite (think OpenOffice or MS Office) that Apple Computer end-of-lifed in 2007. As I understand it, the current software offering, iWork, does not import all AppleWorks formats. Windows users have seen this before with MS Word- MS Word 97 had particularly problems with earlier versions, and even now MS Office 2003 requires a compatibility pack to read MS Office 2007 files.

Another kind of data loss: Actually misplacing the data. You can forget what directory, machine, disk, or tape you stored your file.

NASA, too, has problems of all three kinds. The original moon landing tapes are missing. Nobody knows where they are, they may physically be rotting away due to age, and they only have one device that can read the tapes (which is in a facility slated to close). We may never see the raw footage of mankind's first moon landing.

Backup is part of a solution- you must test your backups, maintain your archives, and ensure that your data is in a current format or some form of open standard.

This makes me paranoid.

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