Data redundancy saves lives

After a longer-than-usual commute this morning, I was glad to get out of the car and behind my desk. I had an app to code — a project I’d been mulling during the weekend and was itching to try. But my anticipation deflated pretty fast when I realized my desktop PC was offering me nothing but a silent, black screen. I rebooted three times, hoping that something somewhere would come unstuck. No luck.

“I think it’s the motherboard,” one of our IT guys told me. “I might be able to get it back to you tomorrow.”

After he carted away my PC — as if he were towing away a dead car — I realized I needed to make do with the only resource I had left: my laptop. If this had happened a year ago, I’d have had to spend most of the day reconstructing files and my working environment. But I was up and running in about 10 minutes, working on my project with minimal pain. Here’s why:

First, I’ve been thinking a lot about disaster scenarios. Maybe it’s living near the nation’s capital and watching the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks unfold. Or Katrina. Or the sniper. No matter what, I’ve thought a lot about not getting too tethered to the resources I take for granted in my office, where I spend most of my work time. If I need to work at Starbucks or some other location for a couple of days, I want to be able to do everything that I can do in our building.

So, when the company issued me a laptop to go with my desktop, I made some changes to my workspace. I store almost nothing of value on my local hard drive — either the PC or the laptop. I keep my databases, spreadsheets, Word files, scripts and other resources on a network drive that’s backed up daily. Second, because we’re a .NET shop, we use Visual Source Safe for version control. All my .NET apps are tucked into a network repository where I — or any developer on our team — can get at them as long as we have the client software installed and the network connection live.

I also set up my laptop to mirror as closely as I can my desktop environment. My desktop hardware is pretty speedy, and the laptop can’t match it. But what I can match is the configuration. I’ll take “slower” as long as I don’t have to re-learn where everything is.

So, today, I got to put my scenario to the test. As soon as I fired up the app I needed to code, I quickly discovered that I was missing the DLL for the Ajax Control Toolkit and a few other components. But they’re easy to download and reference in Visual Studio, so after about 10 minutes I was on my way.

Not all was perfect. If my desktop comes back to me, I have a couple more things I need to prep. The main one: Even though I’ve been using Delicious to store bookmarks, the bookmarks on my laptop copy of Firefox are out of sync with those on my desktop. Easy to handle with export and import.

Still, I was pretty happy with how the day ended. Prep really helps.

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