“They took our backups. They took the backups of our backups. They were extremely thorough.” -Jane Foster, Thor


Windows 8 Laptop Won’t Finish Booting Up

Here’s a situation I recently encountered. About a week ago I got a call from my dry cleaner, Fred. He said his Windows 8 system wasn’t booting up. When we spoke, he was on edge, and understandably so. The main application on his machine is Quickbooks and he uses the machine to run his business.

Upon hearing this, the first question I asked him was if he had his data backup in a safe place. He said, “Yeah. The girl who does the books saves the database out to the drive about once every month.”

So, in addition to saving the system, I was going to need to review basic data maintenance and management.

His system is a Windows 8 system and it is rarely connected to the internet. So the chances that this thing picked up a virus was highly unlikely. However,  I remembered that Windows 8 had some quirky problems with the power management function. At times, a Windows 8 system had issues waking up from hibernation mode, and sometimes it wouldn’t wake up at all.

Windows 8 System Refresh vs System Reset

After making several attempts to force this system finish booting up, I came to the conclusion that I was going to have to reinstall the OS. But I needed to perform a refresh so I could at least save his data.

Now, before doing that, I used Clonezilla to image the file system of the current drive, even if the OS was not cooperating. So at the very least, I could restore the original  broken OS back onto the system and make a fresh run at the problem.

After imaging the drive, then I performed a system refresh, which would retain any data that Fred had on the system.

The refresh brought the system back up to an operational status, but the operation didn’t complete correctly. Somewhere between the system going down and the system refresh, important files were corrupted and the OS only partially came back. However, that was enough to give me a chance to extract his important data from the drive.

Once I had extracted the data, I performed a system reset. In case you’re wondering, a system refresh will reinstall the OS, remove any apps you installed on the system, but it will leave your users, passwords, and data in place.  A system reset, however, will remove everything and restore your system to the original factory settings. This means you have no software, no data, no user accounts, no passwords… you have to go back in and set all of that stuff back up. But you got a clean OS installation to work with.

Getting Windows 8 Operational Again

After performing the system reset, I took another image of the drive with the vanilla OS in place. Then I recreated his two accounts, downloaded all of the updates, reloaded his Quickbooks application, and loaded his Quickbooks database back on the system. Once the applications and data were loaded, I imaged his drive yet again.

All of the imaging is a little time consuming, but it provides a convenient safety net in case something goes wrong. And remember, there’s always room for something to go wrong.

With the new OS the system came up without a hitch. Quickbooks was fully functional. I turned off the hibernation feature to prevent this from happening again, made a few minor adjustments, such as adding a disk defragmenter, and returned the system to him.

Yesterday, I got a call from Fred. He said, “Hey, just wanted to tell you everything is working fine and to say thank you. We are back in business!”

Now those are the kinds of phone calls I like to  hear.

Performing a Data Backup is Important But Not Urgent

Here’s why this story is important. Not many people backup their data. Performing a data backup is one of those important tasks that’s not urgent. Everyone talks about it. But no one expects their machine to fail on them – until it does. Then the more expensive option of data recovery becomes important and urgent.

So here’s the deal. Make sure you backup your critical data daily. Think of it this way – your business is as fresh as your last data backup. So, if your system died this morning and you performed your last data backup one month ago, then you set the state of your business back one month. On the other hand, if you just performed a data backup of your critical data last night and it hasn’t changed since you turned on your system today, then you are golden.

Here are some basic data management ideas that I recommended to him:

  1. Keep your data and your files in one place.

    Windows has the Documents folder where you can put all things that pertain to what’s yours. If you scatter your files around, you won’t remember where you put them. And it makes it that much harder to find them and back them up. Use the same principle you use for your car keys: Always put them in one place and they’ll be easy to find when you need them.

  2. Backup your files and data every night.

    You never know what will happen. Like Fred, your machine may simply stop functioning because of a OS bug. You may pick up a virus. You may drop your laptop (Remind me to tell you about that one!) Any number of things can happen which can suddenly prevent you from accessing your files or reaching your data. You backup your data every night. Then, you’re only 24 hours away from reaching your last known good data.

  3. Backup your files and data on a device separate from your laptop hard drive.

    Fred was lucky. He kept all of his necessary files and Quickbooks data in his Documents folder. So when I performed the system refresh, the process didn’t touch any of the data in that folder. The system reset, however, cleaned off the entire drive. That drive could just as easily froze up mechanically and stopped working. It could have lost too many sectors and stopped responding. A host of things could have gone wrong. That’s why you want your data backed up on a device outside of your working laptop drive. Then, should anything happen to your working laptop and you have to either reset or replace it, you can reload your data into your new environment and continue operation.

I’ve worked with too many people who had a cavalier attitude towards their data. Then, when their machine stopped working and they had to replace their drive or their system, their first question was, “Well, my data is really important. You can save it, right?”

Bottom line, backup your important data regularly. You’ll save yourself time, money, and the headaches of exotic data reclamation.