I travel a lot. Mostly for fun, rarely for business. Often I am gone for just a week or two at a time. Some times longer. This winter (2008-2009) I will be in Colombia, Argentina and other warm places until things warm up in the spring in my current home town, Steamboat Springs, CO.
I’ll have a lot of posts regarding the lifestyle of a trader on the road but let’s start with backups and laptop restoration and how to get up and running quickly in the event of a hard drive crash or stolen/lost laptop. Every one knows they should backup daily, but rarely is it done consistently. Even if you’ve had more than one hard drive crash like me and had to completely restore a laptop (or had a laptop stolen), you probably have not learned the backup lesson well enough to make a hard drive restoration relatively quick and easy with a new hard drive or new computer.
The objective is to be back in business in a matter of hours. We are not just talking about backing up data, but how to restore an entire hard drive. It is a bit different depending on whether you have a hard drive crash and just need to replace the laptop hard drive or have a computer lost or stolen and need to setup a new laptop.
I carry two laptops when ever I travel for more than a few days. Both are relatively small. One is a relatively new, very small and lightweight Dell with a 12” screen which weighs just a bit over two pounds. It is my backup laptop. It has the critical programs and current data on it so if my main laptop crashes, there is no (at least very little) down time. Current market data and trading program settings backups are on the online backup. If you are going to travel frequently and for extended periods, a backup laptop is a must.
New hard drive. Old laptop.
In most cases, this is relatively simple, if you’ve mirrored your hard drive.
A mirrored hard drive is not a typical backup. It is a “mirror” of your hard drive or an exact replication of the laptop hard drive. Programs such as Norton’s Ghost will mirror a hard drive. There are others. If the only trouble you’ve had is a hard drive crash (only!!) and you install a new hard drive on your old laptop, you can usually restore to a new hard drive the exact position of the old before the crash with a “mirrored” backup. No program installations, no drivers to install, etc. You may be back in business in a very short time. Of course, you will only be able to restore as of the last time you mirrored the hard drive. Mirror the hard drive at least once a week. You can restore more recent data from your data backup.
This is simple but most of us don’t do it as often as we should which is why the data backup should be on an automatic schedule. Daily is best. No less frequently than weekly.
There are two methods of data backup: on-site (external backup) and off site (online backup). USE THEM BOTH. External backups are cheap and small. I carry an external backup that has the entire hard drive backed up when ever I travel. I do a complete hard drive backup to the external drive once a week.
I’ve recently also used an online backup for critical data including all market data, files of trading program settings (such as workspaces and portfolios) and any current documents I’m working on. An online backup procedure can take time and CPU power plus needs a reliable high speed internet connection which is why I only backup critical data and documents online. I place all of the critical data and settings files in just a few folders which are backed up online daily. Since only a small amount of new data is added daily, it doesn’t take long for the online backup to complete each evening. I use sugarsync.com. There are a lot of other online backup systems and they are very inexpensive for the relatively small number of gigs needed just for the critical data.
A key to data backup is to organize your hard drive so all data is in relatively few folders. I used to have documents and data scattered throughout my hard drive. I’ve finally organized my hard drive and data to save all documents and data to just a few folders for much more easy backup and recovery.
Know where each program has backed up data. For instance, I recently had to completely restore a hard drive as if it were a new computer because the operating system got corrupted. I couldn’t just restore from a “mirrored” backup. My Outlook email, rules, contacts etc. files were in weird places that took a lot of effort in the online Outlook help files to locate and restore from my backup. Now, I backup these files to a folder I created in My Documents folder so I know right where there are if I have to restore them again.
If you are traveling and have to buy a new laptop while on the road, it will be a pain in the butt no matter how well prepared you are. The big challenge is to install necessary programs. Some programs you will be able to download. Others you will have to install from CD which means you have to travel with the original CDs. The key to a relatively smooth restore is to have a document backed up that lists the critical programs, where to download them if they are downloadable, what files on your backup include current settings that you will want to restore to the programs and what documents and other data is critical to restore from your external and/or online backup. Keep a CD case that includes all necessary programs you will want to quickly install on your new laptop.
A Backup/Restoration Plan Is Worth The Effort
It can seem like a lot of time and work to mirror and backup hard drives and have a plan for the smoothest restoration possible while on the road. It is not much different than planning for the same disaster while we are at home. We put off this planning because we probably have never had the catastrophe while traveling. Just about everyone has had a hard drive crash and gone through the experience of restoring the hard drive in the comfort and convenience of our home. Prepare a disaster plan NOW for what you will have to do if on the road to get up and running as quickly as possible.