Immaculate Backup was originally published on February 21, 2007.


Murphy's Law 198§44: the more complete a backup/recovery solution becomes, the less likely it is to ever be used.

With nearly half a century of experience using computers to run their business, Chris M's company knew that law all too well. Ever since that fateful Wednesday -- still known throughout the company as The Crash of ‘68 -- they swore, Never Again. And forty years later, they’ve kept their promise.

Over the years, Chris’s employer has come as close to a Perfect Technology Infrastructure as anyone. They hire the best network administrators money can buy and give them whatever resources they need to ensure that the infrastructure remains solid. And that they do.

The company’s backup and retention plan is nothing short of immaculate. Every system they’ve ever purchased -- from that old payroll program on the System/360 to that bizarre parts database for OS/2 -- can be brought back to life, if not physically than through virtualization. A walk through their “software archive” was a treat for many; new technicians are often astonished to learn, not only of the existence of 8-inch floppy disks, but that the company still has the 8-inch install disks for CP/M. And a drive to run them on.

Naturally, thanks to the aforementioned Murphy’s Law, this elaborate backup and retention is rarely, if ever, called into use. The only excitement the network technicians ever get is that occasional, frantic, “Oh Crap! I accidentally deleted that critical PowerPoint presentation” call. And even that is easily solved by walking the user through their self-service file restoration system.

But a little while back, the network technicians received a restoration request that actually sounded interesting. A production manager needed a report of the “old old” part numbers for a long out-of-production assembly. “Old old” referred an ancient mainframe system that had been replaced by the “old” system over ten years go and finally shut down in 2001. Restoring the “old old” system meant setting up a new emulation environment, mounting the old disk image, and praying that it boots up without a hitch.

This was the first time ever that an actual user had requested such a restoration, so the network technicians were naturally a bit nervous. But thanks to their meticulous planning and procedures, everything went fine. The system booted up without a hitch and the production manager was summoned to log in to the terminal they had set up for him. He sat down at the chair, keyed in his username, and then paused for a moment.

“Now, what was my password five years ago?”