There's disaster recovery, and then there's how you recover from a disaster.
No, I'm not talking about Irene. I'm talking about the perfect storm of travel, customer visits, and a crashing hard disk.
It's a familiar story. I mean, hard drives gotta die sometime. That's what the MTBF (mean time between failures) rating IS. And since I use my laptop (yes, the big one) almost constantly, it was really due to happen any time now.
So when I booted up Ubuntu and it asked me to perform a lengthy fsck routine twice in a row, I knew it was time to take action.
Step 1: Back up all the data I could, to whatever I had handy. Luckily, I carry a Sandisk Cruzer 16Gb flash drive, so I could back up A LOT of my immediately important stuff. I had also backed up my laptop before I left so I knew I wasn't completely sunk, just slowed down.
Step 2: Get a new drive. No problem, that's why God gave us Fry's.
Step 3: transfer the data from the old drive to the new one. I mean, that's the simple part, right?!? You just hook it up to a hard drive replicator (a technology that's been around for years making cloning and other techniques obsolete) and in an hour or two you are good to go.
My first stop - the internal desktop support folks at my company - was a 3 hour odyssey of getting first Ghost and then "some other program I haven't used much" to run on an old Dell 386 with hand-spliced cables shooting out the front. While I'm sure that setup does work, it didn't like my Ubuntu drive and helpfully failed at the end of the 3 hour copy attempt.
Having given the home-team the chance to prove itself, I went to the experts - those wizards at Fry's - where I was certain they'd be able to get me back on my feet while I leisurely browsed their aisles.
Uh... no. First, I was informed in a condescending tone that what I wanted was called "ghosting" ("Yes," I thought while maintaining a rigid smile. "I remember Symantec Ghost. I also remember Norton Ghost. I also remember PartitionMagic. I also remember using a LapLink cable to provision an entire training room. And I'm also certain that what I want is a clone of my hard drive. But who am I to quibble?")
Second, I was informed that they weren't certain Linux would work correctly if the old drive had bad sectors. ("Weeeeellll, if the drive runs NOW, I am fairly certain it will run after copying it to the new hard disk. I mean, it's not going to DAMAGE the sectors on the new drive, right?")
Third, this was going to cost me $70. Fine.
Finally, it would take 2-3 days.
Okay. Buh Bye.
Taking my leave of the lack-of-service counter, I decided to see if wandering the aisles offered any inspiration. Plus, walking around Fry's always makes me feel better. It just does.
I knew that my laptop had two drive bays, so if I could score some drive rails and a flat SATA cable (as described here) I might be able to set up a RAID 1 setup and just replicate the whole darn thing.
Short story long, they didn't have either the rails or the SATA cable. What they DID have was a $20 SATA-to-USB port connector. Now I could connect both drives, but how to get my whole OS over to the new disk. I didn't want to spend the rest of the night installing all my stuff (not that I had the install disks with me in the first place.)
In researching RAID options, I stumbled upon CloneZilla. A quick CD-burn later, and I was booting to a beautifully Linux-esque system that would let me copy my data from the old drive (now connected via the SATA-to-USB cable) to the new (safely ensconced inside the laptop). The first copy attempt - using default settings - ran for just 5 minutes, but didn't work (to many disk read errors). But the second attempt - which included a pre-copy fsck and was a RAW (bit for bit, no matter what) copy was a complete success.
It took 9 hours to run, but I was able to catch some z's during that time and awoke to a laptop that was actually usable and didn't leave my heart palpitating.