Lurking in the mind of every computer owner is the possibility of a hard drive crash and with it loss of all personal data, photos, etc. Actually the term "possibility" is a misnomer because sooner or later a crash will happen and one had best be prepared to deal with it. "Sooner or later" came for me a few days ago...very unexpectedly I might add. I had recently had my computer worked on and it had been running like new the past two months. Then one morning I turned it on and...NOTHING! Not a peep.
One's first reaction is "this isn't really happening". It's only after repeated tries with the same result that reality sinks in and one must think about what has been lost and how he going to go about getting it back. This is the moment of truth and one is either prepared or he isn't. If this is the first time that thought has crossed your mind you are in deep trouble. But, if one has anticipated such an eventuality and taken steps to mitigate risk then just maybe it is but an inconvenience. So what can one do to prepare? The answer lies in redundancy.
The process begins the minute you start using your new computer and begin to create your own data, whether it be documents, financial information, photos, etc. (Note: Don't take any comfort in the hard drive insurance the sales person sold you to replace your hard drive if a crash occurs; it will do nothing to recover your data.) I'm going to focus on photographic images since this is a photography website, but the same logic applies to anything you create that has value to you. While much information can be recreated photos cannot; once they are gone they are gone forever and chances are you invested much time and money in acquiring those precious images. So, your hope lies in backing those images up to some domain other than your computer's hard drive. There are various means of doing this and the one you employ depends on volume and personal preference. I store no images on my computer's hard drive. All my images reside on external hard drives AND a second copy is stored on yet a different hard drive. That way if my computer fails, or one of my external drives fail, my image files remain intact. To take this a step further a third copy of all image files should be backed up on yet another drive(s) and stored off site to protect against real disasters like fire. Seem like overkill? Perhaps, but think about the time, cost, etc., that went into creating those thousands of images, and if your livelihood is dependent on those images...well, you are now out of business.
There's more. What about all those programs installed on your computer, Lightroom, Lightroom Catalog(s), plug-in's, activation keys, downloads, etal? Have you kept backups of those precious catalogs? If not, even if you managed to save your images, your going to spend hours rebuilding your catalogs. But if you have those backups all your looking at is a minor inconvenience. Computer programs are either on DVD's or downloaded from the Internet. In either case your going to need the activation keys to reactivate your software once it's reloaded. You did save those didn't you? Keep meticulous records because while you can get help from vendor websites I can tell you from experience that software vendor websites are not designed to facilitate recoveries; they are designed to SELL products. Some have readily apparent technical assistance buttons, others are all but nonexistent and you can spend considerable time trying to figure them out. And often it can take hours, if not days, to actually get technical help. It's much better to be prepared with the information you need to recover on your own.
Finally, be prepared with a written step by step recovery plan and keep it up to date as you add or delete hardware and software from your system. Again, this might seem like paranoia but believe me when your computer's brain goes south your's goes with it. Your first reaction will be denial followed closely by panic. If you have thought this problem through in an atmosphere of calm and logic you can deal with disaster.
So, I am back in business for the most part with the loss of only a few documents that can be easily reproduced. My images are safe, my software is reinstalled, and all It cost was a couple days of putting it all back together, a bit of frustration, and oh yes...the price of a new hard drive and a "geek's" time to install it. But, my effort to build redundancy into my system, and devising a recovery plan paid off because it could have been so much worse. It's not "if" a crash will occur, it's really a question of when. Practice good risk management procedures. The worst that can happen is that you won't need them.