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Or, in my case, broken disks…

Last week, I woke up to find my desktop acting weirdly – like a disk was stuck in mid-write. Clicked on programs in the Dock and they just bounced forever. I tried rebooting, and things started acting normally – except my automounts on my server failed. So I went to the server, and it was just plain frozen.

I tried rebooting the server, but when it booted, up came the internal disk. By default, it’s supposed to boot to the external drive that has the Snow Leopard server software on it – the internal drive is just running Leopard for emergency boots (like now). I noticed that the server disk didn’t mount (although the other externals did).

So I tried powering the disk off and on to no avail. Fortunately, I have both a SuperDuper clone and a Time Machine backup, so I rebooted to the clone. Interestingly, this time the original boot disk came up. I tried doing a SuperDuper update to get the few hours of missing updates, and that worked. So I dismounted the old server drive so it couldn’t freeze the system again and headed off to work, figuring I’d deal with the rest of the problem (ie, no backup clone) later.

I got home from work, and decided to throw another drive that I wasn’t using in as the new clone backup. To get it into the firewire chain, I needed to power the server down. So I powered everything off, and used this opportunity to plug the server and drives into a different UPS – the one they were on was overloaded, and the last time power went down, so did they.

With everything hooked back up, I was ready to reboot and then clone off my boot drive to the new backup (which would take a while, since it was going to be a fresh backup. Powered up everything and…the boot drive wouldn’t power up. The one that had run just fine all day, the former clone drive. I thought it might be the new UPS, so I took it to another power outlet in the house. Nope, still wouldn’t turn on. So now I had an older boot drive that had frozen up, and the current boot drive that wouldn’t power on – two failures in the same day! Yippie. (By the way, these two disks were completely different brands in very different cases, so it wasn’t an instance of two drives from the same lot dying at the same time.)

I was hopeful that the latest failure was of the case and not the drive itself. Of course, this drive was bought in the case, and was not meant to be opened up, so I had to break the case to get the drive out. There were no fuses as in some cases, so that wasn’t the problem.

Then I pulled out my handy-dandy USB to SATA/IDE kit that let’s you plug in a drive temporarily for backing up or testing. But I had left the USB cable in the end, and as I pulled it out I heard a *crack* – I snapped the controller board. Yay.

At least the power portion was separate – so I hooked up power to the drive and it spun up. That gave me more hope that the disk was OK. So I took apart a case with a backup drive in it from my desktop system and put the boot drive in. It came up just fine on my desktop, so all I needed was a new case.

Off to MicroCenter, where they had cases 20% – my first real good luck of the day. I picked up a couple, because I had another backup drive that had failed a while ago and I figured I’d replace that case too (and while I was at it, I bought another USB to SATA/IDE controller).

So the moral of the story? You can’t have too many backups! Even if the second drive were dead, I had my Time Machine backup, and so would not have lost more than an hour (and the only thing changing in that time was the email on my server – backed up on my desktop). Now, I’d prefer not to have to restore from Time Machine if I have a disk up to date, but at least I wasn’t completely doomed, even with the failure of the main drive and the backup on the same day.

Postscript – I decided to beat up on the old boot drive to see if I could make it fail again. I backed up my desktop boot drive to it – and have done so with no problem for nearly a week. So while I’m content to keep this as a backup drive for now (it’s not my only backup!) I don’t think I’m ready for it to be a boot drive again.


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