back to article Staff and students at Victoria University of Wellington learn the most important lesson of all: Keep your files backed up

Think you're having a bad day? Spare a thought for the IT team at New Zealand's Victoria University of Wellington who accidentally managed to wipe files stored on desktop computers last week. Taking us back to the glory days of Microsoft's file-munching Windows 10 October 2018 Update fiasco, staff and students (with a staff …

  1. WolfFan Silver badge

    The only things

    On my desktop are shortcut/alias icons and folders for screenshots. And the screenshots are kept until I dump them to an image database if I need them long term or deleted if not. I got out of the habit of storing things on the desktop back in Mac System 6 days.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The only things

      I also understood that stuff like folders shouldn't be stored on the desktop, as this can make it slow to load and it's only meant to be for short-cuts, in any case.

      1. JassMan

        Re: The only things

        The original story on "Critic" repeatedly says desktop computer, so I don't think the students were storing their work in the desktop folder. Even the story here on the vulture sort of implies that it is the local harddrive by saying that network and cloud drives were unaffected.

        1. stuartnz

          Re: The only things

          This is how it was reported in non-tech NZ new sites too - desktop PCs, not users' desktops. Still very much shared responsibility, imo - yes the Uni IT team screwed up, but who spends years working on career make-or-break research without any personal, off site backups?

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: The only things

            But it also mentions profiles. So what is the truth here?

            1. anothercynic Silver badge

              Re: The only things

              Profiles can be stored on the network, where they are retrieved from, or locally.

              On Windows, the profiles are stored in C:\Users. I surmise they tried to clean up C:\Users and ended up wiping everything, not just the obsolete profile directories in that directory.

              It happens. That is why things like Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, Sync and Box exist. Store stuff off-site. And at least most of those services have the ability to 'restore' files if you've accidentally wiped them.

              1. TRT Silver badge

                Re: The only things

                On windows profiles can roam. That means they can be stored on the network or locally. I think you may just have phrased yourself clumsily there.

              2. Alumoi Silver badge

                Re: The only things

                No, that's why you always save your file outside c:\users.

          2. bpfh

            Re: The only things

            About everyone I work with who is not an IT professional unfortunately. I’ve already told the story about the guy that saved his photos to his email’s “Deleted Items” bin and was gutted when I informed him - after he emptied it - that there was no way back, and he thought that “deleted items” actually meant “read items”, trendy the users who create files outside their expected directories, although this has got better over the years with Windows complaining of you create folders outside of your well known directories making backup easier when someone needs help with reinstalling and knows I’m lying when I tell them that I know nothing about this stuff...

          3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

            Someone who has not yet realized the fragility of data.

            Now they are learning the hard way, which is the only actual way to make the lesson stick.

          4. Paul Johnston

            Re: The only things

            Er more than you would believe!

      2. Youngone Silver badge

        Re: The only things

        On Windows the Desktop is a folder, like any other so feel free to store stuff there, it won't slow the computer down.

        1. Wexford

          Re: The only things

          It might be a (marginal) performance thing - the DWM is scanning the folders for an icon to use, rendering it against the background etc. Having observed actual performance hits from this in the 90s I've always opted for a single coloured background with as few icons on the desktop as possible ever since. It may or may not still make a difference in 2021 :-)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The only things

          Up until you have 50gb of "work" things in a network-stored roaming profile.

          On a 10/2mb up/down dsl link.

          That's about the time you start contemplating the worth of not using the desktop to store files.

  2. Red Ted

    New variation on “my dog ate my homework”

    Is now “our IT dept. right royaly screwed up and deleted my homework”?

    1. Mark 85

      Re: New variation on “my dog ate my homework”

      Perhaps in say 10 years from now, there will be a "Who Me?" article that will explain what happened.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: New variation on “my dog ate my homework”

        "Perhaps in say 10 years from now, there will be a "Who Me?" article that will explain what happened."

        Make that 1 year.

        1. stiine Silver badge

          Re: New variation on “my dog ate my homework”

          It'll be the next episode of BOFH.

          1. Scott 26

            Re: New variation on “my dog ate my homework”

            > It'll be the next episode of BOFH.

            Simon is ex-Waikato Uni, not Vic ;)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Any good IT team has desktops and user folders backed up. It's not the users responsibility to protect the organisation's data, it's IT's. Double fail from the IT team.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Noobs

      It's not the users responsibility to protect the organisation's data, it's IT's. Double fail from the IT team.

      No - it is the responsibility of both.

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: Noobs

        "The responsibility of both" means the responsibility of neither. The buck has to stop somewhere.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Noobs

          No - it's a case of what is sensible.

          I've got almost all of my work stuff on an IT approved and managed filestore which I know they are responsible for backing up.

          I have a very significant chunk of it replicated to my laptop, where it is automatically backed up to a company provided external drive.

          I don't keep a completely offline backup, that's IT's remit, but I do keep recent backups (which stops me having to ask IT for things in normal cockup situations).

      2. MatthewSt

        Re: Noobs

        It's the IT department's responsibility to back up certain locations, it's the user's responsibility to make sure that they save the files to those locations

        It's unfortunate that they've not configured OneDrive properly, because there's a tickbox that effectively says "store the desktop in OneDrive" which would have been a safety-net in this scenario

  4. Sparkus

    I don't even keep my user Libraries on C:

    There is always a second physical drive, usually lettered L: and use windows folder redirection to move my 'known folders' (except for Desktop) to L:. Which in turn mirrors to an encrypted & compressed partition back on C: And occasionally mirrors to rando space on the home NAS.

    I suppose I could go full belts and braces and further mirror to OneDrive.

    YMMV, but this works for me.

    1. Stumpy

      Re: I don't even keep my user Libraries on C:

      You probably should, since what happens if your home burns down? The way you've described it at the moment, it sounds as though all your backups are still stored in one physical location. Remember the 3-2-1 rule:

      3 copies of your data

      2 different media

      1 copy stored off-site.

    2. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: I don't even keep my user Libraries on C:

      Always need one copy not connected at all to the computer or interwebs (I swap USB drives because that's how I was trained). And another ditto, but off site somewhere (took me years to get my former employers to authorise that and provide a data protection compliant system) even if it only has the most critical/valuable stuff.

  5. bob, mon!

    Bad move for an IT department

    Sounds to me like they just failed their midterm practical exam.

    1. alain williams Silver badge

      Re: Bad move for an IT department

      Nah - someone wants a job at Microsoft and is just showing that they follow Redmond's practice of not properly testing stuff before inflicting it on users.

    2. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Bad move for an IT department

      Maybe the University's sysadmins have been on a training course

    3. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

      Re: Bad move for an IT department

      Exams were on Sparc boxes when I did my CS degree there :-) Mind that was the early 90's.

  6. Trigun

    Sounds like they might have cocked up a user-logon cleanup script. I wonder if the university has some good file recovery software...

    As for desktop folders: If you don't folder-redirect/back them up then make them read-only as people always end up trying to save important work to them and warnings not to use the desktop for storage always get forgotten.

  7. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Drag out the 'ol saw

    "There are those that make backups, and those that have yet to lose irreplaceable data."

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Drag out the 'ol saw

      Those aren't disjoint sets, either.

      I've told this story here before, so I'll just summarize: Many years ago I carefully backed all my personal projects up to quarter-inch tape (real work was on a network filesystem which was multiply backed up more or less continuously), then installed an additional hard disk, repartitioned, created filesystems, installed the OS -- and then discovered the tapes were not readable.

      1. Boothy

        Re: Drag out the 'ol saw

        Reminds me of a meeting I was sat in a few years back, when a new Enterprise Architect had joined the account, and was trying to get a feel for the land, so had set up a few meetings with the support teams for various critical services.

        EA: Does the system have a backup?

        Support Lead: Yes, weekly full backups and overnight incrementals.

        EA: How often is the restore process tested, and when was the last test?

        Support Lead: It was tested when we first set the system up a few years back, so we know it worked then. But never since, as we don't actually have any other hardware large enough to test recovery on.

        EA: What about pre-prod? That should be the same size as prod shouldn't it?

        Support Lead: Erm, client didn't want to pay for a full size pre-prod, so it's not actually big enough to fit prod on now.

        EA: So that's a no then, no backup.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Drag out the 'ol saw

          Yep - your backup is only as good as your last restore.

          The problem is when you have a genuinely large single system backup... it can be hard to test.

          But you can at least try to read the files.

  8. sanmigueelbeer Silver badge

    Getting on with the times ...

    IT (department) deleted my homework ...

  9. heyrick Silver badge

    And next week in On Call...

    (see title)

  10. nautica Silver badge
    IT Angle

    Nothing will ever go wrong if you commit your life to a computer (...and not even discussing Boeing)

    "At last, after a year, my PhD is finally complee- bzzt!

    Anyone who keeps an important document of ANY type on a computer only is a complete idiot.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Nothing will ever go wrong if you commit your life to a computer .....

      Sadly there s a never ending supply of people who only have 1 copy of the thesis/photo album etc. Often the only family photos are in the fu**ing phone! (I think Apple might create backups for those owners automatically, if they even know about this is a nother matter).

      But This is not an IT thing!!! . Forty years ago I made bloody sure I had a copy of any important documents. Even if it was a physical smudgy carbon copy.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No....not 3.....but 4......

    Quote: "... three important learning experiences ...."


    No there are actually four:

    4. Make sure you test make sure they WILL ACTUALLY RESTORE WHEN YOU NEED THEM


    In my experience, RULE 4 is widely ignored!!!!!

    1. jabuzz

      Re: No....not 3.....but 4......

      You must me using some shitty backup software or don't know how to do backup is all I can say. When using real backup software with enterprise backup storage then you can be confident that you have everything backed up because the backup software tells you so and you can be confident that it can be recovered.

      Just the other week did a restore of 100's of TB (this was planned I might add part of a major storage upgrade that involved removing all the hard disks from the storage system and replacing with larger ones and a formatting a new GPFS file system) and other than some trial partial restores to get a handle on the amount of time required if you think I did a full test you are off your rocker mate. Needless to say Spectrum Protect/TSM restored the lot no problems. I had zero concerns on the ability of TSM to restore the data.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: No....not 3.....but 4......

        You have to test and check. Verify that, when it says everything, it's actually everything. That catches you if you misconfigured it once or it didn't back up a file because it wasn't unavailable. Verify that, when you restore, it actually restores. That catches you against a corrupted file that broke something. Verify that, when you want to restore and you don't have stuff, you can. That catches you in the case that the software needed for restoring is unavailable or doesn't work, for example it requires a network connection, license key, or dependency which you didn't have before but now will. This is part of using proper software in a proper way.

  12. Claverhouse Silver badge

    The Simple Things

    Users were also advised to show the email to others to avoid more logins that could end up making the problem worse.


    Couldn't they simply temporarily disable logins ?

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: The Simple Things

      Maybe it was trying to do that that caused the problem in the first place.

  13. DS999 Silver badge


    Would claim hackers caused the damage and IT had as always done everything right!

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: BOFH

      or, more likely, the about to be ex-boss.

  14. Lorribot

    You can lead a horse to water but they may not even realise they need to drink....

    Ah people deleting stuff. It happens, done it myself to someone's PST archive when I upgraded their PC to Windows XP, they were not supposed to be using local PSTs, but users....what you going to do. Upside is, she still doesn't talk to me.

    I remember the classic case of a lady at a school I worked at asking if I could recover her duaghter thesis as their son had done a Windows 98 "upgrade" on the familiy PC and wiped everything a month before it was due in. That cost about £300 (about 23 years ago) to recover from a proper HD recovery company.

    I sent may kids to University with a 1TB Onedrive set up and 256GB USB stick, and told them they need at least 3 copies of everything, one on laptop, one in the cloud (OneDrive or Uni storage) and one off line (USB,CD,DVD,External Drive). If you lose work and haven't done that don't even think of bothering me. For the last I even set up her laptop so that when ever she plugged in an external drive it would back up all her documents.

    One of them did manage to download ransomware as part of a film download but least he had enough copies of pictures on phones and work in at least 2 out 3 places that a rebuild and recovery actually got it all back.

    Lesson learned and proved the old git actually knew what he was talking about.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Two key words when forming a backup strategy

    What if

  16. Aussie Doc


    But Shirley nobody lost anything because it was safely stored in the recycle bin???

    Yeah, one of those but I'm sure it happened to someone -----------------------------------^^^

  17. Muscleguy

    During my PhD, at the University of Otago as mentioned (I remember The Critic). I had three boxes of 1.4MB discs. One set at work, one set at home which came in once a week for backup and one set which lived in my backpack, was backed up daily and travelled with me. So if work and home burned down/got flattened in an earthquake/tsunami/volcainic eruption etc but I survived I had a copy on me.

    The lab postdoc told me of the guy back in the day before computers who handed his hand written thesis to the typist he had contracted to type it up (de rigeur back in the day). She put it on the back of her moped but it wasn't there when she got home. The guy went and vented his frustration on a reinforced fire door (he paid for the damage) then reconstructed it painfully from his notes.

    I still have a set of those discs. I just don't have a drive which can read them any more.

    I submittted in '93. In '87 we were the first Honours year to write our theses direct into computers.

    1. Sherrie Ludwig

      Classic case of no backup

      The lab postdoc told me of the guy back in the day before computers who handed his hand written thesis to the typist he had contracted to type it up (de rigeur back in the day). She put it on the back of her moped but it wasn't there when she got home. The guy went and vented his frustration on a reinforced fire door (he paid for the damage) then reconstructed it painfully from his notes.

      Even in the days before personal computers, there were copiers. Something that precious SHOULD have been run through a Xerox, cheap insurance even at the extortionate prices of the library copiers in my educational heyday.

  18. JJKing

    Apathetic idiots.

    I had a teacher complain that their laptop was taking a long time to start (I think that meant boot) so I took a look and found 44GB of data stored on the desktop in various folders. I showed them how to Cut 'N Paste a folder into the Document library and then right click and sent shortcut to desktop. This way the structure would still look exactly the same and not confuse them. I then had them do the same process 3 times themselves because I didn't have the time to move it all myself. I checked back 6 months later and the 44GB had been replaced by 96GB of data so I am guessing my lesson on moving to the Documents location had fallen on deaf ears.

    A couple of months later several staff members were getting their laptops upgraded with new devices and staff were not pleased when I told them they would need to backup their data to and external HDD because we didn't have the necessary storage on the Servers and I wasn't going to copy up to 100GB onto an external HDD via a USB 2 connection.

    When I started at that location a company was selling USB HDDs at an excellent so I sent an email to about 150 to 170 staff recommending they purchase this tax deduction for their backups. Of the 150 to 170 staff who received my email only three bothered to purchase the external USB drive. After that those 3 received excellent support from me but the others got just what they needed.

  19. Social Ambulator

    Just say no

    The moral is never ever let the Uni handle your stuff. Use a Mac, which they don’t support, and backup manually to a 120Gb pen drive each night.

    1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

      Re: Just say no

      And get blamed for the next ransomware attack because you connected an unauthorised device to the network...

  20. freddagg

    This University IT Team Sucks

    It looks like they might need to update the plaque, hidden somewhere on VUW grounds. I recall it was in one of the flower beds beside Rankin Brown (Main Library) but that was way back in the late 80's.,-secret-signs

  21. GrumpyKiwi

    Competency was optional

    It's Victoria uni. The uni that wasted millions of dollars on trying to get their name changed to Wellington University only to get slapped down and told to stick to doing what they do best - being the fourth best uni in NZ.

    It's no surprise that their IT matches.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    B4 the cloud

    Reminds me of the days before the cloud when I was writing up my PhD. All those years worth of previous data was religiously backed up on a 100MB Zip drive every night. I thought I was so smart until some careless roofers set fire to the Chemistry building I worked in. The painful hours as a few other post grads sat in the pub and commiserated with each other, going that building full of highly flammable liquids, gases and solids didn't explode. Luckily our trusty first responders saved the day. A CD was hastily burned and kept at home after that.

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