Reason for the silence

Wowzers! It’s been 10 months since I created a post on my blog! There is a good reason for that, I promise. I’m obviously not a prolific blogger like Ray Camden or some of the other folks that seem to be able to churn out blog posts as often as some of us sneeze, but I like to post about things that interest me from time to time.

Lately however, there just hasn’t been enough hours in the day–and here’s why. My father-in-law is an optometrist with a small practice in the town where my wife and I are from. Several years ago, he looked at me and said something along the lines of “all the practice management software packages that exist today are terrible–why don’t you build something better?”. We experimented with the idea of an internet-based application, but the technology just wasn’t ready for that kind of application at that time. More importantly, people’s attitudes on having their core business data hosted anywhere but on a computer in their office weren’t ready for what we were thinking. So, we shelved the idea.

Then, about 2 years ago some the changes in healthcare regulations happened that made us pull the idea out of mothballs and give it another look. During the intervening years, things like Flickr, GMail, Hotmail, Dropbox and others had totally changed people’s idea of where they would store their data. Mobile internet access (and people’s demand for it) was starting to take off thanks to the continued adoption of smart phones. Additionally, the tools for building compelling web applications had matured greatly and new ones had been born. With all that in mind, we decided to give this idea a go and a new company and product was born.

Today, RediPractice is the result of that idea. RediPractice is a web-based practice management system for tracking patients, appointments, insurance and billing for small optometric practices. Our core goal is to give the doctors and staff a system that is intuitive and easy to use. Our belief is that your practice management software should not cause more headaches than it solves so we have worked hard to remove processes that we’ve seen in other packages that make getting work done more difficult.

We launched live with our first customer on 1 Jan 2012 and have been in a sort of “private beta” phase since then with a small number of customers. Over the last six plus months, we’ve worked very closely with our customers’ staff members to iron out any wrinkles, revamp things that don’t make sense and add new features that our customers have told us they need to run their day-to-day practice activities.

However, as anyone that has started a new business can attest, you don’t normally get your incorporation papers in the mail and suddenly find a plethora of money in your mailbox. Starting a new business is hard work–and there are dozens of areas involved that I know nothing about. So, while we’re building this new company and product, I’m still doing consulting work for clients during the day to keep the lights on, so I can work on RediPractice nights and weekends. I have to say it’s already been an incredible journey–from doing a deep dive into medical practice processes, regulations and such to meeting with doctors and staff who are potential clients and pitching my product to them.

So, whether you really cared or not, you now know why my blog posts have been so few and far between.

Conversation on backup strategies

In response to a call for opinions on NAS devices by Dan Wilson, O?uz Demirkapi and I exchanged a few tweets regarding RAID and backups and how we each use them to try to ensure we don’t experience any data loss. It’s hard to explain this type of setup in 140 character chunks, so I thought I’d do a quick post outlining my current setup and what I want to do to tweak it in the near future.

Our house is a total Mac household. I have a 17″ Macbook Pro, my wife has a black Mackbook, the twins each have a white Macbook and we have a Mac Mini that sits in a room in the basement and serves as a “server” for the house–iTunes and Calibre servers plus DVR functions with an Elgato EyeTV 250 Plus. The mini streams iTunes content to all the above-mentioned computers plus two AppleTV units.

For file storage, I have an original-model Drobo hooked to the Mac Mini. We store everything from files used in our business, the iTunes media library, the Calibre eBook library, the centralized iPhoto library and more on there.

Current Backup Components

  1. Hourly backups: Each of our computers has Time Machine configured to do hourly backups to a 1TB Time Capsule
  2. Nightly backups: I’ve installed the Mac client for the Mozy online backup service on the Mac Mini. Each night it backs up anything on the attached Drobo that has changed except for music and movie files. This ensures that our business files, photos and other files get backed up daily as they change. I originally had the movies and music set to back up there too, but it took entirely too long through the limited upload speed of my cable modem for large HD movies to get backed up
  3. Monthly backups: I keep a Western Digital MyBook that has two 500GB hard drives (configured to be a total of 1TB) in a safety deposit box at our local bank. About once per month, we bring that drive home, sync all the data on the Drobo to it and return it to the safety deposit box. This ensures that there is at least a relatively recent copy of the media files stored somewhere outside my house in the event of a disaster

Holes in my setup
Eventually, I’d like to move the Time Machine backup targets to point to a partition on the Drobo. It has 4 drive bays that can each handle 4TB SATA drives (when those become available) so it potentially has the capacity to do everything it’s doing now plus store what we’re putting on the Time Capsule. Doing that would give me redundancy for the backups that Time Machine creates unlike using the single drive in the Time Capsule today.

Additionally, the 1TB MyBook drive is, at some point, going to be insufficient to mirror the contents of the Drobo. I’ve been thinking about what to do when that happens. I’m considering purchasing another Drobo unit, mirroring the files from my current Drobo onto it, and placing it on the network at my brother’s house (which is about 150 miles from me). I could then use CrashPlan to mirror any changes to that remote Drobo. That would let me remove the Mozy subscription while keeping a complete set of files outside the house.

I realize this is not the most comprehensive backup strategy known to man, but I think it balances automatic, hands-off backup with off-site redundant storage to recover in the event of a disaster.

I’m also sure there are other great ideas out there and I’d love to hear how you folks solve this problem for yourselves.