Get Your Backup On

Today is World Back­up Day. Now, before you start look­ing over your shoul­der or throw­ing the car in reverse, keep in mind this means back­ing up your data.

As in hard dri­ves.

The Problem

The fact that most peo­ple prob­a­bly don’t real­ly think about data when they hear the phrase back up does­n’t real­ly bode well for such an aware­ness cam­paign. How­ev­er, as more of our dai­ly lives — even the non-geeks out there — become more dig­i­tal than phys­i­cal, it is impor­tant for all of us to think about this. How many pho­tos of your vaca­tions, videos of your kids, pur­chas­es of music and film, pur­chased soft­ware with down­load-only deliv­ery, or impor­tant doc­u­ments that are no where else but stored in a series of ones and zeros on a hard disk? I know that in our house­hold, it is pret­ty much every­thing of any impor­tance for almost the past decade.

As a result of all that dig­i­tal con­tent, we have an enor­mous amount of stor­age in our house. Among our three main com­put­ers — my iMac desk­top, Ange­la’s lap­top, and my work lap­top — we have near­ly 2.25 ter­abytes of stor­age1. That num­ber alone is the sort of thing that would have sound­ed like pure sci­ence fic­tion a cou­ple of decades ago. Today, it’s real­ly not that much at all2.

What’s more, while today’s com­put­ers and their hard dri­ves are fair­ly robust, these things do fail. Even when that hap­pens, it isn’t the end of the world. Data can be recov­ered but it is far from cheap. In a world of Free, the price for data recov­ery is still dra­mat­i­cal­ly high. It is much cheap­er, much sim­pler, and less stress­ful to know that you have back­ups in place and that the data is just a cou­ple of click away instead of wait­ing for some­thing to hap­pen and cross­ing your fin­gers.

Our Solution

The gold­en rule is that any­thing dig­i­tal worth keep­ing should have three copies:

  1. one “work­ing” (the one on your com­put­er)
  2. one “local” (on a hard dri­ve con­nect­ed to your com­put­er or on your home net­work)
  3. one “off site” (either a rotat­ed hard disk sys­tem or back­up online)

This pro­vides phys­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion of your back­ups and while this was the sort of lux­u­ry that only large com­pa­nies could afford years ago, it is sim­ple and (rel­a­tive­ly) cheap today with the dra­mat­ic drop in price of large hard dri­ves and high-speed inter­net con­nec­tions.

We use a set of hard disks that I either pur­chas­es for this pur­pose or put togeth­er from old equip­ment for our local back­ups. We use a hodge-podge of soft­ware to man­age these back­ups:

  • Time Machine on Ange­la’s lap­top3
  • Shirt Pock­et’s Super-Duper to per­form a week­ly back­up of my desk­top (phys­i­cal­ly con­nect­ed). The main ben­e­fit of using Super-Duper is that rather than a file-by-file back­up, the exter­nal back­up is an exact clone. I use Super-Duper as a dri­ve clon­er any­time I need to swap inter­nal dri­ves on a mac, as well.
  • Max­tor’s Back­up to per­form dai­ly back­ups of my work lap­top (phys­i­cal­ly con­nect­ed)

That cov­ers our local back­ups, but it is extreme­ly impor­tant to also keep a remote back­up in case of phys­i­cal dis­as­ter or theft. For that, we use

  • For both our home com­put­ers, we use Car­bonite. It is dead sim­ple and works con­stant­ly to ensure we have a remote back­up. Addi­tion­al­ly, Car­bonite allows us to access our files from pret­ty much any­where so it acts as cloud stor­age for pret­ty much any­thing. There are sim­i­lar ser­vices avail­able, but I don’t know of any that offer the ease of use cou­ple with ease of retrieval.
  • For my work lap­top, my com­pa­ny uses a sim­i­lar online stor­age sys­tem. While I imag­ine it is even more robust, the inter­face seems need­less­ly com­plex and slug­gish to me. How­ev­er, it has saved my bacon in recov­er­ing some impor­tant work files and I’m very thank­ful that they pro­vide this to all of us remote work­ers.

In terms of cost, our entire local stor­age sys­tem could be pur­chased for about $250 (going rate is around $100/ ter­abyte for exter­nal stor­age). Car­bonite is $55 per year per machine, though it’s cheap­er for longer peri­ods and you can use some coupons to get a month or two for free. So, for rough­ly $500, it is pos­si­ble to pro­vide an extreme­ly robust back­up for our home com­put­ers (if your work does­n’t pay to back up your work com­put­er, they should) for near­ly the entire expect­ed life of those machines. It’s far from cheap but the peace of mind and ease of use is real­ly worth it.

Ask any­one who has lost even a frac­tion of their dig­i­tal pho­to albums or music col­lec­tion and I’m sure they’ll agree.

So, snap to it and do your­self a big favor.

  1. And, yes, over half of that is full. []
  2. I should also note that I’m exclud­ing the addi­tion­al 2.5 ter­abytes in TiVo stor­age in our house. While hard dri­ve fail­ure on one of these would be a pain and I’d hate to not be able to catch up on Fringe, it is far from cat­a­stroph­ic. []
  3. Time Machine on a Air­port Extreme Base Sta­tion router is like mag­ic. I can­not think of any eas­i­er to use and bet­ter per­form­ing local net­work back­up sys­tem. The only draw­back is that Time Machine requires a ton of space to keep back­ups for even a rel­a­tive­ly recent back­up time peri­od. []