Welcome to befogs.
Title: Back that thing up.
Welcome to befogs! I’m not really sure how to tackle posts here. I’d prefer to start simple, and will go from there in the future. I’m likely to handwrite the entire site, just for fun and experience. I contemplated the idea of writing this entire blog in Vi, but I’m not that big of a masochist. Because of this, posts and updates are likely to be somewhat awkward. I likely will not have an RSS feed, and don’t intend on keeping a very regular schedule. I am thinking about having some sort of update system, either through email or Twitter, or something like that. If you’re interested in receiving these, email me.
Now on to the meat and potatoes, and for this post, I want to talk a bit about backups. We all know that we’re suppose to backup regularly? But at the end of the day, do we actually do it? Based on the number of panicked emails, phone calls, and text messages I receive on this issue (about one a month or so, not an epidemic but more than I’d like), I’d venture to say that not as many of my friends have a proper backup plan as I’d like. How much would you value the bytes on your laptop right now? The photos from a few years ago, the term papers due in a week, past tax forms and other personal documents, music collection, etc?
When devising a backup strategy, it’s important to remember that when it comes to data duplication, “two is one and one is none”. That is to say, if the only backup you have is a single Time Machine disk sitting on an external hard-drive on your desk and connect once or twice per week, you do not have a backup strategy, as a failure on that single drive means that you no longer have an extra copy of your data.
“But drives rarely ever fail! If my backup drive ever fails, becomes corrupt, or breaks, I’ll just go and get a new one. The data’s still on my laptop anyways.”
That’s great, until your apartment catches on fire or floods. Or you spill that beer you probably shouldn’t have had on your desk while watching Netflix, ruining computer and laptop at the same time. Traveling for work and the airline loses the bag that has your laptop and drive? Murphy’s law 101 here.
So what’s the best strategy? General best practice is to have three (yes, three) backups of your data. One backup should be always connected and running via a USB external drive or other local solution, think a Time Machine drive. The second should also be local, and connected once per week or so to get the latest backup using something like Time Machine (a great Monday morning welcome back to work!). Finally, the third backup should always be off-site, preferably a cloud service (although data security can be an issue) like Backblaze, CrashPlan, or Arq.
“Alright then, you’ve convinced me. So what’s your personal backup strategy?”
I’m glad you asked. Personally, I do the following:
On my MacBook Pro:
- Most important files that are a low security risk if compromised (i.e. not banking, social security number, compromising photos of Harry Cassin) are stored in Dropbox. I have a pro accountt there, with 100GB, so more than adequate space.
- I have two Time Machine drives at work which I backup to regularly. One is a standard USB3 drive I connect to, the other is attached to our Airport Extreme and backed up over the WiFi network.
- I backup my entire computer to an Amazon S3/Glacier storage account, using Arq. This occurs hourly like Time Machine.
- Photos are backed up as I add them using a pro account on PictureLife. I had used Everpix for this, before they went out of business.
- Music is backed up using iTunes Match. Although most of my listening now is done using iTunes Radio or Spotify, so this probably isn’t as necessary. I just pay for it because it makes it easier to have all of my music on my iPhone, without having to think or worry about not having the album I want, when I want it.
- Most of the most important files that we have for 9magnets (source code, project wikis), are stored on Bitbucket and tracked with Git as a source control system.
- For files that are truly near and dear to me, I use Transmit to manually store them on a small, personal VPS I have on DigitalOcean.
On my VPS (CentOS 6.4 on DO):
- I use Digital Ocean’s built in backup service. This runs daily, I believe, so long as file changes have occurred on the server.
- I’ve used Tarsnap to backup my user directories, my websites, and anything else of importance. Right now, it’s costing me 2 cents per day, plus any bandwidth costs for uploading data. The service claims you could backup a couple terabytes for less than $10/month, which is absolutely fantastic.
- I typically use my local machine as a staging server, uploading my final files to the server via FTP. These sites are usually kept on Dropbox, meaning that they’re backed up there, as well as on my Time Machine and Arq backups.
On my iPhone and iPad:
- I use iCloud as a primary backup system. Restoring from a backup has never had any issues for me, and I’ve used it on a 4S, 5, and 5S, over iOS 6 and 7 and its many betas. So I trust this for the most part.
- Music, as mentioned in the Mac section, is stored on iTunes Match.
- Nearly all applications that I depend upon that require files use Dropbox as a way to sync or move files (1Password, Day One, MindNode, iA Writer, GoodReader). I typically use this method for moving files between iOS/Mac apps when required, as storing on Dropbox means that the files are also backed up on my Time Machine and Arq backups.
- Photos I take on my iPhone are backed up to Dropbox using their photo utility, as well as on PictureLife.
- Most other applications that have data I would hate to lose, have their own online service to help sync and store files. When possible, I try to use the Mac equivalent for these services so that files are backed up on my own hard drive. I’m looking at you, Instacast, Evernote, and Gmail.
So these are my personal backup methods. I admit that at times, I am probably a bit overprotective, specifically with photos. If it makes you feel any better, I used to have a CrashPlan account as well, but their client was a bit messy and I feel pretty confident with my current setup. With respect to photos, the reason I have so many backups is because, I find them to be a very difficult item to track and protect because you usually take photos and then forget about them, up until the point where you want to share them or look back at them. So with my current setup, I have a handful of places they are stored, so that no photos are lost if I get a new phone, re-install iOS, have a backup fail, etc.
“That seems way, way too complex for me. What would you recommend as the cheapest and easiest thing I can do to solve the backup problem.”
Good question. If you’re still reading at this point, you probably find your data to be pretty valuable, so here is what I suggest:
- Have a local Time Machine drive, and please use it at least once per week. If you have an Airport Extreme, Time Capsule or some other router that allows you to connect a backup drive over WiFi, this is even better as you won’t have to physically tether the drive to your laptop.
- Depending on your level of technical prowess, I suggest signing up with either Arq or Backblaze. Arq allows for more advanced settings (such as backup to your own Amazon S3 account for cheap backups, or connect to your VPS using SFTP), but obviously requires a bit of technical know-how to understand what is going on. Backblaze is drop dead simple. Sign up, install their software, and your files will be backed up to an off-site server.
- Sign up for PhotoLife and backup your photos there. However, because there is significant precedent for services like this to fail, PLEASE make sure this isn’t the only place your photos are stored.
- Sign up for a Dropbox account, even if just the free account, and keep a copy of your most important files there.
There are a couple of caveats here with my advice, and I want to outline them here below. I would suggest the above to almost everyone I know, but if the following catches your eye/interest, read and do some research:
- I would personally, never put anything on a cloud server that I was uncomfortable with being dumped out in public. If a file is on a server, it could be compromised, so be thoughtful with what you put on Dropbox, a VPS, etc. I suggest a few web services above, and I’m not an expert on Dropbox or PictureLife’s security or encryption methodologies, so I assume these services are unsafe by default.
- The exception to the above point would be, if I encrypted the data myself or if the security system is well documented. For example, Arq has some great security documentation, and Tarsnap is, as their tag line suggests, the online backup system for the truly paranoid.
- Everything in this post assumes you are running OS X or some sort of UNIX system. If you’re on a PC, I’m really unsure as to which programs would be best, but the general philosophy should still be applicable.
- Don’t depend on built in services for your operating system to defend you. iCloud and Google’s services are great, but don’t depend on them only! If you do that, you’re putting all of your eggs into a single basket.
- Please, PLEASE backup your data.
I hope this quick explanation of what I do for my personal backups has helped give you a few ideas on how you can better protect your data. If you have any questions, shoot me an email, I’m happy to help!