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World Backup Day: How I Backup

March 31, 2011 —

Today was World Backup Day, and, in the footsteps of Ars, decided I'd detail my current backup strategy. I first started backing up regularly after an incident back in college. One day the hard drive in my laptop began making the telltale sounds of imminent failure. Then the computer stopped booting. And I hadn't backed up the drive in several weeks, which would have caused me to lose a bunch of data. I ordered a new drive, and just before I was about to install it, I was luckily able to boot my laptop and then copy the data off of it, losing nothing. Since then, I've been an big advocate of backups.

My primary computer is a Macbook Pro. Since it is also the computer that all my photos and important data is on, I don't want to lose any of it. Every day I make sure to plug in my 1 TB external hard drive that Time Machine mirrors the contents of drive to. So at all times, I've got a backup of my drive and a history of the files. I also have another external drive that I keep at my parent's house in their safe that is filled with Time Machine backups. So if my house blows up, I have something to fall back on. The problem with that disk though is that it is several months out of date. And that sucks because my data changes all the time.

But thats not all for my laptop. I also make use of CrashPlan. At home, I also have a Linux box with a 4 hard drives in a RAID 5 setup, so if one drive dies, I don't lose any data, I can just replace the drive. So I have CrashPlan backup my laptop to my Linux box onto it's RAID storage, and this can happen anywhere my laptop has Internet access. Currently, CrashPlan is configured to run every night.

My email is hosted in the cloud, but I still run hourly backups onto the RAID storage in my linux box using mbsync. I also run backups of my Google Docs every day using gdatacopier (again, saving to my Linux box).

I used to also have Mozy, but decided to scale back costs for a while. Though I would really like to use it again. For some important things, I'll stick them on Dropbox, which maintains a backup copy in the cloud. However, storage on Dropbox is much more limited than something like Mozy.

Right now, one single point of failure is my Linux box. The drives are getting old and should be replaced soon (the MTTF is way overdue) and I'm relying too much on them these days. And I really should have a standby drive in the array in case of multiple disk failures. The plus side is that there really isn't anything on that computer that is not somewhere else, or I can't redownload. But it would be a huge hassle.

I've really tried to create a good, easy solution for backups without any single point of failure. Though there are definitely several areas that I need to improve on. You never need the backup until you need it. And at that point, if you don't have the backup, you may find you've lost years of irreplaceable memories. I know that to me, my photos are irreplaceable. I also have all the documents I created from sixth grade all the way through college. And if I lost those, there's no bringing them back (there's just no way to recreate the awesome resume I wrote in sixth grade - "Expected graduation from Middle School, 1998", "experience with many tools and their uses", "fast runner" - classic).

If you own a Mac, there is no excuse, just buy a cheap external hard drive and plug it in and use Time Machine. Windows users should just buy a Mac. Linux users... well, write some perl script that rsync's your files somewhere and put it in cron or write some other solution (I mean really, you're using Linux, you should be able to figure something out). Or look at CrashPlan. Hopefully, if you aren't backing up your files, you'll start.