What’s your backup plan?
You don’t have one do you?
Well, that’s really not a good way to live, now is it? It’s an even worse way to treat your personal data. In today’s world, where more and more is done in the “digital world,” the need to protect your data is critical.
The “Old Days”
Think of your hard drives as the file boxes of the past, where your parents would stash your 3rd grade art projects, photos of you as a kid, and your “hand turkeys”—sorry, it’s a New England thing. Now think about how you’d go about getting that stuff back if, heaven forbid, your home was to be destroyed by fire.
Storage of Today
Well, the same goes for hard drives, SSDs, flash drives, flash cards, etc. If they’re damaged accidentally or by catastrophe, they’re gone. Lucky for us, it’s a heck of a lot easier to make a copy of a hard drive full of photos than it is to make a copy of a cardboard box full of keepsakes.
Electronic storage media has a number of weaknesses: data corruption, small size makes them easy to lose, prone to fire and water damage, as well as theft. Spill a glass of your favorite IPA all over your photos hard drive? Well, those are gone. Ran over your backup drive with your Jeep? Yep, that’s gone too. Your car was broken into and your camera and photos drive were stolen? You get the picture…
Protecting yourself from data loss is pretty easy when it comes down to it. You just need to know what your risks are (the aforementioned theft, physical damage, and data corruption being the big ones), and how to mitigate them.
Creating a backup strategy doesn’t have to take all day, and it doesn’t have to be terribly expensive. You can protect your data without breaking the bank. I’ll talk about two different options below, and you can work from whichever sounds better to you.
We know that we can lose data, either due to technical issues or problems arising in the physical world. What’s the best way to mitigate those risks?
That’s really what a backup strategy comes down to: copies. You should always have 3 copies of your data. Your first copy is your “working set.” This is the data you work on—your photos that you download from your camera or smartphone, your documents on your computer. This is the data that you will back up.
Your second copy is your backup. This is where you will restore from if you accidentally delete a file or folder, if your computer’s hard drive fails, etc. This lives on-site with your devices, usually in your home. An example of this would be an external hard drive that you use on your Mac with Time Machine, Apple’s backup software built into their OS.
The third copy is the most important—this is the “Oh, crap!” backup. This is the backup of the backup. This is the data set that you will fall back on when something catastrophic happens: your home is destroyed by fire, all your computer equipment is stolen, a lightning strike destroyed your computer and your backup drive, etc.
How does this all fit together?
Option 1: On-Premise Storage
This is just a fancy way of saying you do it all in-house.
In this example, I have my computer. Connected to my computer is an 8TB USB hard drive that holds all of my photos. I also have a 3TB external USB hard drive that I use with Apple’s Time Machine.
Time Machine backs up my computer, including all of my documents, to the external hard drive. If I delete anything by accident, or if my computer crashes and I need to rebuild, I can simply restore from Time Machine or even copy the files directly off of the external drive.
Buying in Pairs
When I bought the 3TB and 8TB drives, I actually bought two of each: one to work from, and one for a backup. This is actually a habit I suggest everyone get themselves into—always buy drives in pairs. Sure, it’s more expensive, but think of it this way: If the drive costs $199, is spending an extra $199 worth the trouble losing all your data would cause? The answer is almost always yes.
Backing up External Disks
I work from the main Photos drive, then once a month, I duplicate the entire Photos drive onto the backup drive. Then, I take that backup drive with me to work and leave it at the office until the following month. This way, I have an off-site copy of all of my Photos if anything happens to my home. You could do the same with a safe deposit box, a friend’s house (better trust that friend, or encrypt your backups!), or even just in your car if you had to.
I do the same thing with my Time Machine drive. I plug in the Backup Time Machine drive and use a program called Carbon Copy Cloner to copy the main Time Machine drive to the backup.
Option 2: Cloud Storage
This is an option that isn’t for everyone, but it’s a great option to have. If you have high-speed internet at home, and you’re not working with HUGE data sets, this could work out for you.
My new backup strategy at home differs a bit from Option 1, in that I no longer keep 3 physical copies of my data—the second set of drives I’d carry back and forth to work have been replaced with a cloud-backup service called CrashPlan. I’ll get into why I chose CrashPlan in another post, but for now all you need to know is CrashPlan is a cloud-backup provider.
I still have my desktop computer. I still have my 8TB Photos drive. I still have my 3TB Time Machine drive. Time Machine still backs up my desktop computer to the 3TB drive. Now, however, the off-site storage is achieved by backing up all of my data to CrashPlan’s servers over the internet.
This happens automatically. I chose what I wanted to send (basically everything on the desktop computer, plus the entire contents of my 8TB drive), and CrashPlan takes care of the rest. No more carrying drives around every month!
Transfer Time Considerations
A couple of things that make this work really well for me: I’m only backing up about 2TB of data, and my home internet is 150Mbps/150Mbps, which means I have a pretty fast upload speed. This isn’t true of all home internet, so keep this in mind—the slower your network connection, the longer the initial back up will take.
CrashPlan offers a service where you can send them a hard drive full of data first and ship it to them and they’ll load it into your account for you and ship it back. This overcomes the initial backup of moving all of your data to your cloud provider.
Once the initial backup is complete, whether you shipped them your data or sent it over the internet, the CrashPlan app continually monitors your files. Anytime anything changes, even just a tiny bit, CrashPlan copies just that tiny bit that changed up to their servers. It only sends the whole file when it needs to, so you get much better effective transfer rates this way.
Restoring from Backup
The other transfer time consideration is restoring. When you’re just restoring a few files, you can do that right from the web and download them. When you need to restore a whole drive or just a whole folder, it will take some time. In the case of a full drive recovery, you can have them ship you a drive (or drives) full of your stuff. You’ll have to pay for the service, the drives, and the shipping… but you get your stuff back.
Testing Your Backups
The most important—and yet most often overlooked—part of a backup strategy is testing. Backing up all of your data is great, but what if it’s not working? It’s especially important to test your backups at least once in a while (I like once a month) to ensure that you have good backups.
Going to restore after a catastrophic loss can become painful if your backups are no good. This is why it’s important to test.
You don’t have to overwrite files when you restore—just restore them to your Downloads folder to see if it works, and if it does, delete the restored files.
Have Fun, Keep Your Data Safe!
OK, so now that all of that is out of the way go take more photos, record more music, shoot more video—and keep all of that data safe!