A look at Backup Options

I was reminded recently about the importance of keeping good backups of data due to someone not having backups and losing next to everything he ever owned digitally. It was a costly mistake and one that cost a few thousand dollars to recover some of the photos off of the hard drive.

Storing everything digitally can come with a risk that if your computer breaks, you might lose all of your data. Uploading to the cloud helps alleviate some of those problems although the best option to is to have a good backup system in place that you can fully restore from.

What documents do you store and where?

A good way to decide what kind of backup you need is to look through what you have now. Specifically you want to look at what information is stored on your computer, where it is stored, how it is stored and if there is any risk to not having a backup of that data. Lesser important files would include your operating system that could typically be reinstalled if you already have a licence key. Also, you might have online accounts where you can download your applications from again. Specifically relating to the Mac and OS X, there now is the Mac App Store that would allow you to re-download all your purchased apps assuming you remember your username and password. Remember that some software you have installed might not have come from the Mac App Store though.

Here is my backup solution

I use Gmail, Dropbox, Evernote and iCloud to store information on. I use a few other services which don’t hold any important data. Although I feel quite safe that Gmail, Dropbox, Evernote and iCloud will keep my data safe and I feel confident that they have good backup systems, it is also worth pointing out that I don’t pay for iCloud or Dropbox which means that those services could be technically pulled at any time.

For Gmail, I use Google Apps and pay a fee each year which gives me about 25GB of email storage. I have about 10 years worth of emails in there and have hit 13% looking now, so plenty of room for growth. However, Gmail might run in to problems so with that in mind, I occasionally open up my email client on my desktop computer and simply download a copy of all emails using IMAP set to keep a copy on the server but still physically download all email contents rather than just headers. By doing that, if my Gmail account gets suspended, hacked or simply a cluster of storage servers crash and all my emails are gone then at least I have the majority of emails that I can simply connect up with IMAP and re-upload them to the cloud.

For Evernote, these are also stored in the cloud. This is a paid for service although free is also available. Just the same as Gmail, I am confident that Evernote does a good job of keeping things safe, but to be on the safe side, I also use the desktop version of Evernote that has all my documents stored so that if the account does have problems I simply re-sync to the server. Again, this is unlikely but nevertheless, still a simple and easy task to do. I use Evernote daily on the desktop, so it is almost always in perfect sync.

For Dropbox I also use the dekstop version, on a couple of computers, so I do have copies of all data stored in there and likewise, if they go down and I lose my data I can simply re-upload it.

For iCloud, this is just a default for Apple. I tend not to back up much to iCloud as I only use the free 5GB service. I don’t backup emails, calendars, contacts but do leave the rest of the options in tact.

Photos are not backed up to the internet on to a cloud service other than a few that I might have clipped in to Evernote or a few that I uploaded to Dropbox to share with someone else. So, for these I need to have another backup system in place.

What backup system works best for me

A few years ago I decided to get an ioSafe Solo external drive. A link to a the current day product is here. It has 500GB of storage and has the benefit of being both fireproof and waterproof. If my house happend to be destroyed I’d hopefully manage to get a torched metal box back from the mess that was made, open it up, open the protective bag inside and find a fully working hard drive inside. This is my primary backup that I keep which backs up all what I listed in the section above. I formated it to work with TimeMachine on the Mac so that each hour of the day an incremental backup is kept. I leave this running 24/7 and secure it away so that I can recover contents if needed.

The problem I have now is deciding which secondary backup option to choose. Off-site backups are looking like a good option at the moment with the thought that I’d purchase a couple of TB of storage on two portable drives (1TB each) and then backup to one and store that at a family members home and then every few weeks I swap it out with the other drive and then create new backups on the other drive and alternate every few weeks.

Another option I have been looking at is an online backup service. The problem is that uploading a few hundred GB of files to an online service takes time when the up-stream is limited to less than 1MB. Also, my ISP imposes limits at the moment which means it might take even longer… I’m just not sure how realistic the option is of uploading everything online that I need to keep.

Is it overkill to have several backups?

At the moment it is overkill it seems as my iMac is still working and I have access to all my files. If my computer ever breaks or one of the online services above breaks then ask me the question again and I’m sure I’ll tell you that restoring my data was the way forwards and that my backups were essential.

I’d rather be cautious than hope for the best that all will be OK. All it takes is a failed drive on my primary machine and I lose a lot of information. With a backup in place, I feel a lot more inclined to think that all will be well. The reason for keeping more than a single backup is that backups can also be corrupt. Having a second or third is the better option as it keeps the backup you might rely on one day, backed up again to add more security.

Don’t be caught out by not storing your data in multiple places!