Backup: The same rules apply

It appears that Backify, a popular remote backup service offering a free plan, has cancelled all free accounts. Backify was a reseller of LiveDrive, the company that actually owns the infrastructure and software. Ivo Flipse broke the news on his Google+ page early this morning. If it sounds too good to be true… There’s no such thing as a free lunch… Ok, ok, I’ll stop. This is, undoubtedly, a jarring experience for the many users of Backify’s service. The lesson learned is that even in today’s world of offloaded complexity brought to you by software as a service, the same rules apply. Caveat emptor, and all that jazz.

This is a good time to take a step back and look at your backup strategy. I’ve read plenty of write-ups on backup strategies that involve copious amounts of drive shuffling and user maintenance, but the truth is that most of us don’t take the time for these tasks. After all, we all have plenty of other housekeeping duties like taking out the trash and cleaning the litter box. You do love cats, right? Where do you think all these cat pictures come from? Swapping out backup drives isn’t something I want to do, so I’m pretty sure you don’t want to either. Here’s my “no touch” backup strategy.

A good backup strategy meets the following criteria:

  • Creates multiple copies of your data – what if one fails?
  • Keeps these copies in separate geographical locations – what if you have a fire or flood?
  • Works without your involvement – I’ll be the first to admin, I’m lazy.
  • Runs quickly and frequently – what good is a backup if you lose everything you’re working on?

Before we go any further, let me address the question I get most frequently: Do I need a backup? I won’t answer it directly. I’ll let the over 42 million Google results speak for themselves.

Let’s talk about costs for a moment. The Backify situation underscores an excellent point. Things are often worth exactly what you pay for them. When thinking about your backup strategy, ask yourself this question: “If someone took my computer from me today, how much would I pay to get it back?” If your answer is “Nothing, I’d just go buy another one.” Stop reading here and go enjoy your carefree, zero-attachment life. No cynicism implied. Seriously, go back to what you were doing, and drink a cold one for those of us trudging away at our daily tasks. If you’re like me, your heart rate increased a little while asking that question. I’d pay large sums of money to get my computer back. If someone said, “I’ll give it back for $250,” I’d be elated. A good backup strategy is worth paying for.

This leads me to unveil the two paid services I use, as well as the one free one:

But Brad, the two paid services above only cost $150/year? You said $250! The extra $100 is because you’ll need to purchase a backup hard drive for use with TimeMachine, or Windows backup, err whatever. I recommend an external in the 2.5″ size (the smaller of the two available), because they don’t require an external power supply. You’ll need one that is at least as large as your computer’s hard drive. Larger is better, as TimeMachine will store multiple versions of your files if it finds the space. This is handy when you realize you accidentally deleted three crucial paragraphs from your proposal during editing. TimeMachine will let you recover a previous version.

Here’s how these services tie in to the “good backup strategy” I outlined above:

Create multiple copies

TimeMachine, Backblaze, and Dropbox all create separate copies of the files.

Keeps these copies in separate geographical locations

TimeMachine backs up to the external disk on your desk. Backblaze backs up to their data center. Dropbox backs up to their data center, and in my case, to the other iMac sitting in my office, so it’s both local and remote.

Works without your involvement

Outside of archiving to the Documents folder when my Dropbox folder gets full, the backup process is hands-off. I use DaisyDisk for Mac and WinDirStat for Windows to identify large folders.

Runs quickly and frequently

Because I leave the external drive plugged in all the time, and TimeMachine only copies new and changed files, it runs very quickly. Backblaze has to upload files, so if I create a large file, it can take a while to update. It is recommended that you exclude extremely large files from your Backblaze backup, but you do this at your own risk. Dropbox, because it can sync over my network, backs up very quickly to the iMac on Angel’s desk in my office. It also uploads quickly thanks to my Comcast connection’s fast 3 mbps upload.

The really great part about this backup strategy is that it’s dead simple to set up. Each of these applications has a very simple installer that only takes a few steps to get running. When you couple that with the four points of solid backup strategy, I’m not sure I can do much better without a lot more effort.

So what’s your backup strategy? See any ways I could improve my plan? Tell me about it.

Backups and the real world

A hilarious excerpt from a recent article over at Merlin Mann’s 43Folders.com:

I realize I’m asking you to buy a lot of hard drives here. Can’t change that, but I will say I’ve been very satisfied with 1TB Seagate Barracudas from New Egg (Personally, I buy them five at a time and always have at least 3 spares).

What’s hilarious is that Mann thinks some mere mortal is going to go out and buy a collection of flash drives and enough hard drives to keep 3 spares. {record scratch} Yes, three spares. There’s a good message in here though. You have to have a really, really good backup strategy if you expect to make use of the results of said strategy. Meanwhile, back in the real world…

I might as well jump on the bandwagon and harp on the backup issue. I’m a pretty big nerd, but my view on backups is simple: something is better than nothing. It’s a pragmatist’s viewpoint, and I think that’s ok. Lots of decisions we make every day put pragmatism before perfection. A pragmatist says, “If I can get 80% of the benefit out of the first 10% of the effort, then why would I expend the additional effort for such a tiny return?” Even a pragmatic backup is better than most people’s strategy of, well, nothing at all.

My personal backup strategy is simple, I use the built-in Time Machine backup provided by OS X. Time Machine is the simplest, most pain-free versioned backup system I’ve ever used. Lately, I’ve considered adding an additional layer of insurance to my backup strategy. I’ve only considered this because the solution satisfies two of the pragmatists most respected metrics: low-price, low-effort. Two companies (and probably more) that I know and trust offer unlimited, automated, online backup for the very reasonable price of $55/year. Mozy and Carbonite offer products that have near feature parity. Carbonite offers “Web Restore”, which lets you restore files without installing any local software, but this is a minor point in my mind. If you’re looking to move data around easily between disparate locations, use DropBox instead. DropBox is awesome, but it gets expensive as a backup strategy if you’re working with large sets of data like your photo or MP3 library.

For $55 a year and 30 minutes of setup effort, why would I not add this additional layer of security to my backup strategy? Even better, why would you not do the same? Even if you have no backup strategy whatsoever, you should do this. Today. Now. Yeah, do it now. It will satisfy the pragmatist and the nerd in you.