When in doubt, backup!

I considered myself to be a very secure geek, who follows recommended practices for keeping my data safe and secure. That is until I read this harrowing account of Mat Honan’s entire digital life being erased and taken over in a matter of minutes.

The scary part about this event is that while there was steps that Mat could have done to protect his data (backups!), there is literally nothing he could do regarding Amazon and Apple’s account recovery policies being so weak that it took trivial detective work to take over his accounts.

In this case, the scariest part of this for Mat was the loss of data due to not having proper backups. He could get his Gmail, Twitter, etc. accounts back, but has to cross his fingers that data recovery can be done on his laptop for the priceless photos and other data that weren’t properly backed up.

Backups are the one thing that everyone regrets not having when disaster strikes. The reason everyone regrets not setting up backups is that historically, backups are a pain in the ass, especially if you use a laptop. Luckily the days of going to your backup drive and pulling out the backup tape have long since passed and there are options that are literally set and forget:

  • Local Backups – In my case, I have a Time Capsule that does this for me hourly and most importantly, without me having to initiate any action other than my laptop being on and in my house.
  • Remote Backups – I use the cloud for this. Backblaze is awesome, cheap, and a extremely easy to use. I’m even contemplating using my own Private Key so no one can get to my data unless you have this key.
  • Offsite Backup – This is one that I admit is still on my to-do list. I probably will get some big 3.5″ hard drives, do a massive backup, and store the drives offsite in a safe deposit box or at a relative’s house. Then maybe once a quarter refresh the backup.

These simple measures will ensure that as long as one of my three backup options are safe, my data is in turn safe and recoverable.

The backup strategy

For the past few years, I have been using an Apple Time Capsule to have an complete backup updated hourly of my Macbook. It has worked very well and has saved me several times when I deleted files by accident. Luckily I have not had to call upon it in the worst case scenarios such as hard drive death, fire, lost, stolen, etc. I needed a solution to have my backups offsite as well.

I initially thought I could do the old keep a hard drive off-site at all times with a whole backup. That however would require me to remember to do it, which I have proven time and time again I could not. After all, for years I had a hard drive on my desk, but never manually ran the backup.

I decided finally that I should give the online backup companies that have sprung up the past few years a chance. I haven’t heard any downright horror stories involving them. In fact, most reviews I have heard were very positive. Their prices are quite reasonable: $50-60 a year for unlimited backup per computer.

Right now I am trying out Backblaze, which seems to have gotten great reviews from what I can see, has great Mac support, and has a wonderful option of paying to have a hard drive shipped to you with your data. Mozy does not have this option outside of DVD’s (great a stack of 100 DVD’s should be fun to restore) and Carbonite doesn’t seem to have any option outside of download restores.

I am currently finishing up day two of the initial backup to Backblaze. So far so good, I have about 25GB of 99GB backed up, which works out to just about 12-13GB a day. At this pace, I should be backed up completely in about six more days. After that, from what I understand the service continuously backs up any file changes and only the parts of the files that actually change, so future backups should almost be instantaneous.

I will report my experiences with this service as time goes on and I get to use it. Hopefully I will never have to test how good the restore process is.

No more technology debt…

As of today, I have no debt related to technology. My HDTV has officially been paid off. My computer equipment (Macbook, printer, router, etc.) and PS3 have been paid off for awhile.

Spending on technology is a weakness of mine. Give how quickly technology depreciates, it is something really hard to keep in check. I hope I can stretch the Macbook’s life to last another 2 years, especially since I replaced the hard drive recently. I just bought a new printer recently, so that should last awhile. The PS3 should not need replacement for at least 4-5 years if I can help it.

The last bit of technology I may need/need to replace in the near future is my wireless router. I currently have a Linksys WRT54G running the DD-WRT firmware. The router itself is almost 4-years old and works great. However, I am being very paranoid about backing up my Macbook. I have come to the conclusion that unless I fully automate the process and do not have to rely on plugging in my external USB hard drive, I will not have up-to-date backups of my Macbook. This bothers me big time.

I think buying a 1TB Time Capsule will be a very sound investment. Then I can use Time Machine to automatically back up my Macbook every hour wirelessly, without having to worry about plugging in a hard drive. Storage won’t be an issue, by the time the 1TB fills up consistantly, there will probably be USB hard drives I can plug into Time Capsule at least twice that size. Not to mention, my wife doesn’t have to worry about doing anything to have backups.

Time Capsule does not solve the off-site backup issue, but it resolves the up-to-date backup that is immediately available issue.

Maybe I will set aside $10 a week until I save up enough to buy one…