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.

Planned tech purchases in 2008

I think these are going to be my tech purchases in 2008:

  1. iPhone – #1 on my list for a reason…it is the first cell phone that is easy and fun to use, while syncing without issues on Macs. Now for the bad news: gotta wait until December 28, 2008, as I am under contract with Verizon Wireless until that date. Hopefully by then the iPhone will have a memory increase or two, plus 3G wireless.
  2. HP Photosmart C7280 All-in-One printer – My current all-in-one printer is alright, but it is starting to have issues to say the least (like saying my black cartridge is a red cartridge every other printing job, requiring a printer restart). This printer from HP sounds really good and replacement ink might be even be a reasonable price for a change. The option for wireless or ethernet printing/scanning absolutely rocks…I can move the printer to another spot in the room and free up space on my desk. Plus it helps when I am using the Macbook on the couch or on the kitchen table.
  3. Apple Airport Extreme router – If Time Machine ever gets official support for backing up to AirDisk connected hard drives, I will buy one of these routers as that feature will rock for laptop users like myself.
  4. Laptop hard drive –  I really need to upgrade the size of the hard drive on my Macbook. The new 320GB laptop hard drives sound about right.
  5. Large external hard drive – I am thinking that if I get #3 above, I will need a very large external hard drive for backups and other data. Something like a 1TB hard drive will work and provide plenty of space for future uses.

How many of these are realistic? #1 is definitely happening barring a financial disaster this year. Given how my all-in-one printer is acting, #2 is probably going to happen at some point.

The others? Probably more “wish list” type items, unless I get a major raise or something.

Hard drive dying

I think my hard drive in my Macbook is dying a slow death. When I get home I am going to verify that Time Machine has a good backup and do some extra backups on DVD before calling Apple.

Update: Yep, it is the hard drive. The Apple tech support guy didn’t even question me, he just started the process to get it repaired. Also going to get the trackpad button on my Macbook fixed…it has been sticking recently. Time to do some mega backing up.