Home backup strategy

Sure, I’d love to have a nice tape backup system where I could rotate tapes on a regular basis, keeping a set safely offsite somewhere – but for my home life it’s unrealistic in terms of both time and money.  Still, that doesn’t mean I can’t take some reasonable precautions to make sure that my data will be safe.  I use a multi-tiered home strategy that took just a little bit of time and effort to get up and running, but after that mostly attends to itself.

First I have to say that while I use multiple machines, only one of my machines is responsible for being the “keeper of data”.  I do, however, make sure that certain commonly used files are accessible across all my machines.  Since I use multiple operating systems as well I went with Dropbox to take care of my file syncing needs for those that I need access to no matter which machine I’m on.  While I am not using is as a backup per se, it does mean if one of my drives fails, those files are still safe and accessible to me on my other machines.  Right now I’ve just been using the free 2 GB version and it’s been happily running on all three of my machines.

My main work horse machine, the one on which all my important data officially resides, is my MacBook.  I use Carbon Copy Cloner to create a bootable cloned drive of the laptop on an external USB drive.  On a weekly basis I update the changed files on the cloned drive so that worse case scenario if I have to completely replace the laptops hard drive the image I can restore it with will be at most 6 days old.  I also make sure to update the cloned drive before traveling or running a system update.  I’ve been fortunate enough to never have encountered a disaster when upgrading my system, but I’ve read enough horror stories that I’m not willing to take that chance.

As a second layer of local backup my MacBook nightly runs an rsync of my home folder.  If I accidentally delete a bunch of files, or just have some data corruption that only affects my home folder I don’t want to have to restore the entire drive.  The rsync makes a copy of my home folder to an external drive that is plugged in to my Airport Extreme.  Once upon a time I ran Time Machine back ups to that drive, but I’ve had some off and on issues with Time Machine and finally gave up on it.

Those layers of backup help me to feel safe in the event that either data is lost, or a hard drive dies on me (which has happened more times than I’d like to admit).  However is something horribly drastic such as theft, or a fire struck my home all that local backup would be pretty useless.  Any backup strategy worth its salt should have an offsite component.  Once upon a time when I had a job with an office I used to keep a cloned drive there.  That’s no longer an option for me so I’ve turn to Mozy Home Backup to provide my offsite backups.  Right now Mozy is only running on my laptop and it’s currently backing up my home folder.  While having to rebuild a machine from scratch is time consuming, only the contents of my home folder are irreplaceable.   I have it set to run nightly backups, and other than once when I had Time Machine issues because of Mozy, it’s ran wonderfully for me.

I’ve lost data in the past and its helped make me be a little more paranoid about backups.  I’ve thought long and hard about the value my data has to me and take what I feel are appropriate measures to help protect that data.  There are probably better strategies, and certainly there are people far more paranoid about backups than I am.  The only other recommendation that I’d make is that no matter what your backup strategy is, do some test runs of restoring from backup.  Nothing is worse than having a drive failure, believing you’re data is safely backed up, and then learning there are issues with the restore.  Having a multi-layered approach to backing up makes sure you don’t rely on any one backup mechanism.  It’s good to have fail safes in case one particular backup procedure fails.


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