I have become obsessed with backing up my computers. I started using computers in 1982. I don’t have any of my digital life from 1982 to 1995 (including everything I did in high school or college). In the last four years, I have 2x lost a poorly backed-up drive with significant file loss. My wife has also, 2x lost her data, including 95% of our honeymoon photos
If you have ever had a similar experience, you know how much you will pay to recover memories and files, so the relative cost of this solution, I believe, is reasonable at under $75/year and under $1k to set up all the elements, including a massive 2TB media server.
I have been trying for years to come up with a backup solution that was mostly automated and simple. Only in the past couple of weeks to I feel like I am getting there. But it was not easy to build up to this point…I had to work through a lot of crappy solutions. For example, I tried using Apple Script to run a Terminal rsync script with a FTP service…it constantly failed and I am not nerdy enough to want keep that all running.
This is a really long post…follow the link to get to the nitty gritty details…
Anyway, I had to come up with a reliable, manageable and somewhat affordable solution. My current solution costs about $75/yr and cost me under $1k to fully put in place (includes the media storage library). Here it is:
- On our Macs (there are 4 of them), I use TimeMachine. This backs up all the files and all the apps (fastest way to get back online). More about Time Machine in a sec. I have two 500GB drives to use for backing up our laptops. I keep one at home and one at work and I swap them back and forth once a month or so. Pocket USB drives are now about $90 for 500GB.
- The only PCs we own are work-provided PCs. Most offices over about 5 people have some sort of scripted backup, IMAP or Exchange email, etc. which provides some protection. I don’t trust it, so I add SugarSync (see #3)
- I setup automated online backup. I have tried four different services (Dropbox, BackBlaze, Mozy and SugarSync). I pay and use 2 of these services: SugarSync ($2.49/mo for 10 GB) and Mozy ($49/year for unlimited)
- I use a Music Locker (MP3tunes.com or Lala.com) for a secondary backup of just music and online access to my music.
- I am a Flickr Pro member, so I have my best photos online in full resolution, backed up and shared. I need to be better about pushing good photos to Flickr quickly.
- I have a Kindle, so my e-books are backed up by Amazon for me (I only have about 10 ebooks at this point)
- I replaced my one giant media library USB drive with a Drobo ($600 for 1.5TB)
If you are a Mac user, and you should be, this is a great solution and it is free and fully integrated with OSX. Here is why it is great:
- It’s automatic;
- It has versions, so you can recover a version of your file that is two revisions old…if you have enough space;
- It has saved me 2x already in just the last 18 months since it has been available
- You can add Time Capsule and do hourly backups over WiFi or Ethernet for all your Macs in the house. I should get this in the 1TB flavor, but I am still hoping Apple will have Mac Mini replacement that is part Time Capsule, part Media Server in 1H 2009. A guy can hope.
- It’s complete, so when you lose your drive, you restore from a Mac OSX DVD + Time Machine. You will be up and rolling in about an hour and it restores your machine exactly as it was…even if you are migrating from one computer to another. Most online backups only backup your files and media…but not the OS or the applications. Makes sense, but it makes coming back online after a drive crash time consuming…plus you will be downloading all your data, so the recovery could take days vs. about an hour with TM.
There are a few issues with Time Machine:
- TM only recognizes one backup drive at a time. So if you swap between two drives to keep one offsite, like I do, you have to go into settings each time you swap and select the drive again;
- When you are doing an incremental backup (after the first big one) and it is has been a couple of weeks, the “preparing…” part of the process is excruciatingly long;
- If you are going from one machine to another, you have to restore everything. You can’t just reach into an archive of an old backup and grab a file. So you can’t “navigate” a backup. For me, this has issues, as I have archives of Machines going back a few years, like “2005 iMac”. I may have a bunch of stuff on that I don’t want to bother putting on a new laptop with a small drive…but I can’t just grab my email folder, for example.
- If you have a TM backup on a drive, some services won’t backup that drive online. This is the case with BackBlaze, for example. It makes sense, because the TM backup file is a giant black box that is constantly changing. So it looks like these backups are changing every hour (which they are), triggering the online backup service to upload the entire file, potentially hundreds of GBs of data. As a result, my Drobo drive with 400GB of data does not have a TM backup file on it. I can’t use it as a master TM backup unless I partition the drive to allocate space for TM backups only. More on this later.
I am a fan of this space…after all I founded i-drive back in 1997, which was basically the first, dedicated, consumer online storage service on the internet. All the new services that are popping up are clones of i-drive. Some do better than we did 10 years ago with nicely integrated software…but most don’t do nearly as much as we did with integrating the storage online, such as features like Filo, which let you capture/cache any web page, and Sideload, which allowed you move files on the the internet (like music or movies) to your i-drive without having to download the file. This was a bigger deal when dialup was 85% of the connections to the internet in the US.
There are a bunch of services in this space and more pop up each day. Here are a few: SugarSync, Dropbox, ZumoDrive, BackBlaze, and Mozy (purchased by EMC…who also owns i-drive, except the domain. I doubt they even remembered that before they bought Mozy, they could have saved $72M
I know the founder (Drew), my founders at Xobni know him much better. He is a fantastic guy. Basically everyone that knows him says the same thing, “Drew is really great.” So if for no other reason than supporting a great startup with a solid, nice founder, go with Dropbox. They have file sharing, which is very handy for big files that email doesn’t like sending, collaboration, etc. You can access your files even on your iPhone (like SugarSync). I can’t find any pricing on their site, which is odd. Either it is free, which I can’t believe, or it soon will be free to premium. I started with DropBox, went to BackBlaze for early beta issues (all resolved now), and then headed to SugarSync when they added iPhone support…I should go back to Dropbox. Anyway, I am not currently using, but don’t let that stop you from using them.
I use SugarSync to backup all my non-media files. So these are all my work files and all my documents. I don’t use them to back up massive archives of music, video or photos. So far my experience with SugarSync has been fantastic. I keep all my documents folders in their “Magic Briefcase” which is synced across all my machines (1 PC and 4 Macs). I always have access to the file I need on any machine and I don’t have to do anything to make sure they are synced up. It just works. And if I want to view or send or share a file, I can do it from my iPhone with their native iPhone app. It is affordable. I use the $2.49/mo for 10GB of space. I don’t use it for my media (music, movies and photos), because that is about half a terabyte of data (500GB), which would cost about $40/mo to backup. I was super impressed with their SugarSync manager software that I have on all the machines, and with the speed of upload. Also, you can backup as many machines to that 10GBs as you like. It doesn’t care, and it will keep each machine separate or combine them, like I do with the Magic Briefcase feature. I Twittered about SugarSync and the team Twittered me back that they are Xobni users, so that is another plus
I used this service for a couple months. Generally, it is an impressive service and compares well with others if you are storing a few GBs of data. They didn’t have iPhone access when I started. They may now, I dunno. It is affordable at $5/mo for unlimited storage. But it was incredibly slow. In fact, after 3 WEEKS!!! it had only backed up about 75 GBs of my 500GBs of media. Now, the team at BackBlaze maybe reading this post and thinking, “No shit Sherlock 500GBs is a ton of data and we don’t even want you.” I dunno. But the speed was so bad that I couldn’t use them. Because the service offers unlimited data, each computer has to pay $5/mo. So for me, it was costing me $20+ mo. That wasn’t affordable/scalable.
Their software constantly popped-up error messages that I wasn’t currently backed-up…which wasn’t my fault, it was going to take months to get a complete backup at their connection speed. Maybe their servers are on the East coast or something. I dunno. YMMV. Also, note, you cannot backup an external USB drive connected to your computer if that drive has a TimeMachine backup on it. So you have two options. Keep a separate USB drive for media and one for TM backups if you need more space. Or you can partition your external drive into a TM and media partition. I cancelled that account and went with Mozy for unlimited backup.There are real costs to recover files with BackBlaze. You can only recover 1GB for free. If you want to recover more than that, you pay for either a DVD or pocket USB drive. I think it is like $160/ for 320GB drive of recovery. They don’t really mention that part on their site, you find it after you login to your account. The cost is fine…if I have a catastrophic error and lose all my data, anything under $500 to get back all my photos, music and movies is fine. Recovering from a massive disc failure can easily run $1k-3.5k…as we learned with my wife’s drive that failed and even then you are not guaranteed to get the files off…in fact you are almost guaranteed to lose at least some of the files.
Mozy, like BackBlaze, offers unlimited storage. I paid under $50/year by buying 12 months and using a 15% off coupon I found online. They have PC and Mac software. They don’t have iPhone support. They don’t allow file sharing with others (that I can see). They don’t allow you to sync between multiple machines, like BackBlaze, unless you pay for each computer, etc. This makes sense, as unlimited storage between unlimited machines doesn’t scale for them.
Mozy allows me to include an external drive, in this case my Drobo drive, which has 0.5 TBs of data. I don’t have a TM backup on this drive…not sure if they would allow me to add the drive if they did. Even if they did, it would be self-defeating as the backups change hourly and would cause the system to constantly be uploading. TM creates one giant backup file.
I left BackBlaze because of the speed. I am hopeful Mozy will do better. It caps upload at 1Mb/sec. That means I am looking at a minimum of 16 days to do my first full backup of my media. I can set periods where I can throttle that further in the desktop software’s preferences panel. I have 16Mb down/3Mb up Comcast connection, so that shouldn’t be necessary. Despite the math, it seems to me if I am doing a heavy upload, even on only a third of your connection, it can cause latency on other traffic.
Also, I really hope the speed issue I had with BackBlaze is not related to throttling from my ISP Comcast.If you are looking for an unlimited storage partner, another reason you might select Mozy over BackBlaze is that Mozy is backed by EMC vs. a startup. I don’t think they are going anywhere and they probably have a pretty impressive backend. If it is going to take you a month to get your full library up, you may as well go with someone who will be around.
Mozy is an interesting story. It launched a year or two before these latest crop of players. They were running out of money (supposedly) and started to see if they could get some traction in the enterprise/corporate space. They signed on a division of GE and EMC jumped in and acquired for $72M…even though they had little in the bank, high costs and were headed out of business. Kudos to them. EMC has subsequently spun out Mozy into a company called Decho, HQ’ed in Utah. Hmm. They also spun-out VM Ware, and that turned out pretty well for them, so maybe this will work out well for them, too.
Zumo is the newest entrant to the pack. It is a Ycombinator entrant…Xobni also started as a Ycombinator company. The big difference for Zumo seems to be that they will stream the files to your mobile or computer so you don’t have to keep a full local copy. This is a good idea, and was something that i-drive did back in 2000 so that we could provide gigabytes of virtual storage to a mobile phone (3G was supposed to be coming out in 2001 in Asia and Europe which would have made this interesting…but deployment was massively delayed when the tech space took a nose dive in 2000).
Zumo, is priced about the same as SugarSync. So it is not really a solution for my media files…it would run me $40+/mo. It is a legit option for 10GB, priced at the same $2.50/mo. I am happy with SugarSync, so I am not going to move over for now. Also, the online storage business is messy so the more days you have behind you, the more lessons you have learned, which is good. It is a little like the Outlook plugin spaceAnyway, I haven’t used them, so I can’t say if you should or shouldn’t.
You can do these. But I don’t trust them. I find DVD and CD burning very unreliable. Slow. Limiting (700MB on a CD and 4.7GB on a DVD). Clumsy. Easy to lose or damage, etc. I know a lot of people use these options. I don’t.
External USB Drives
My general advice is that you should use one of these to backup your files locally. If you have a PC or don’t want to use Time Machine on your Mac, it is worth while dragging all your photos, music, movies, and files on to one of these drives every once in a while. I have about 10 of these in the house. I don’t throw them away when I replace them with something bigger after a year or so. I just leave them in a closet. I don’t count on them working…but I have had to go back and grab one to recover what I could when I had a big failure on a drive once that wasn’t properly backed up. The net result was that I only lost 1 year of my digital life instead of losing everything, and it is kind of fun to see a snapshot of your life.
Drobo is a relatively new, somewhat expensive, consumer friendly, RAID-like option. The Drobo costs about $450 with no drives. It has 4 open bays for standard SATA 3.5″ drives. I have mine configured with 3x 750GB ($85 each) Seagate Barracuda drives. Because of how RAID works (it uses the multiple drives to dramatically reduce the chance that the failure of any one drive will result in data loss…in some RAID situations you get 100% mirroring.
The point of the Drobo is that I don’t have to know how to setup and maintain RAID drives. I just hook it up via USB2 to my Mac (or PC) and I have reliable, expandable drives. As drives get bigger, a 2GB 3.5″ drive was just announced, I can upgrade the box to more and more space. Drobo has a ton of nice features. It uses simple lights to tell you when a drive is filling up or likely to fail. I don’t have to even shut down or disconnect the Drobo from my Mac. I just pull out that drive (no screwdrivers) and pop in a new one. It handles all the magic in the background.
Some things I wish the Drobo did or worry me: (a) I wish it could be a network drive (NAS) out of the box (more about this in a second) with Gigabit Ethernet. If it did this, I could connect it to multiple machines at speeds much faster than USB2 and a local connection, and I could hide it in the closet; (b) I worry that a hardware error with the Drobo itself will kill all the drives and all my data with it. I have read online that this happened with some of the earlier Drobos (I am using the rev 2 with Firewire 800). In my research I also read that Drobo has amazing customer support and paid to have drives recovered, if they could, which can run into the thousands per drive.
By the way, early reviews complain that the Drobo is noisy. I have the new revision and it is practically silent.
To make the Drobo network accessible so other computers on my home network or even on the internet can access it, I can buy a Drobo Share box for $200. Even I am dealing with USB2 speeds vs. Ethernet speeds because that is how the Drobo connects to the Share. I will probably add a Share at some point…but for now I am hoping they allow an updated version to connect to the Drobo via Firewire 800 and then connect to the network via Ethernet from there.
Media Specific Backup
I use Apple’s MobileMe service to backup my contacts. I have Exchange from Xobni, so that backs-up email and calendar. I have MP3tunes.com (from my friend Michael Robertson) account to back up my music locker (I also use Lala.com from my friend Geoff Ralston). I have a Flickr Pro (from my friends at Yahoo!) account for my best photos (about 1% of them). These are all handy ways to backup and access important file types, but they are just a slice of my stuff and have some issues with recovery and would be very manual.
Ok, that is basically everything I know about a relatively safe, reliable, affordable (under $1k for a storage and backup solution). What am I missing? What mistakes are in there? Do you do something better or cheaper with the same result?