My Offsite Backup Rig

Any data that is just on one hard drive is temporary.

I am pretty religious about my backups. At home, my wife and I have a 24-inch iMac that stays backed up to our Time Capsule. To accommodate our ever-growing media library and my collection of Apple take-apart guides and software installers, two years ago, I added a Guardian Maximus box to the iMac. I have a set of 1 TB hard drives that stay mirrored, thanks to the box’s built-in hardware-based RAID–1 system. Connected via FireWire 800, this rig is fast and redundant — just the way I like my drives.

Starting last year, I used Mozy to keep a copy of all of this data offsite. However, I grew frustrated with their Mac software, so I added two additional hard drives to the mix — one to keep my RAID backed up offsite, the other for the iMac.

All I had handy was a 750 GB and a 500 GB external drive — not enough space for my 1 TB RAID and the 640 GB drive in the iMac, but they were just big enough to keep a second copy of my data, especially the 750 GB hard drive for the RAID. Then the 500 GB up and died.

So Monday, daddy got an upgrade.


I ordered a set of 1 TB, 7,2000 RPM Seagate hard drives. Before you email me complaining about Seagate, let me explain that every single hard drive on the planet will fail, no matter who makes it. Personally, I’ve had decent luck with Seagate’s 3.5-inch offerings, and these drives were deeply discounted on Amazon for Cyber Monday. They have three years of warranty, so when they do fail, it’s not a big deal.

Instead of ordering a set of cases for these drives, I opted for the NewerTech Voyager Q, a nice hard drive dock that will accept 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch SATA drives. With a full array of connection options (including eSata, FW800, FW400 and USB), it is pretty flexible.

Having a single dock means I have fewer cables to deal with moving and hooking up. As a bonus, I can use the dock for other projects.


Copying data by hand in the Finder is for cavemen. I use the excellent utility SuperDuper. (I do love Carbon Copy Cloner, but usually just use it for full-blown drive copies.) SuperDuper offers straight-forward scheduling, and can do incremental backups, run scripts post-flight and more. It really is wonderful.

The RAID (which holds our iTunes library and a large collection of junk) gets backed up every other Friday night using SuperDuper. I have it set to do a “Smart Update,” making the single drive an exact mirror of what is on the RAID.

For the iMac, I simply use Time Machine. I reset the preference to use the external drive, update it, then set it back to my Time Capsule. I don’t need this drive to be bootable, and Time Machine gives me simple versioning.

Why Offsite?

So, why do all of this? It’s actually a pretty simple answer: I don’t trust my data to my apartment.

It could get robbed. It could burn down or collapse. My pipes could burst, or the tree out front could decide to come inside for a visit.

Having my data at another physical location is about peace of mind. The drives live in a locked drawer in my office at work. I have the only key. The worst-case scenario (besides Memphis being wiped off the map, in which case, I will lose both sets of my data) is that my apartment burns down, taking the iMac, RAID and Time Capsule with it. The worst-case would be losing 13 days of data. I can live with that.

Yes, it can be annoying to remember to take the drives home. But it’s worth it.