A Template for Creating a Good, Well-Rounded Backup Strategy 

Earlier today, Shawn Blanc outlined his backup strategy. I wrote about it back in 2010, and thought that in light of this week’s news, it would be a good time to re-visit the topic.

A good backup solution has multiple layers:

  • Local
  • Off-site
  • Cloud

Additionally, as Shawn pointed out, backing up should be easy and automatic. Here’s how I do it for my Mac mini at home. My setup at work is not all that different, however.

Local

For my immediate backup, I use Time Machine with a 1TB Time Capsule. Released with OS X 10.5 Leopard, Time Machine makes backing up a Mac easier than ever. Simply plug in a drive (or connect a Time Capsule to your network), and OS X does the rest. Every hour, any changes made on my system are backed up, automatically, with no input from me or my wife.

Since Time Machine does versioning, I know I can retrieve older versions of a document, if needed, or restore something that was accidentally deleted. In fact, I’ve never had to go further down my backup chain than Time Machine.

Off-site

As my Time Capsule sits in my hall closet, just a few yards from my Mac mini in the living room, my data isn’t all that secure. If the Mini’s hard drive failed, I’d be covered, but if my house burned down, I’d be in trouble.

To remedy this, I have a set of 1 TB hard drives that I use to keep a copy of my data locked up in my office across town. Every two weeks, I bring them home and update them with the excellent Mac app SuperDuper. One drive is a clone of my Mac mini, the other of my external RAID with our iTunes library and iPhoto libraries on it. If you don’t want to use something SuperDuper, you’re in luck, as Mountain Lion adds multiple hard drive support to Time Machine.

If my house burns down (assuming it’s not when those drives are there), the worst case scenario would be losing 13 days of data. But even that’s not good enough, really.

The Cloud

The third rung of my backup strategy is the cloud. For five bucks a month, Backblaze will backup any data on my Mac and external drives to the cloud.

I don’t ever plan on using this backup, but I also don’t ever plan on using the airbags in my car. If Memphis were wiped off the map, or I had some catastrophic data corruption, I’d go to Backblaze for restoration. Short of that, I’m happy to see the little menu bar item do its thing, updating my encrypted files to the company’s badass servers. Cloud backups might be slow, (especially on limited bandwith connections) but they patch a critical hole in a solid, well-rounded backup plan.

No Excuses

There’s no reason not to have your data backed up. While things like iCloud, Dropbox and even RAIDs are great tools, nothing is as good as solid, tiered backup plan. Sure, it takes a little time and might cost a little money, but in an increasingly digital world, there’s no reason not to have your stuff safe and sound on multiple drives in multiple locations.


  1. No, RAID is not a backup. Stop thinking that it is.  ↩