My backup strategy

I last wrote about my backup strategy almost 5 years ago, and a lot has changed in my setup since then, so I though it’d be good to revisit the subject.

I shouldn’t have to preach the importance of a good backup system, but there are some key tenants that should be part of any approach:

  1. Be redundant. Having a single backup is good, but what happens if it gets killed by the same power outage that cooks your computer?
  2. Be easy to manage. Time Machine is popular because it’s easy to setup and doesn’t need on-going care. Anything past the built-in backup will take more work, but it’s good to minimize it.
  3. Be testable. Every once in a while, restore data from a backup to make sure everything’s going well. This doesn’t have to be some big, drawn out thing. For me, a small recovery can put my mind at ease every quarter or so.

My current hardware setup is pretty simple. I have a 15-inch MacBook Pro as my main machine, and a Mac mini hooked up to the television and a Synology DS415+ with 6.3 TB of disk space sitting in the closet.

Data-wise, things aren’t that complicated either. Everything on my MacBook Pro except my iTunes library is stored on my Dropbox Pro account.

(As an aside, I don’t consider syncing solutions like Dropbox or Evernote to be backups. Yes, they can act like backups, but multi-directional sync can be problematic. Backups should be — in my mind — a one-way trip for your data unless it’s time to recover.)

The Synology houses a lot of stuff. In addition to data I’ve accumulated over the years that I don’t need on the MacBook Pro, it houses the family’s iTunes library and acts as a Time Machine server for my laptop, the Mac mini and my wife’s MacBook Air.

Here’s how I keep it all safe:

Let’s talk about the NAS first.

Synology’s software has some great built-in backup tools. I use them to back up my two major shares (Data and iTunes) to a set of external USB 3 hard drives that I keep elsewhere and bring home just to update. So far, my data set hasn’t grown to where I’m hitting the size limit of the external drives I can buy, so this works, albeit, it may be limited longterm.

Additionally, I’m backing up both major shares to Amazon Cloud Drive. The Synology’s built-in tools can talk directly to Amazon, so I don’t have to run anything on a Mac elsewhere on the network to make it work. For me, that’s the biggest selling point after trying to trick other backup services into taking data from my NAS.

Amazon Cloud Drive is interesting. At $60/year, you get unlimited storage and bandwidth, which is a pretty good deal if you’re dealing with multiple terabytes of data. The UI isn’t great, but it gets the job done, and so far, I’m pretty happy with.

The MacBook Pro’s backups are a little more complex, but as I’m on it all day every day, I need another layer of security. I’ve got two Time Machine volumes set up: a local USB drive on my desk at the office and the other a volume on the Synology for when I’m at home. This just about guarantees any active work is being backed up as I go, complete with the revisions Time Machine is so good at providing.

In addition to this, I keep a bootable copy of my system on a USB drive at the office. I update it every two weeks with the excellent SuperDuper! application. If the SSD in my MacBook Pro were to go belly up, I could run from this external disk if needed without any fuss.

Lastly — and this is a new development — I’m backing up my home folder on the MacBook Pro to Amazon Cloud Drive using Arq.

Arq is an interesting and nicely-made app that allows you to encrypt data and back it up to a number of cloud services, including Dropbox, Google Drive, S3 and more. Just this week, it added support for Amazon Cloud Drive, so I’m using it as a target for this data as well.

While it’s taken me 725 words to get up to this point, having a redundant, multi-pronged approach to backup means my data is safe regardless of hardware failure or loss. My photos, documents and media exists in multiple locations, on multiple disks, prepared for the worst because — one day — the worst will come.