Friday 2 April 2010

Mac and Windows Backup Strategy

For a while I have been thinking about and gradually improving my backup strategy and I now think I am close to being happy with it - for a while at least!

I have a MacBook Pro, a MacBook and a Windows desktop which is mainly just a server for my music etc. So, a mixed operating system setup, which can complicate things.

Anyone reading about backup strategies should already know that it is important to have multiple backups, onsite and offsite. Different kinds of backup are useful for different scenarios - sometimes you just need to recover some files that were accidentally deleted, sometimes a whole drive may have failed, and sometimes that drive may be your main OS drive and you need to be able to get up and running as quickly as possible.

With that in mind, everything needs to be backed up, in some way or another, but some data may have specific backups. Things that are important to me are my music files, my photo files and my documents so I pay particular attention to these.

So where have I got to?

Local backups and archives...

My MacBook Pro is my main machine, this is backed up to an external USB drive using Time Machine - this gives me backup of my whole machine, with decent history, useful for those deleted/corrupted file scenarios. My MacBook is also backed up this way.

I like backups that are accessible without using any special software. I backup my photos from my MacBook Pro to my Windows server - this is my iPhoto Library as well as my RAW files, getting on for 100GB. I also backup my MP3s to my server too. Actually my MP3s are created on my server, so I actually sync them from my server to my MacBook Pro, then they sync back once iTunes has added cover art to them.

It took a while but I finally found something that does this reasonably well - ChronoSync. This covers both scenarios above - one way backup, and bidirectional synchronisation. After a few hiccups in setup, this appears to now be handling the iPhoto Library package file properly. With this setup I have two copies of my photos and MP3s in forms accessible on both machines.

Convenient Sync...

My documents - I have an extra requirement for my documents, I like to be able to access them from multiple places, including at work where I use both Linux and Windows. This is where DropBox is excellent, all my documents are automatically synchronised via the cloud to all my machines. DropBox triggers the sync when any file changes. I'd love a local version of this so I could use it for larger files between local machines, my ChronoSync setup is on a scheduled basis, not triggered.

So apart from my documents all my data is still onsite, albeit in two or three places. Also, although DropBox keeps a history and deleted files it's best not to rely on this as a backup - if you delete a file DropBox will delete it off all your machines.

Backup to the Cloud...

There are lots of places that do cloud based backup, with varying feature sets and costs. I settled on CrashPlan for a few reasons: it is cross platform and the license covers multiple machines, these requirements whittles down your shortlist very quickly! Unlimited data is also important. Another feature of CrashPlan is being able to backup to a local disk, external disk, another machine on your network or even another machine over the Internet, eg a friends machine. All these cost you nothing, apart from the CrashPlan Central cloud storage itself. I am yet to test a backup recovery, but it appears to meet my needs.

I use CrashPlan to backup my Documents and photos (just my jpgs) from my MacBook Pro to both the cloud and my server. The photos is overkill and were setup before ChronoSync was setup, but it doesn't hurt. It is redundant since all the stuff I backup to my server is also backed up to the cloud by CrashPlan. So that means all my photos and MP3s, in addition to this, I also have all my music in FLAC format on my server, which is also backed up to the cloud.

So what is missing? If you have paid attention you will realise that my FLAC files are only in one place locally. Getting 200GB+ of data back from the cloud would take a long time so a local backup is needed. This is on Windows though, so ChronoSync won't help me, it's also licensed per machine which is annoying. I am going to give SyncBack a go to duplicate my FLAC files to a separate disk in the server or maybe an external drive.

Clone it...

There's also something else to try - if my laptop drive fails I have all my data, and Time Machine will get me back to where I was fairly well, but you need to have installed a new drive before you can restore from Time Machine, both of which take time of course. The solution? a clone backup. SuperDuper seems the popular choice for this. A clone backup means you can boot from the external drive and be backup and running in seconds. Of course you still need to get that replacement drive and copy over, but at least you can do stuff in the mean time.

That's it. I've never needed any of this, but one day I will. The only time I have had problems is when my only backup was a Time Machine backup of my laptop. However, the backup drive failed, and a few days later the laptop drive failed! This highlighted the need for multiple backups very well! I managed to recover nearly everything though using the old trick of putting the drive in the freezer for a minute or so. Yes it works! I had to do it about 10 times as I could only copy a certain amount before it would fail again.

Think about what data you have and what would happen if a drive fails. Are all your backups local? Some people take disks round to the friends house weekly, but for me and automated system is the only way, anything manual will not get done at some point.


Rina said...

Useful post. Thank you.

I recommend Handy Backup, it's easy and reliable backup software for Windows, and works great...

ben said...

nice post on describing the various backup software avaliable..

i personally use dropbox and i think that it is very convenient for u to bring files around...

for like u save a file to ur dropbox folder on ur computer u can access it on the other computer or even via the web when u are out

i also like its mobile support :)


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