If you’ve only got one copy of a file, that’s not much better than having no copies. You’re just one storage failure or account hijack away from losing everything. That’s why it’s vital you keep your important files backed up, and World Backup Day is here to remind you. This is a chance to check on your existing backups and make new ones if you’ve got important files on the edge of oblivion. To offer a little inspiration, here’s how we at ExtremeTech keep our files safe.
At ExtremeTech, most of our work is stored in the cloud in our content management system, along with the various services we use to run the site. There’s precious little content here to back up on my end, as our publisher Ziff Davis handles that.
Separately, my wife and I run a music production studio. We own dozens of sample and sound effects libraries, both homemade and licensed, that take up several terabytes, along with individual projects that take up many gigabytes each (including recorded 24-bit audio of vocals and live instruments). These projects take several minutes at a time to load into our Logic Pro X digital audio workstation software, even with SSDs and a (admittedly five-year-old) quad-core i7 Mac Mini. So consequently, backup strategies are critical. For the studio Mac running Logic Pro X, we have Time Machine running in macOS 10.12.6 (Sierra), and hang several USB-C external drives off of the computer. Time Machine is configured to back up the project drives and the internal SSD, but not the 4TB sample library drive, since we have that backed up separately and it doesn’t change from project to project.
Increasingly, we’re working on music projects together on separate machines. For example, she works in our studio upstairs and sends me recorded tracks, I do a rough mix over the weekend, she takes it back and adds more instruments and comps all the background vocals, I then mix that further upstairs in the main acoustically treated room instead of downstairs…For this kind of thing we’re relying on shared local drives and Logic Pro X’s built-in sharing capabilities, but we may amp this up further the more we do this.
For our other machines — a quad-core i7 (Devil’s Canyon) PC in my office, a 15-inch 2017 MacBook Pro I also use for work, and a 13-inch 2016 MacBook Air she uses — we’ve got most of the data on these in a Google Drive cloud and Apple’s iCloud, which also loops in our iOS and Android devices. The cloud also handles our email and working photo stashes; for my mirrorless camera photos, Apple’s iCloud and Google Photos both cover it, and we pay for both to have the original RAW files stored in the accounts. We’ve also got those backed up locally. Finally, we’ve got several extra 1TB and 2TB USB drives that we use for occasional large backups, to ensure if anything catastrophic happens we’ve always got those to fall back on — though at this point, I’m thinking of trying one of David Cardinal’s NAS setups the more photos we take.
Over the years, I’ve reorganized our recording and post-production studio several times, as we’ve added and subtracted PCs and devices. Our next upgrade, as soon as we can afford it, is to move the sample and project drives entirely to SSDs and Thunderbolt connections, though it’s going to be a while before we can swing that.
For our home-based business, we use parallel backup strategies for our systems and data. For the system drives on our Windows computers, we run Easeus Todo Backup with Full backups at least once a week, and incrementals every morning. These are stored on our primary Synology NAS. For our main desktops we’ve installed large hard drives (often the old ones from our NAS units as we upgrade them to larger drives) where we store a similar set of backups for redundancy. We try to keep backups for at least a month, although longer would probably be ideal, since lost or corrupted files aren’t always obvious right away. The internal drives on our laptops are backed up the same way our desktops, but in addition before an extended trip we also make a system backup to a portable external hard drive that we take with us. That can be a lifesaver if the machine has a drive issue on the road. The same external drive then serves for making backups of photographs and video as we capture them during our trip.
For data, we use three different approaches. Our main image and video assets are backed up using the workflow described in this How to Store and Back Up Photos article. Our business-critical data also lives on a NAS, which is cloned to another backup NAS periodically. We then use GoodSync to create working versions of the files on our laptops or other devices that aren’t always locally connected to the NAS. The great thing about GoodSync is we have it set up so it will sync over the internet any time we create or update documents on the road, or push updates from the office out to us when we’re traveling. But when the systems are on the same network it operates in a peer-to-peer fashion with high performance and no consumption of data bandwidth.
Finally, for data files that need to get stored locally on each machine, like Outlook PST files, we use Cloud Station Backup from Synology to automatically back them up to our primary NAS. QNAP, Netgear, and other leading NAS vendors all provide some type of similar package, although you might have to find it in their download library. With these overlapping backup systems, we have at least two ways to restore just about any of our computers or our data if needed. I’m a big believer in having multiple options, as it is far too common to try to restore a backup only to find out it has been corrupted, or there is an issue with the restore tool, or that for some reason the backup hasn’t been completing correctly.
My goal is to never delete anything — ever. Over the years, this is led to increasingly reckless death-wish hard drive setups containing disks of varying ages and no consistent backups. A few years ago, I started toying with dedicated external drives for backups with additional backups in the cloud, but it was too tedious, and I’d always put off managing the files. What I do now is easier and vastly more powerful.
Instead of packing my computer full of hard drives, I have a Synology NAS in my closet. It’s in the closet because these things are louder than you’d probably expect. The model I use is the DS418play. I don’t want to sound like a Synology fanboy, but I love this thing. The NAS itself is under $500 and supports up to four hard drives. Mine has three Seagate Ironwolf 10TB drives with single-drive redundancy for a total of around 17TB of usable storage.
I use Synology’s Drive client to sync folders from my computers over to the NAS. Synology’s file system also keeps multiple versions of files, so I can retrieve something I accidentally modify or delete. For files I just want to archive without keeping them in sync on my desktop, I have the NAS mapped as a network drive so I can just dump things into it. This is not technically a backup as I only have one copy, but at least the drive redundancy makes it less likely I’ll lose archived files. The NAS isn’t just a backup machine, it’s also my Plex server.
In addition to the NAS, I also have a Dropbox Pro subscription with 1TB of storage. Some files go immediately into the cloud, for example, all the photos I take on my phone. My real camera also syncs to Dropbox as soon as I export the images to my computer—I have my photo folder on my desktop set to copy everything to my Dropbox. I also use the Synology Cloud Sync client on my NAS to copy all my Dropbox content. This works both ways, so I also have some NAS folders with important files syncing to Dropbox separately from my desktop.
Between my local NAS backups and Dropbox, I feel reasonably secure I won’t lose anything. Fingers crossed.
I’ve taken backups seriously as long as I’ve had a computer of my own. Floppies and SuperDisks were my early mediums of choice, I transitioned to swapping CD backups with a friend in high school, and now I use a one-two punch of an external drive and cloud storage.
My primary machine is a Mac, so I utilize Time Machine – Apple’s baked-in local backup solution. It allows for damn-near perfect snapshots, and it lets me revert far into the past if something bad happens. In effect, it’s a barebones versioning tool as well as a backup app.
With the tag-team partner of SuperDuper, I can even make my local backups bootable. I’ve had my primary drive fail in the past, and the transition was so seamless that I didn’t even recognize that I was running on my backup drive for the first hour or so. In terms of minimizing downtime on the cheap, it’s hard to beat that $28 investment.
Of course, no backup scheme is complete without offsite storage as well. Currently, my cloud backup service of choice is IDrive. Not only does it allow me to choose exactly which folders I want to upload, it also provides fine-grained settings for when the backups occur. And if the internet connection makes restoration or the initial large backup exceedingly difficult, the IDrive Express feature permits old fashioned data transfer by mailing drives to and fro.
Better yet, I can access individual files from just about anywhere. If I need to bring up a PDF or a picture, I can just log into my account in a browser or on my phone. I can either browse through my directories to find the file, or search for keywords.
For photos and extremely important docs, I also add a layer of security by keeping copies in Dropbox and Google Drive. For example, I keep copies of my genealogy and DNA data spread across multiple services in the event of a catastrophic failure. And for my photos, the Backup and Sync tool from Google has been a lifesaver.
As for my tablet and smartphone, I mostly rely on the encrypted backups in iTunes and the photo import tool in Apple’s Photos app. The IDrive app will also import contacts, photos, and videos, but I mostly end up using it when I’m traveling.
I don’t have a particularly sophisticated or detailed backup strategy. Luckily, I don’t particularly need one. I only have a single PC that I use on an ongoing basis, and I use Backblaze to handle backups on that device. While some, like Grant, use a variety of services to handle mobile devices, I still back my phone’s photos and contacts up via my PC first, then upload that to Backblaze thereafter.
Services like Backblaze are a cost-effective way to ensure that your critical documents and files are kept uploaded and secure in the event of hardware failure or theft. Other companies, like Mozy and Carbonite, offer similar capabilities at a range of features and price points. Regardless of the solution you opt for, the important thing is to have one.
Having been through a catastrophic hard drive failure that lost me several years’ worth of data, I think people are often caught off-guard by the reality of data loss. Long-term declines in price-per-GB, combined with the general reliability of computers, make it easy to forget that the cost of a blank HDD or SSD and the price of recovering data have nothing to do with each other. A new HDD might cost you $100, but recovering the data off a damaged “used” drive could cost $2000.
You don’t have to use cloud services or an online service at all. Use a NAS. Use a RAIDed NAS. Heck, you can even buy a tape drive if you feel like kicking it 1980s style. But if you care at all about your own digital life, don’t bet on your friendly neighborhood bathtub curve to make you an exception to the rule. Even if all you use is a simple one-size-fits-all plan, have a solution in place to guard against the inevitable.
Now read PCMag’s Best Backup Software of 2018 and The Best Cloud Storage and File-Sharing Services of 2018.