When it comes to protecting data, I’m all about redundancy. If I don’t have at least two additional copies of every single file on my computer, it’s not sufficiently backed up.
First thing I should mention is that I use a Mac computer. In fact, all the computers in our home are Macs. This isn’t a political statement so please save your flames, it’s just something I need to mention so you know right away that your mileage may vary with the information in this article.
If you do use Windows computers and are looking for some guidance, leave a comment and I’ll do what I can to help out!
Every Computer Should Have at Least One Local Backup
For my local backups I use SuperDuper and an inexpensive portable Seagate hard drive. This sounds obvious but be sure to purchase a drive that’s at least as big as your computer’s hard disk, and ideally close to twice as big. I choose these lightweight Seagate drives because I can easily mount them under my desk, they’ve been reliable, and should something go wrong, I can replace them relatively inexpensively.
Now plenty of people would argue that I need RAID arrays for redundancy, but I honestly don’t bother and you’ll see why as I talk through all of my backup methods. I can protect my information without investing in Enterprise-level architecture, which is kind of the point for personal computer backups.
It’s important to note that I don’t use this external drive for anything other than backups. I don’t store any other files or media on the drive. It’s for backups only.
After connecting the drive to my computer for the first time, I take one full backup with SuperDuper. I do a full backup of every single file and setting on my computer so if need be I can restore my entire computer to exactly the way it was before disaster struck.
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After the initial backup I create a schedule for twice a week and I use a feature in SuperDuper called SmartUpdate. SmartUpdate scans my computer for any changes that have happened since the last backup. It goes through and erases anything I’ve deleted, and then copies any new or changed files I’ve created. I have this backup scheduled to run at night when my computer habits are quiet.
Two Local Backups Are Even Better
I also keep a local backup over wi-fi using my Apple AirPort Time Capsule with Time Machine backups. Time Machine works quite a bit differently than SuperDuper does, keeping multiple copies of files and giving people the ability to travel “back in time” and restore them one by one.
This is a much nicer approach than the nuclear option of restoring an entire hard drive when you just need one file you deleted by accident, and it’s also an additional full backup of my files. You can read more about exactly how TimeMachine works and learn more about its configuration options here.
I personally like to keep things pretty simple with TimeMachine. I let it back things up at its predefined intervals which will vary depending on computer activity and how often you’re changing things. For me it seems to take backups every 45 minutes or so, which is definitely often enough for me.
The only default settings I change in TimeMachine backups is that I do encrypt the backups (because I’m paranoid), and I make sure to exclude the external Seagate external drive from TimeMachine backups.
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Encryption makes it so if someone were to steal my TimeCapsule, they wouldn’t be able to restore the data without a master password that I choose. If you do choose to encrypt your TimeMachine backups, make sure you’re using a password manager like 1password to keep that password protected and easily accessible should you need it again.
Besides the Local Backups, I Use Backblaze Too
If lighting every strikes my home or office and cooks all of my surge protectors, backup hardware, and my computer, I still need some peace of mind about my data being safe.
I use Backblaze for online cloud backups. Backblaze doesn’t take a bit by bit backups the same way SuperDuper does, but all of my files are backed up and stored in the cloud. This means that if there is some kind of major catastrophe, I may need to reinstall my operating system, replace my computer, or reinstall a bunch of apps, but I’ll still be able to restore all of my documents, photos, music, and any other important files.
Backblaze is incredibly affordable. I prepaid for two years for two computers and the total investment was $190. That means I’m paying less than $2 per month per computer to have all of my files backed up to the cloud continuously. You can use Backblaze with essentially zero configuration too unless you have more complex needs. Here’s how I have Backblaze configured.
These file extensions are excluded from Backblaze backups by default, but you can tell Backblaze to backup any of these:
This is how I’ve had Backblaze configured for over a year with zero issues:
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Just like with my Time Capsule backups, I do use encryption with a master password so I’m the only person with the ability to unlock the backups should I ever need them. This means that even if Backblaze were to be hacked at some point, my data would still be encrypted since I’m the only person with the unlock key, my data would still be safe.
But Wait, There’s More!
Even beyond all of this, I still use iCloud Photo Library, iCloud Drive (both Drive and Photo Library are part of iCloud Storage), Google Photos, and Dropbox. I automatically import any photos I take on my phone to Photos, Google Photos, and Dropbox using the iOS apps. Then I keep copies of important documents stored at Dropbox. I even sprung for the Extended Version History add-on at Dropbox so I can track any file changes over the last 120 days.
Using all of these cloud services I make sure all of my most important files can be recovered from not only two places, but likely five or six. I probably have an unhealthy fear of losing memories or important business documents, but this setup has really helped me take control of my personal information and keep it protected.
This Sounds Expensive! Are There Cheaper Alternatives?
I’m sure there are! I’m also sure that at a certain point the cost saving are going to be greatly outweighed by the amount of time you spend tweaking and hacking things together.
Here’s a breakdown of my total costs to keep things safe:
- AirPort Time Capsule 3TB for TimeMachine Backups - $399 (multiple computers can share)
- Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB - $69.99 (per computer)
- SuperDuper Backup Software - $27.95
Total initial investment - $496.94
Monthly Recurring Costs
- Dropbox Plus with EVH add-on - $11.50 per month (billed annually)
- iCloud Storage 200GB Plan - $2.99 per month
- Google Drive 1TB Plan - $9.99 per month
- Backblaze Cloud Backups - $2.00 per month (per computer)
Total monthly investment - $26.48
We’re right on the verge of having our photo storage exceed the 200GB iCloud plan, so that will probably increase to $9.99 in the next month or so.
This Is a Pretty Intense System, Ryan. Maybe Chill Out a Bit?
A lot of this probably seems like overkill, and it can definitely be argued that some of it is, but the $30 a month is a no-brainer for me because I know that even in the worst circumstances, the important pieces of my digital life are going to be recoverable with very little hassle or downtime.
I have a hard time putting a price tag on the regret I’ll feel if things ever go sideways and we lose our baby pictures.
The nice thing about all of these cloud services is that with the exception of Backblaze, your price only increases when your storage does, not when you add more devices into the mix. So all of this pricing would be good for an entire family, not just each individual computer (aside from the external hard drives).
What are you using for personal backups? Any tips/tricks you have to add? Did you find any services, software, products here that you’re going to look at closer because of this post?
P.S. Thanks to Ray Hennessy on Unsplash for the beautiful photo of two birds that look almost identical. Hence, backups. Get it?