How to design your backup strategy

Real men don’t take backups – real men cry!

I guess I’m not a real man then. I have seen people lose loads data including images of their children. Photos than can’t be replaced with anything and people are left with only fading memories. I don’t want to end up in that situation. These days backup is more important than ever, because you store more and more digitally and with cloud technology it fortunately never has been easier, but cloud technology is not the answer to everything. And which of all the cloud services can be used for backup in an easy and cost-efficient way? It’s a jungle out there.

Besides being a photographer geek I’m also a computer geek and I have tried out many various backup strategies over the years, but I must admit, that what I’m doing these days is by far the best solution I have ever had. And I even have more data than ever! In this article I will tell you about my backup strategy. It covers

  • Backup of personal data
  • Backup of photos
  • Backup of music
  • Backup of movies

I’m still not entirely Spotify hooked or Netflix hooked, because I still can’t get everything I want from there, so I still keep my movies and music around.

The scenarios I wanted to cover with my backup strategy include:

  • If the house burns to the ground, I don’t want to have lost everything.
  • If a thief sneaks in and steals my computer and maybe even one or both of my NAS (Network Attached Storage) machines.
  • My main hard drive crashes.

The two first bullets I call Disaster Scenario and I tackle them the in the same way.

Problem #1: How to make a backup to solve disaster scenario?

This really is the biggest issue. What if the house burns to the ground while on work or on vacation? Or some thief steals all of your computers? This would be the total disaster. Besides not leaving the house with candles burning and a cat in the house, there’s not much I can do to prevent the situation. But I can prepare for the situation I hope never to experience.

Two ways to prepare for a disaster scenario, one way is to have a cloud based backup and second way is to have an external physical backup, like an external USB hard drive. I use both technologies, because don’t want to put all of my eggs into one basket. Should I chose only one, it would definitely be the cloud based backup.

Why two backup strategies then? Well, once bitten, twice shy. Only three times in my professional career have I had a customer who really needed their backup, and twice the backup didn’t work. The solution to that scenario is to be double insured – I am double insured backup wise.

Backup solution with cloud technology

Cloud based backup is a great solution – the best really. The concept is that you make a backup to a remote destination. There are tons of services out there providing exactly that service, but they are not equally good and equally cheap. I have certainly not tested them all, but I tried out a couple, read about a few more, but I only found one that matches my needs:

A cloud backup that takes terabytes of data (unlimited data) at a low cost, without killing neither my computer nor my internet connection.

It took some time and trial and error, but I have found the perfect Cloud based solution, it’s called Livedrive. While Livedrive is not the best known service, it’s definitely one of the best. Don’t confuse it with the name with Skydrive, from Microsoft and don’t let the “Live” confuse you either, it has nothing to do with live.com or Microsoft. You can get unlimited backup (yes UNLIMITED!) through Livedrive for as little as $6 a month with a 14 day free trial, and that’s a bargain! The best part really is, that it doesn’t kill neither my computer nor my internet connection. If you want, you can even at a few bucks extra get Dropbox similar functionality, allowing you to spread your data across many computers as well as keeping a backup in the cloud.

If you take a backup of everything you have dear to the Cloud, then you are home safe. However, the more data you get the more of a problem this will be, because of the upload time. Your upload bandwidth will be your weakest point. In my part of the world, upload speed is more expensive than download speed and there are far more limits to what upload speed I can get.

The best line I could get until one and a half years ago, no matter how many money I spend, was a 1 megabit upload line and if you start calculating, it does take some time to upload. One 1 megabit is like 125 Kb/s, which makes it 8 seconds for a megabyte and more than two hours for a gigabyte and more than 2000 hours for a terabyte. I do have terabytes of data, but would prefer less than several thousand hours for uploading.

Think about it, if you could only double or five double the speed, the 2000 hours on a terabyte would go to 1000 hours or even “just” 400 hours – and that is only for the first initial backup. When you have created the backup, you will only need incremental backups (the software will do this for you automatically).

What I did back then, when I didn’t have the option of a better bandwidth was to be very selective in what I included in the cloud backup and then I left the computer on for a couple of months and I eventually got my backup uploaded and was a happy man. After that it was only an incremental backup, which could be handled in a few hours.

I can strongly recommend to use Livedrive for online cloud based backup. It has unlimited data at a very low cost. Almost all other backup services that I know of, are priced by the amount of data you upload. They also provide Apps and work on both Mac and Windows.

Get Livedrive for as low as $6 a month and 14 days free trial.

Livedrive Cloud Storage

Backup solution using physical storage

Though I could use only my Livedrive backup solution I don’t want to put all eggs into one basket. What if, by freak of nature that my house burns to the ground the same day lightning strikes Livedrive’s server farm? I know a freak of nature coincidence that is so unlikely, but…

For that reason I also take backup on physical external 3,5” hard drives. I have got two drives, one at work and one (active) at home. Every other week I swap the disks to get a fresh backup outside my house.

What backup software should I use?

The problem with most backup software I have used is that, either they don’t solve the problem properly or they take so much juice out of my machine it becomes close to unusable. If the backup software slows down the computer too much I end up shutting it down when it runs, and then I beat the purpose of the backup.

The situation is that, the backup must run at a time, when it is likely that I have the computer turned on. I shouldn’t have to ‘remember to turn on the computer to make a backup’. I run my backup at 7pm every day.

I want my backup to be a true a mirror backup. I want my backup to reflect what files I have. If I delete something or move something, the same should happen in my backup. I don’t need a backup strategy that includes a full backup every week and an incremental backup everyday. I just need a clean mirror backup. I don’t need to be able to restore my computer to any given time with the last weeks, I just need to solve my disaster scenario.

I used to use some software that backed up changed files and new files. At first that seemed right – it sounded like mirror backup. Then I started to restructure some of my files and my backup drive ran out of disk space, and I thought to myself: “What happened?”. A little investigation showed me that the backup didn’t do a proper mirror backup. If I deleted a file, it wasn’t deleted in the backup. If I moved my photo catalog, I would have two photo catalogs in the backup and that was exactly my problem. I had numerous duplicated files in the backup and files that I had deleted long ago. A true mirror backup reflects the exact files. Deleted files on the computer gets deleted in the backup and moved files gets moved in the backup.

When I figured this out, my list of backup software that I could afford to buy and had a true mirror backup quickly got very short. In fact I started to have problems finding one.

I ended up settling for Robocopy, which is a part of Windows. Robocopy does exactly what I want:

  • Creates a mirror backup
  • Runs fast and efficiently
  • Does not bring my computer into a backup trance, where I can’t wake it up

It does have one major flaw – there is no user interface. It’s a command line tool and for me being a user interface fetishist this one was hard to swallow. But I have been using it for a couple of years now, and I still haven’t found any flaws with it and therefore I can really recommend using it and I will show you how to make a true mirror backup using Robocopy. Read about setting up Robocopy to get yourself a great free backup solution here.

What should I include in my disaster backup?

What I put into my disaster scenario backup is irreplaceable data and that includes

  • Personal documents, letters, IRS spreadsheets etc. All of the stuff I use my private computer for.
  • Photos both my artwork and my family photos.
  • Ripped CDs, not really irreplaceable, though I do have some really rare stuff.

Except for the CDs all of this data is irreplaceable.

What I didn’t include in my disaster scenario is stuff that I can (most likely) replace one way or another. My ripped CD collection I added later and I added them only because the amount of data compared to my photos really is insignificant, and it’s really time consuming to rip them all once again.

But the DVDs and Blurays most likely wouldn’t be carried away by a thief, not in these Video-On-Demand days. Should the house burn to the ground I would have a hard time to get my hand on all of the DVDs and Blurays but that wouldn’t kill me. I would probably not bother to try get them all back, but instead start using Netflix solely. That’s the way things are going anyway.

Space is another problem with the movies. A Bluray really takes up a lot of disk space and when you got a couple of hundred DVDs and Blurays it really does add up to a few terabytes.

I have my movies on a NAS (Network Attached Storage), which is really a small LINUX based computer with a lot of disk drives. I can’t include the NAS in my Cloud backup, because the Livedrive drive doesn’t allow network drives to be backed up. Which means that I will have to put all of my movies on my Computer and I would have to buy more hard drives, which I don’t want to do. It will also take a lot of time to backup the terabytes to the Cloud.

The space problem also applies for the physical backup. I have decided only to have one set of external hard drives and they have just been upgraded to 4 Tb hard drives. Of course I could carry several hard drives out of the house, but it’s also expensive.

This is the risk I have chosen to accept. My movies will be lost in a disaster scenario.

How to create a backup for the crashed hard drive scenario?

To guard myself if a hard drive should crash I have a made a backup plan, which is handled with the robocopy tool and a scheduler.

Everyday at 7pm, if the computer is on, the backup script will run. This is what the job basically does:

  • Copy all data from my computer to my primary NAS. This includes my photos and my ripped CDs.
  • Copy all movies from my primary NAS to my old, but smaller NAS. This is still possible for a little while.
  • Copy all personal data from my primary NAS to the external backup (disaster backup)
  • Copy all music from my computer to the external backup (disaster backup)
  • Copy all photos from my computer to the external backup (disaster backup)

This way I have everything in two places, and if a hard drive crashes anywhere, I will always have a backup.

How make it easy for yourself to to create backups?

Over the years I have tried out various ways to organize my data, across several hard drives. Currently I have 3 hard drives in my computer and on each drive I have created a “Data”  folder and a “Secondary Data” folder. I keep a backup of my “Data” folders, but not of the “Secondary data” folders. I do have some data like temporary directories, intermediate files etc. that I don’t really need a backup of. These files I place in the “Secondary Data”.

This is a simple but effective way to keep track of what to backup and not to backup. It also makes it very easy to move to a new computer. Just copy the “Data” and “Secondary Data” folders.

How about using Dropbox for backup?

I love Dropbox and I use it for many things, but not a backup. I use it as my desktop – my brief case (funny, that’s exactly what Livedrive’s version of Dropbox is called). I store stuff in there that I would like to work on, no matter which computer I am sitting with. My work laptop, my private laptop or my desktop computer.

I don’t use Dropbox for backup, because I have far too much data to fit into my 100 Gb Dropbox account.

Photos I work on or plan to work on I make a copy of in my Dropbox. When I have the time I also have the files and can find something to work on. But I really ought to look into Livedrive and their Brief case, because I might be able to save some money.

Summary on a personal backup strategy

Make yourself a disaster backup strategy and a crashed hard drive backup strategy.

The best backup is an online cloud based backup. Livedrive is reliable, fast, unlimited (very important factor) and cheap. I can recommend to use Livedrive for disaster backup strategy.

Get Livedrive today for as low as $6 pr month – there’s a 14 day free trial. Go and check it out.

Livedrive Cloud StorageRemember to include the most important and irreplaceable data first. When your upload bandwidth increases include more data.

If you have the budget, add a NAS or external hard drive to store more complete backups. If you want to make it a disaster backup strategy, get two external hard drives, and carry one of the house.

Make sure, that your software use a real mirror backup. You don’t want your backup to keep copies of files that you intentionally deleted. I recommend to use robocopy because it’s fast and reliable. Read my article on configuring Robocopy – it’s not difficult.

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