For the last 6 years or so, my backup setup consisted of one unreliable 120 GB drive that I would manually update whenever I remember to do so. That’s pretty much a pathetic way to go about it and I’ve been extremely lucky to not have had a catastrophic drive failure.
I’ve been meaning to get serious about my file management, but I never did anything about it. That’s until I read Frank Chimero’s insightful article about his setup and how he deals with file management. It motivated me to finally put a system together to protect my important files, and to write this article detailing my current setup. I figured that it can’t hurt to have more information available on the subject for those who are interested.
Right away, I knew that my lame 120 GB drive wouldn’t make a good base for my setup. The key factor in any good backup system is redundancy. The more copies you have of your data, the safer you are. I first looked into RAID 1 systems. A RAID 1 system is essentially made up of two drives, one drive is where you backup your data, and the other drive is used to mirror that drive, creating a backup of your backup. The benefit of a RAID 1 is that it all happens on the fly, so when data is stored to the first drive, it’s instantly mirrored to the second drive. I found a few options that might work, but they were either too expensive or noisy.
I then looked into single hard drives, which had to be quiet and large enough to store all of my data. To create redundancy I knew that I’d needed two separate drives. After a few days of researching and asking on Twitter, I purchased two Lacie Quadra 1 TB drives. They’re silent, affordable, offer four connection interfaces and look damn sexy.
To build on the setup, I also signed up for Backblaze, an online file backup service that’s really cheap and easy to use. The service constantly checks your machine and external drives to see if anything has changed and needs a backup. It all happens in the background, so you just set it up and never think about it again. The first backup does take a few days, though, depending on the amount of data you’re storing. They have a free 15 trial, which is a great way to test it out.
I also purchased SuperDuper, an inexpensive desktop app that allows you to completely clone your machine, creating a bootable copy. You can even schedule backups, which is great.
Finally, the system also makes use of Dropbox and Apple’s iDisk. More details below on how I use these two services.
I put together this diagram to help visualize my setup. Here’s how it works:
All of my data is kept on my iMac’s internal drive. Current and archived work files, important documents like my resume, and my Aperture Library Backup, live in my Dropbox folder. I do this to create more redundancy for my most important data.
I’ve kept my old 120 GB drive and use it to store really old work, videos, pictures and my iPhoto Library. This is not precious data.
Every other day I have SuperDuper clone my iMac to one of my Lacie 1 TB drives, lets call this one Drive A. Immediately after that is done I have SuperDuper clone Drive A to my other Lacie 1 TB drive, let’s call this one Drive B. Once a month SuperDuper clones my 120 GB drive to Drive B. I only do it once a week because the data on that drive won’t change that often. All of the SuperDuper backups are set to Smart Update. It’s a great feature that only copies files and folders that are new or have changed. This considerably speeds up the process after the initial backup.
Once a week the current work folder in Dropbox, my Address Book and iCal databases, Safari settings, keychain, fonts and current photos are copied to iDisk using Apple’s Backup app.
For extra security, I’ve setup Backblaze to constantly backup my iMac’s internal drive, which includes my Dropbox local folder, and the 120 GB drive.
During all this I have Time Machine constantly backing-up to Drive B.
This setup creates 6 copies of my vital data:
– Internal iMac Drive
– External Drive A
– External Drive B
and 3 copies of my unimportant data:
– External 120 GB Drive
– External Drive B
This is a good amount of redundancy and will provided a good level of security and piece of mind. I’ll probably expand on this in the future. Those Lacie drives are cheap, so why not get another one to clone one of the other drives. Eventually, I want to have an off-site drive, just for added security.
When I was first looked into backup systems, I had no idea where to begin. Hopefully this article has been helpful to those who are still unsure on how to proceed. I also suggest reading this article by John Gruber for more information on the subject.