Last night my computer suffered a bad crash while attempting a software upgrade. Fortunately everything was backed up, so things are back to normal again. I thought I’d write a short note to answer a question I’m often asked: “how do you back up your files?”. My approach is based on two rules: (a) recovery should be simple and (b) the most important things to back up are those that are unique, like my documents, pictures and datasets. Everything else is replaceable, including software and all those music and movie files. So here’s how I do my backups. It may not work for you, but hopefully something similar will be usable.
- Daily: Files on my main computers are backed up daily using Apple’s Time Machine. A second daily copy is made onto a linux home server. This is pretty much my entire life, so there must be two “live” backups, just in case one fails to restore (this has happened to me!).
- Offsite Data: All datasets, personal documents, and project files are automatically backed up regularly onto Amazon S3 using jungledisk. Amazon is very affordable and very good especially if you have lots of files. My family members using PCs use Mozy. Friends and colleagues have also had good experiences with sugarsync. The main idea is that if your house or office burns down or if you’re hit by a hurricane or earthquake, you’ll still have your files. All you need is your web browser. It also helps if you are not traumatized enough to forget your password and private key.
- Offsite Media: Photos and home videos are backed up on smugmug immediately after being downloaded from my camera. Sixty dollars a year for unlimited space is my definition of a good deal. If you use something else, watch out for copyright especially with the free sites, ie. make sure you own all your photos and are not automatically giving the service provider a free perpetual license.
- Cloning: Once a month (and before any major software upgrades or major trips) I use Carbon Copy Cloner to make a complete image of my notebook hard disk onto an external USB drive. Lots of alternatives exists for Windows and Linux. Note the Apple’s Time Machine is good for recovering the odd file or two, but takes forever for an entire system restore. We’ve also been locked out of it before due to permissions issues. Nothing beats a cloned disk image.
That’s it: daily backups, monthly clones and offsite copies. With improvements in synchronization software, all this takes place with little intervention, and backups happen quickly. No matter how busy you are, take a few minutes to plan your own backup strategy.