What do you do in terms of personal backups? Or perhaps I should ask if you do personal backups at all? I mean, at work we all probably do some backups to cover our asses. If you work in IT you probably deal with all kinds of backups. If you do not, you probably still keep redundant copies of your work just in case. No one wants the boss ripping them a new orifice because of a random technology failure. Unless of course you are like my users, and you can charmingly convince the management that not making laptops resistant to coffee spills, falling off the table and being stepped on (executed in quick succession) is a huge failure on the part of the IT department.
But what do you do for your personal computer? Here is my setup:
- I use Mozy for my off-site backup.
- As a secondary precaution, I have Mozy client also back up my data to an external drive
- Finally, I mirror that external drive to another drive using unison (rsync like tool)
This means that I have redundant 4 copies of my important data. One is completely off-site meaning even if my house spontaneously explodes one day, I still have a good shot at getting my data back. Granted, I heard some unflattering things about Mozy restore process but so far it has been working fine for me. Of course I never had to use it to restore more than one or two files at the time so maybe I haven’t seen it at it’s worst. But unless something really, really crazy happens I still have my data backed up locally to two drives.
I’m certain someone will want to post a comment along the lines of:
“But Luke, that second drive is surely an overkill, isn’t it?”
Nope. No it’s not. Hard drives die. This is what I always tell my students: it is not a question of “if”, it’s a question of “when” your hard drive is going to fail. Magnetic drives have moving components that are prone to wear and tear. Other than the fans, the hard drive is the only hardware piece in your computer that is in constant motion. After years of constant use, it will fail. Solid state drives do not have moving parts, but each memory cell on these devices has an upper limit of writes it can support after which it breaks. No matter what you do, your media won’t last forever.
External drives seem to be more susceptible to this than the internal ones. I have a drawer full of drives too prove this. Here are a few interesting ways in which I killed external drives:
- Death by vertical realignment – I had the drive standing upright. I laid it on the side while it was still on. It went “SKREEEEEE, KA-TUNK, KA-TUNK, KA-TUNK, SKREEEEEE” and never worked again.
- Death by spatial reallocation – I properly disconnected it, unplugged it, carefully moved it to another room, plugged it back in, and watched it die.
- Death by pen – I put a pen on a shelf above the hard drive laying flat on my desk. The pen rolled off and fell down about a foot, landing on the hard drive and causing a head crash.
- Death by rocking – I accidentally knocked bumped an upright standing drive while reaching for something. It did not fall over – it just rocked in place a bit and settled down, only to emit the worst screeching noise I have ever heard immediately afterwards
- Death by coffee – coffee cup, spill, dead hard drive – you know the drill
- Death by sneezing – a rather violent sneeze caused me to bump into my desk, thus causing an upright standing drive fall on it’s side. Head crash.
- Death by dust – there as one drive that I saved something on, then disconnected it and put it away for about a year or two. It got dusty. Never worked again.
- Death by attrition – about four of my external drives just died of old age. They worked for a few years, and then just stopped and refused to turn on, or be detected one day. They didn’t all fail on the same day, but they all failed.
I currently have four external drives connected to my home machine, and one of them is an older LaCie drive that is in it’s death throes. How do I know? Because every time I power it down, it takes it about 10 minutes to spin up to a point where and OS can detect it. Sometimes I have to power cycle it a few times to even get it do that. It also makes funny noises. I use it as a external /tmp folder for large files I really don’t care about.
I admit that maybe I’m just very unlucky with external drives. Maybe I emit some sort of hard-drive killing radiation. The drives inside my computers usually last quite a bit, but the small rectangular boxes die like flies in my house. I have seen so many die for no reason I no longer trust them to preserve my data. That’s why I mirror my backups on two. Because I’m painfully aware either of these drives can drop at a moment’s notice.
I’m not saying you should do the same but… Actually, you should do the same. A little bit of paranoia goes a long way when it comes to backups. Storing your data in a single location is reckless and foolish.
If you are a roaming laptop user, who refuses to be tied down to a desk, get a network attached storage device. They are not that expensive. I’m currently using something called Seagate GoFlex Home and it is actually pretty neat. The web based UI is pretty useless, but once you set up an account it works fine as a network drive that can be shared across multiple computers. It also comes preconfigured to work with Apple Time Machine (this is how I back up my MBP at the moment – no mirroring yet because it does not have that much important stuff on it). If you don’t have much space for attaching network devices and you don’t mind spending a little extra for a shiny box with an Apple symbol Airport Extreme is quite nice – especially for Mac lovers. It can double up as a Wireless router and a NAS, and it also works with Time Machine out of the box.
How do you back up? What are your suggestions in terms of devices and setups? What backup software do you use at home? How do you set up clueless friends and relatives?