Backup

It’s unfortunate that many people don’t think about backing up their data until it’s too late. I can’t imagine how devastating it would be to lose weeks, months, or years worth of family photos, important documents, project folders, and more.

External hard drives seem to get cheaper by the minute; off-site backup services are more affordable and easy to use than ever; and heck, OS X has been shipping with built-in backup software for years.

With very little effort and cost you can set up an automated and trustworthy backup system. I can only assume most people don’t back up their data because they are either lazy, unsure where to start, don’t see a need, or all of the above.

Assuming Mat Honan’s horror story gives you the motivation for backing up, here are some tips on how to set up a rock-solid backup system.

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A great backup system looks like this:

  • Local: an external hard drive at your desk that has a copy of the same files on your computer.
  • Off-site: Cloud storage of your most important files.
  • Automated: everything backs up on its own without you having to initiate the backup every time.

For Local Backups

Keeping a regular backup on an external hard drive is the smartest way to keep your data backed up. It’s also the easiest way to restore something if your computer has a catastrophic failure.

The easiest way to back up your Mac is to plug in an external drive and turn on Time Machine. If you don’t have an external hard drive, here’s a big and fast one.1

For my local backups, I also use SuperDuper because there’s no reason not to use SuperDuper and Time Machine. What I like about SuperDuper is that it creates a bootable clone of my MacBook Air.

For Off-Site Backups

The point of an off-site backup is so someone breaks into your house and steals all your gear, or if your home is destroyed by a natural disaster, you won’t lose your most important files.

You don’t need to keep an exact clone of your entire computer in the Cloud so much as you should make sure that your most important and valuable files are stored somewhere other than the hard drive in your desk drawer.

For my off-site backup I actually rely on three different services: Backblaze, Arq, and Dropbox. It’s a little nerdy, I know, but I have my reasons.

Backblaze

For off-site backup of all my documents, music, photos, and other media I use BackBlaze.

Backblaze is relatively cheap for what they offer: unlimited file storage for $5/month or $50/year. They’ll even back up external media drives (if you’ve got a drive or two that only keep photos and music).

The Backblaze utility runs natively on your Mac and allows detailed control over the frequency and speeds at which your files are backed up. Your data is encrypted on your Mac before being sent to the Backblaze servers. For those who want more security (like me) you can set your own private encryption key, making your data unreadable by anybody who doesn’t know the key.

There are some system folders that Backblaze will not back up, such as the ~/Library folder. Because of this, if I were to lose all my local data, and had only Backblaze to turn to, there are a few important bits I would not have. Primarily, the data stored within apps such as Yojimbo and MarsEdit (which keep their database in their respective Application Support folders in the Library folder). And that is why I use Arq…

Update: I was mistaken about the ~/Library folder not being backed up. Turns out Backblaze does back it up, which means all of my Application Support folders are backed up. This is great. I will still continue to use Arq for the handful of files that I want redundant backups of.

Arq

Arq is a utility that creates encrypted backups of whatever files or folders you chose, and uploads them securely to a bucket on your Amazon S3 account.

I use Arq to keep certain Application Support folders backed up via Arq. So that way my Yojimbo database and other apps can be restored if necessary.

And with Amazon’s every-decreasing S3 pricing, my budget of $6.75/month gives me more than enough space.

Dropbox

Like most of you do, I assume, I also keep all my current projects in Dropbox. Since Dropbox syncs on save, anything I’m working on right now gets backed up to my Dropbox account. And so, supposing I write a 1,000-word article while at the coffee shop, and then on the way out my MacBook Air gets struck by lightning, I didn’t lose any of my work.

What else is great about Backblaze, Arq, and Dropbox is that they work anywhere I have an internet connection. If I take my laptop with me on a trip to Colorado, I don’t have to give up my daily off-site backups while traveling. (Though it may take a bit longer on my dad’s slow-as-molasses DSL.)

Keep it Simple, Keep it Safe

For $10 month and very little energy I have a system that backs up my data redundantly, securely, and thoroughly. And I don’t have to initiate anything to make it happen.

All this may sound a bit complicated or expensive, but now that it’s set up it all takes care of itself. It is great to know that if my MacBook Air’s SSD ever fails, I won’t lose any files. If my house is destroyed in a fire, I won’t lose any files.2 If somebody steals my laptop, I won’t lose any files.

If all of the above sounds like too much, I’d recommend this basic yet top-notch setup:

With that you’ll have everything you need for a rock-solid backup system: local and off-site backups of all your files and folders that happen without you ever having to think it.


  1. I always buy LaCie enclosures because they’re reliable and good looking.
  2. To be honest, the biggest relief is knowing that if there’s an emergency at my house, my computer files are something I don’t need to worry about. Since all my vital documents and important projects are backed up to another location that I can retrieve later, I am completely free to focus on getting my wife and son out of the house safely. Everything else is replaceable.
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