Summer 2011 Backup Strategy

by Mike Shea on 21 July 2011

Note: My backup plans have changed since I wrote this. You can read about my new procedures in the article Your Personal Digital Archive.

30 Second Summary

Having moved to a new iMac, my backup strategy has changed. Now I'm using Apple's Time Machine running on a 1TB Western Digital external disk. Every three months a task pops up on Omnifocus to remind me to flip my current Time Machine disk with a duplicate disk in the trunk of my car. My "Documents" directory is then tied to Dropbox so everything that happens in that directory is automatically saved remotely. All large filetypes like video and audio files, are stored in a "Large Files" directory outside of the Dropbox directory so it is only saved in Time Machine. Other various cloud services provide off-site backup of stuff like mail, websites, and photos.

A continually evolving strategy

Every time a home computing system changes, it's worth looking at how things are backed up. I've written on this site a few times about my current backup process and it is time to do so again.

A strategy review

It's important to know exactly what we're trying to do. Here's my own personal backup strategy:

Local backups

Before I was mirroring my OS drive to two identical 2.5" drives so I could swap them out if the internal disk died, I can't realistically do that with an iMac. Instead, I've gone back to Apple's Time Machine which, paired with my 1TB Western Digital disk, provides a completely hands-free backup and file versioning system. This works very well for the 400gb of data I have on my main computer.

Offsite backups

A single time machine disk is fine for most people but if there is a theft or disaster in my house, I don't want all my data to disappear. So I bought a second identical 1TB drive that I store in the trunk of my car. Every three months, I have a reminder set up to remind me to swap that disk with the current one. This means my time machine backups have large 3 month gaps in their versioning, since each disk is on for 3 months and then off for 3 months but I can live with that.

A stronger system for vital data

What about my most critical data such as freelance articles, saved passwords, books I'm writing, web projects, and other stuff I can't ever get back? I have a second layer for that stuff that includes Dropbox. Dropbox lets you store 2gb of data for free over the web. It syncs to all of your other computers and mobile devices so I can store my data over on Michelle's machine as well. It does so very transparently. If you hit save, it pushes it to the cloud. There's no "sync" button or anything to mess with.

A small mac program called MacDropAny lets you remap directories so your "Documents" directory is actually my main Dropbox directory. As long as that directory stays to less than 2gb (it's 1GB now), I have no problems and my most vital data are stored both remotely and using Time Machine.

Other data stored to the cloud

A lot of my other data such as mail and photos are stored on services like Gmail and Picasaweb. Of course, one cannot trust these services alone so it's always important to have a copy locally as well.

Review the procedure yearly

Every year I'll review the system and see if it still fits my needs and current setup.