Sorting out my home backups

After my parents-in-law’s recent burglary (and related data loss), I started to think more seriously about my household’s backups which are spread across a variety of USB drives, NAS units and cloud services (Dropbox, SkyDrive, Box.net, etc.).

My plan is to:

  1. Duplicate – hard drives fail. I know, because I’ve lost data that way – and RAID is no substitute for a proper backup (as I learned the hard way). If it doesn’t exist in (at least) two places, it doesn’t exist.
  2. Consolidate – bits and pieces on various drives is a nightmare – to know that it’s definitely backed up, I need to know it’s on the “big backup drive” (as well as in the primary source).
  3. Archive – both physically (media stored in a safe) and virtually (upload to the cloud). Be ready for some long uploads though, over an extended period (I only have ADSL 2 – no fibre here).

Steps 1 and 2 work hand in hand and, last weekend, I picked up a 3TB Seagate Backup Plus Desktop drive. I’m not using the bundled backup software that offers idiot-proof backups for both local and social media (Facebook, Flickr) data but installing the software on my MacBook includes Paragon NTFS for Mac, which means I can use this drive with Macs and PCs without reformatting (there is a Mac version too – although the only differences I can see from a comparison of Seagate’s data sheets for “normal” and Mac versions are: Firewire and USB 2.0 cables instead of USB 3.0; downloadable HFS+ driver for Windows instead of preloaded NTFS driver for Mac OS X; 3 year warranty instead of 2 years).

Step 3 is more involved. I did some analysis into a variety of cloud services a while ago and found that each one has pros/cons depending on whether you want to back up a single computer or multiple¬†computers, limitations on storage, cost, etc. I didn’t get around to publishing that information but there is a site called Which Online Backup that might help (although I’m not sure how impartial it is – it’s certainly nothing to do with the Which? consumer information/campaign service).

My current thinking is that I’ll continue to use free services like Dropbox to backup and sync many of my commonly-used files (encrypting sensitive information using¬†TrueCrypt) at the same time as creating a sensible archive strategy for long term storage of photographs, etc. That strategy is likely to include Amazon Glacier but, because of the way that the service works, I’ll need to think carefully about how I create my archives – Glacier is not intended for instant access, nor is it for file-level storage.

I’ll write some more as my archive strategy becomes reality but, in the meantime, the mass data copy for the duplicate and consolidate phases has begun, after which all other copies can be considered “uncontrolled”.

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