Finally it’s here — the one and only guide you’ll need to back up your data. And because it covers a wide range of backup solutions for your files, it doesn’t matter if you have 2GB or several terabytes worth of data to backup — you’re likely to find the solution that’s right for you in this article.
I tried to give an extensive overview of the possibilities without getting too technical so that non-techies can apply these strategies as well. Even so, this guide weighs in at about 7,000 words and roughly one hour of video content. But don’t worry, you don’t have to read it all (although I think you should). You’re more than welcome to jump to the section that mosts interests you.
If you like this backup guide please go ahead and share it on Google+, Facebook, Twitter or even link to it on your own website; any and all help spreading the word to people who might find it useful will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
Table of Contents
- 1. Why backup your data in the first place?
- 2. Backing up to an external hard drive
- 3. Cloud storage solutions for your backup problems
- 4. Unlimited online backup solutions
- 5. Network attached storage (NAS) — Your private cloud
Why backup your data in the first place?
Many people are unaware that hard drives fail. In fact, they fail a lot. Every .2 seconds a hard drive in the US fails — and yours could be next. Unfortunately, many people keep working with their PCs and amassing important files without thinking about data loss — and when they do finally think about it, it’s already too late.
Having a least one backup is the first important step towards peace of mind — I don’t care if you start using a cloud storage solution or an external hard drive, but if you have never thought about backup, do me a favor, read this whole article and start thinking about your files right away.
Once upon a time I used to think like the majority of my friends did: why would I need a backup? or worse: what is backup? I had stored everything on one hard drive: photos that I took during my year abroad in Mexico, video footage of birthdays and weddings, and many other files I had been working on that were literally irreplaceable. And then one day — boom — my PC just wouldn’t start; and what was worse, I couldn’t recover my data because I didn’t have a backup. That was one of the most painful experiences of my life.
And that experience is one of the main reasons I started this website; it is meant to educate people about how important it is to have a backup copy of their files. Judging by the emails I keep getting, it seems to be working.
Josh, for example, writes:
I can’t tell you how greateful I am that I stumbled upon your website. I just saw your Backblaze video, signed up and right after my backup completed I had a terrible hard drive failure. It just cost me one click of a button to restore our holiday pictures and videos.
THAT’S why backup is important. You cannot EVER recover your digital memories once they are gone. Please, read this guide and think about your personal backup strategy for just a moment, it’ll spare you all the pain and anger I felt when I lost everything.
Business or personal backup?
First you need to ask yourself if your data is business data or personal data. Sometimes it is very hard to tell; for example, freelancers’ personal and business data often intermingles. In the end it comes down to one simple question: how much is your data worth to you? If you are a small business owner and your business depends on the data that you’ve accumulated over the years it would be a tremendous mistake if you decided to be too thrifty about your online backup.
If you use at least 50% of all those gigabytes/terabytes for business purposes, I’d highly recommend looking at business online backup solutions in addition to personal ones. They tend to be a little more expensive, but are well worth it in the long haul. Business online storage and backup solution offer special tools for monitoring your backups, in addition to the ability to create sub-accounts.
Personal files tend to have high intrinsic value for each individual that can’t hardly be measured in monetary terms. What is the footage of your son’s first steps worth to you? 100$, 1000$? You see the problem, there is no standardized figure. So you need to make sure you choose the right backup strategy for your needs.
Combining local and off-site backup
The best strategy for protecting yourself from data loss is to have multiple backups in place. As I often say: you can’t have too many backups. Even my friends laugh at me when I tell them that I have two online backups and two local backups. Obviously, you don’t have to go that far, but it is well worth the hassle in case of data loss or hard drive failure. Especially with 5TB or more data, it is important to have redundant copies of your files. But even with less files, redundant copies are still crucial.
Backing up to an external hard drive
External hard drives are a great option when you want to make a quick backup of your files. They’re also quite affordable, allowing you to get a couple terabyte of storage in exchange for very little money. Hard drives are available in capacities up to 3 TB, but I would be cautious when selecting the most recent models: there might be some reliability issues as manufacturers like throwing new devices on the market and then fixing bugs on the fly — so be careful with the newer stuff.
Getting an external hard drive is not the hardest part though. I am not going to do extensive reviews of hard drives here, since there are plenty of sites dedicated particularly to that field. But even if you don’t check those sites out, Amazon should give you a rough idea of what is popular these days. Where it gets a little more complicated is in setting up a backup routine with your external hard drive, because manually copying and pasting isn’t an option unless you never want to touch the data again.
That’s why we’ll take a look at some of the solutions available when backing up your files to a hard drive in this segment of the guide.
For the Mac: backing up your files with Time Machine
I am an avid Mac user — I only use Windows when I really have to — but in this guide I’ll cover solutions for both systems. For the Mac your hard drive backup solution is pretty obvious seeing as it’s built-in: Time Machine.
Time Machine Backup allows you to automatically backup your files to an external hard drive. In my case I use a 1TB Time Capsule that doubles as a router. But for the purposes of this guide we’ll connect up a basic external hard drive to my iMac instead.
Connecting your external hard drive
This is the most obvious step: you need to connect your hard drive to your computer in order to get your backup started. I have a 250GB hard drive that was once the internal hard drive of the Macbook Pro that I bought in late 2009. Right after I purchased it I switched to a larger 500GB HDD, and since I didn’t want to throw 250 perfectly good gigabytes away, I use the spare drive on the rare occasion that I need an external hard drive.
Getting it to the right format
If you want to get the full benefit of your Time Machine backups, you need to format your external hard with Mac’s built-in Disk Utility. Make sure you make a backup of the files on your external hard drive beforehand (he, he) and then reformat it to Mac OS Extended (Journaled) if it isn’t already.
Starting up Time Machine
In some cases, Time Machine will launch automatically after Disk Utility has finished formatting your drive. If it doesn’t, just go to system preferences -> Time Machine. Most likely it is set to “OFF” — that’s fine for now. First we want to make our backup selection: in other words, where do we want to save our backups to, and what files do we want Time Machine to backup in the first place.
Time Machine alternative for Windows: Genie Timeline
Unfortunately, there is no built-in solution for Microsoft Windows that will allow direct and continuous backup of your files to an external hard drive. So your only option is to look for additional software. In this guide we’ll take a look at Genie Timeline Home. This software does essentially the same as Time Machine in addition to a few extra gimmicks that you might be interested in. You can test the software for free, but a full version will cost you around $50.
Connecting your external hard drive
The backup process always starts with connecting your hard drive to your PC. I would highly recommend using a dedicated hard drive just for backup — I wouldn’t mix things up. For your backups, as with most things in life, staying organized is one of the best things you can do.
Genie Timeline Wizard
The good thing about Genie Timeline is that it is fairly easy to use. After the installation, their backup wizard will guide you through the setup including selecting a backup location (i.e. your external hard drive).
Choosing the files to backup
If you don’t know exactly what kind of files you want to backup, Genie Timeline does a pretty good job of pre-selecting important files for your. It’ll automatically backup pictures, videos, documents and other files it deems important. You should, however, select your most important files manually; or better yet just select your whole hard drive, which will create a disaster recovery drive with which you can restore your whole system after a crash.
Customizing your backups
Genie Timeline Home offers a few more options than Time Machine for the Mac. For example: you can schedule your backups in a more flexible way, and have the program send you email notifications for completed (or failed) backup. If your machine is slow you can also enable the game or movie mode, which will pause the backup during video playback or while playing a resource hungry computer game.
The only thing conspicuously absent from Genie Timeline is the ability to encrypt my files; at least I couldn’t find that option in the Home version. Encryption only comes with the Pro versions of the software, but personally I don’t think even “home” users should go without encryption these days.
All-in-all Genie Timeline Home seems like a solid backup suite for home users that need easy-to-use Time Machine-like backups for Windows.
Pros and cons of backing up to an external hard drive
Backing up your files to an external hard drive is very convenient, just plug in the USB cable and that’s it — at least at first glance. If you look closer it turns out that it’s not that conveniente after all.
Con: it has to be connect to your machine
If you want to backup your files, your external hard drive has to stay connected. If you have multiple machines (and especially if a few of those are portable) you’ll notice that this can get pretty difficult to do at times. Sooner or later you’ll get lazy and forget to make critical backups — and that almost always results in avoidable data loss.
Con: you cannot access it from anywhere
This relates directly to our first con: in order to access the files on an external hard drive, it has to be connected to a computer.
Con: External hard drives damage easily
Especially if you carry it around a lot, the likelihood of damaging your external drive dramatically increases. It’s much more secure to have a backup drive at a fixed location where it can sit and wait for your backup to kick in.
Pro: very affordable storage
External hard drives are pretty cheap, so “it costs too much money” or “I can’t afford it” are not acceptable excuses. If you have lots of data, buy several and you’ll be just fine.
Pro: full control over your data
You will have full control over your data and it is very easy to setup. Just plug it in and you’re ready to go. Sure, it has become pretty easy to set up a NAS these days, but it might require a little more effort to get it running exactly the way you want.
Cloud storage and backup solutions
I’ll offer you three possible solutions for backing up your data to the cloud. First, I’ll cover the more advanced solution: Amazon S3 and Arq. Arq is an Mac version of the app but the mechanism is the same for Windows apps, such as Cloudberry Backup, which I’ll cover in depth as well.
Then I’ll cover two online backup service solutions. First we’ll take a look at Backblaze, and then Crashplan. Why two online backup services? Well, I would rather give you more options: Backblaze is a great unlimited online backup service but it has a couple of downsides: it doesn’t allow seeded backups (more on that later in this article), and it could be considered “limiting” for some advanced backup users.
Finally, I’ll also cover local backup solutions for your home or office using a RAID NAS. I won’t go into detail on what a RAID is. If you’re interested, there is a great article on Ars Technica which explains it in depth. A NAS, however, is basically a set of external hard drive that are connected to your local area network so that they can be used by all of the people that have access to this network. Most NAS’ come without hard drives, so you’ll have to buy one, or several, depending on your needs.
In my case, I am using a Synology DS212+ with two 2TB hard drives in it — this gives me plenty of storage to secure all of my data and keep multiple versions. We’ll also be covering how to can backup your files to a NAS using Time Machine and a Time Capsule (however, models are only available up to 3TB).
What about Google Drive?
With the advent of Google Drive, another big player entered into the market of online storage. In this article we mainly talk about online backup. You can backup your data with Google Drive, but it isn’t very convenient as Google Drive’s primary purpose is to sync your data and collaborate with other people.
If you’re still interested in using the big G as your main backup solution, and you have huge quantities of data to store, you can opt for the 4TB plan which will cost you $199.99 per month. This is cheaper than Amazon storage and you get additional syncing features.
However, there are some privacy concerns regarding Google Drive’s TOS that might prompt second thoughts if you really want to backup and store all of your files, including the sensitive ones, with Google Drive:
Your Content in our Services: When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide licence to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes that we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.
Google Drive TOS can be found here.
This has probably been drawn up by some overzealous lawyers to prevent people from suing Google; nonetheless, the wording gives me the distinct impression that Google could do virtually anything with my data.
Backing up your data with Amazon S3
Most people know Amazon because they buy their stuff there, so when they think Amazon they think about physical goods. Amazon, however, is also one of the biggest cloud storage and IT infrastructure providers in the world. The Amazon Cloud offerings have grown substantially: from Amazon S3 to EC2, SES, SQS and the like. For our purposes we’ll focus on S3, which is a simple storage service Amazon has been offering for a couple of years now.
The good thing about Amazon S3 is that it gives you great flexibility and control over your data, you can decide to encrypt it or you can save some money by using reduced redundancy instead. Also, Amazon has fast servers, so getting your data up and downloaded will always be fast and reliable.
Many online backup service, such as JustCloud and Dropbox, use Amazon S3 as their foundation. They leverage the infrastructure and basically re-sell it to consumers by making it more accesible, since setting up Amazon S3 manually can get quite difficult. So in the end you may already be using Amazon S3 without knowing it. Other providers, such as Backblaze, use their own infrastructure, which is why they can offer unlimited storage at a cheaper rate than other providers.
This is actually one of the major downsides: Amazon storage is still expensive. Currently prices hover around $0.125/GB per month. So if you would like to backup 5TB of data to Amazon’s Server, you’ll have to pay more than $500 per month. While the high level of control and speed of access might justify the cost for business use, it’s unlikely a home user could or even should pay that amount of money. To find out more about their prices, you can use Amazon’s price calculator.
Regardless of the price, however, we’re going to cover how you can backup your data to Amazon S3, and even though we won’t be doing this with 5TB worth of data, you’ll still get a good idea of how it works. One way to use S3 is to use it as a secondary backup for your important files. Backing up 50GB of storage with Amazon S3, for example, is still quite affordable (you’d pay around $6 per month for storage) — just add a couple of cents for file transfer and PUT/GET access. You can find all of the details here.
Getting your files up
Now, we could upload our files manually to Amazon S3 via the console but this is a rather tedious process that would cost us a lot of time; plus, if we did it this way we’d also have to re-upload manually every time we change a file in our backup set. So in this article I’ll instead make use of external programs that serve as little backup helpers if you choose to go the S3 route.
For the Mac: Arq
For the Mac, I use a little program called Arq. It is not free (it’ll cost you $29) but you can test it out free for 30 days and it’s a feature rich application that suits my needs perfectly. What it does is automate the process of getting my files onto Amazon.
Backing up your files with Arq
After downloading and installing Arq, you’ll have to insert your Amazon S3 credentials. Remember, Arq does not provide storage space, you have to pay extra for storage (as mentioned above). Arq provides you with an interface though which you can manage and schedule your backups more easily. Obviously, you could upload your files manually via de Web interface, but we’ve already discussed why this would be a bad idea.
You can get your Amazon secret key and the access key by clicking on the “Retrieve AWS Keys from Amazon” button. Be sure that you never give that combination to anyone, as that would give them access to both your files and your bandwidth.
Next we’ll create our new backup set. This involves creating a folder (or “bucket” as Amazon calls it) where your data is going to be stored in an encrypted manner. Arq will encrypt your files locally and send them over a secure SSL connection to Amazon. Make sure to select the region that is nearest to you.
What follows is the most important step: creating your encryption password. Choose this password wisely as this is the ultimate key to your files. Most importantly, NEVER lose this password as you would not be able to decrypt your data without it. I recommend using a password saving program such as 1Passwords to generate secure login information.
The next step is actually quite fun as you’ll get to calculate and set your monthly budget. For $5 per month you get 40GB of storage. You can either set a maximum amount of money you’d like to spend and have Arq tell you how much storage you’ll get, or vice-versa.
The next step is also crucial: this is when you choose the files you want to back up. The standard selection is to back up your home folder, in my case that would be over 1TB — clearly too much. That’s why I choose to backup individual folders only. You can do this by using Arq’s drag and drop feature to add folders to your backup selection.
Now you’re basically done. All that’s left is to start your backup while Arq transfers your files to Amazon; the Arq Agent will run in the background to perform your programmed backup tasks. I particularly like the fact that Acq gives me a detailed overview of which files I am backing up and what the overall status is.
Customize your backups with Arq
If you’re a little more advanced and like to fiddle around with your backup settings, check out Arq’s Preferences pane where you’ll have the option to alter your backup budget, schedule your backups or change network settings (e.g. setting a bandwidth throttle if your Internet connection is slow).
All-in-all I’m quite happy with Arq. It’s proven to be very reliable and restores worked perfectly. But there is one feature I am desperately missing: continuous backup. Yes, for most people hourly backups are fine but I like my backup to kick in as soon as a file change takes place.
For Windows: CloudBerry Backup
I am an avid Mac user but sometimes I use a Windows PC as well. So I do occasionally need a backup of some critical data there as well. To do this, I use a similar program to Arq called CloudBerry Backup. Again, it is not free, but well worth the price of $29.99. In the interest of full disclosure I will say that the CloudBerry guys gave me a review copy for free, but this doesn’t affect my judgement at all.
Cloudberry Backup Plan Wizard
What I like about Cloudberry Backup is that, for one, it is very easy to use, and for another, it gives me a huge list of customization options that allow me to geek out with my backups. Be it scheduling, encryption, file exclusion or many other features, there is something for everybody. The backup wizard guides you step-by-step through the creation of your first backup.
Selecting your cloud storage service
Although we are looking primarily at Amazon S3 here, Cloudberry Backup is not limit to this service. It supports a variety of cloud storage services such as Rackspace, Azure, Google Storage and much more. So if for whatever reason you don’t feel comfortable using Amazon, there are plenty of other service providers to choose from.
Setting up your Amazon account
Just like Arq for the Mac, Cloudberry starts by asking for your AWS credentials: the Secret Key and Access Key combination. If you have already created a bucket in Amazon, you can upload your backups to this bucket or have Cloudberry create one for you. I would also suggest choosing a display name to later identify your backups more easily.
Advanced vs. simple mode
Even though I recommend using the advanced mode, some users may prefer the simple mode: if you plan on accessing your files from clients other than Cloudberry Backup, you should use the simple mode since this mode won’t encrypt your files prior to sending them to Amazon.
Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable sending my files over the Internet unencrypted (apart from SSL). But you have to decide for yourself if you’re willing to make this kind of “convenience trade-off.” You should also know that in simple mode there are no file versions created, and block level backups are only done for files larger than 5GB.
Selecting your files
Selecting your files is easy as pie. Just pick the folders you need to backup and hit the “next” button. The more interesting part comes in the following step: this step allows you to exclude certain files types or skip entire folders in your backup. Say, for example, you don’t want to backup movie files; well, you could go in and type “.mp4″ and it would exclude all files of that particular format.
Skipping folders is very useful as well, especially if you want to backup your whole machine but you have, say, a Downloads folder that you don’t want to backup. Instead of selecting everything but that folder manually, all you have to do is select everything and exclude this one folder from your backup selection — Huge time saver!
I’m a huge fan of these filters, and there’s another filter I’d like to talk about: you can exclude files that were created prior to a specific date. If you don’t need certain files to be backed because you’re done with the project, or just have those files backed up elsewhere, you can pick a date and exclude all files created or modified prior to that day.
You need to keep your data safe, and encryption is how you make your files inaccessible to third parties. Not even Amazon themselves will be able to read your data if you encrypted it on your PC prior to loading it up. That’s why I highly recommend choosing an encryption password and at least AES 128-bit encryption for your files.
But watch out: never lose your password as this would mean never being able to recover your data in case of a hard drive failure. So choose wisely and keep it somewhere safe, ideally within a password managing program such as 1Password.
You can also opt for the reduced redundancy option, which will lower the price of your storage costs by about 33%, but this translates into reduced durability for your files, meaning there are lesser file versions on different servers than with a higher redundancy.
Scheduling your backups
If you read my Arq review you know that I criticized the lack of continuous backup. Fortunately, Cloudberry Backup does offer continuous backup, so whenever a folder or file changes it gets backed up automatically. Even if my PC were to go down right now, I would still have a recent backup of my files.
If you don’t need this option you can always go ahead and edit the schedule to your hearts content, on an hourly or daily basis for example.
If you’d like to get a message after your backup is complete you can type in your email credentials and let Cloudberry send you an email with the current backup status. This feature is especially useful if you’re not at home and always want or have to be informed about the status of your files.
Monitoring and restoring your backups
Many people don’t get this so let me drive it home for you: it is not about the backup, it is about the restore. If the restore doesn’t work properly, the best backup strategy is worthless. That’s why it’s so important to perform test restores of your data once you’re fully backed up. I do this at least once a month with my most important files.
Cloudberry Backup allows you to monitor your backup sets and organize them in a dashboard from which you can monitor the backup status of your files and initiate a restore if necessary.
The restore itself is dead simple, either do a full restore or select individual files. This could come in handy if you’re working on an important project that’s due the next day and you don’t have time to restore 200GB of data. Just pick the file you’re in need of and download it to your PC.
Obviously, you will need your encryption password if you were good and set one from the start.
The nature of Cloudberry Backup is a little more complicated since you have to configure your own cloud storage server and know what files you want to backup. Especially for beginners, I would have loved to see a storage budget planner like the one Arq offers so that you can get a better idea of the price you’ll have to pay to backup your files.
The wizard makes it pretty easy to setup, but beginners could still get confused with all the options they have. Some context menus wouldn’t hurt to explain the possibilites behind the options right from within the wizard. These could potentially answer questions like: What is reduced redundancy? What is block level backup? and What does encryption mean?
All-in-all, Cloudberry Backup is a powerful backup engine with a big feature set for the serious backup guy. Combine that with fast Amazon servers and a good amount of file encryption, and your files are in pretty good shape.
Getting your files into the cloud: Unlimited online backup solutions
If you actually have 5TB of data to store, then the only viable option for you is an unlimited online backup service. Fortunately, there are quite a few providers out there that offer unlimited online backup. Not all of them, however, are truly unlimited: Carbonite throttles bandwidth considerably after a certain point, Livedrive has some reliability issues, and JustCloud would be perfect if it wasn’t for their 5GB file size limit. That’s why I’ll only be discussing two unrestricted storage cloud backup solutions — Backblaze and Crashplan.
Why look at both? Crashplan and Backblaze offer two very different approaches on how to backup your data. With Backblaze, everything is about ease-of-use, and it is certainly the easiest online backup service that I’ve come across. And while Crashplan is also very easy to use, it’s forte is that it offer more features such as free local backup to an external hard drive or even peer-to-peer backup to a friend’s machine. Crashplan also allows you to seed your backup, meaning they send you a hard drive (max. 1TB) and you return it to them chock full of your data, which could easily end up saving you several weeks.
Backblaze: my life saver
Recently, Backblaze launched the 2.0 version of their software, eliminating their 9GB file size limitation. According to my interview with Gleb Budman, they issued this limit for security reasons, because they weren’t sure they could handle such large file sizes. Turns out they can.
Fortunately for us, Backblaze’s unlimited storage plans are very affordable. If you want to pay on a monthly basis it’ll only $5 per month per machine. If you’re willing to commit for a longer period you can reduce this price all the way to $3.96.
Their pricing and plan section is a little hidden. They’re probably just trying not to confuse customers, but there is no easy way of figuring out, for example, what you’ll have to pay if you have 3 machines and want to sign up for 2-years on each to get maximum savings. To find that out, you would have to do the math yourself or register an account first. If you’re reading this article, however, you won’t have to do any of that because I’m providing you with a screenshot of the pricing structure.
Backblaze has saved my butt several times already because of their handy file-versioning feature which allows you to travel back to some point in the past and restore whatever particular version of a file or folder that you need.
One of the great things about Backblaze is that it runs really inconspicuous in the background without you noticing anything. You can even throttle your backup speed if you have a slow Internet connection.
I use Backblaze as my secondary backup solution since it has proven to be both reliable and fast. It is great to know that for the price of one caffè latte per month I can have peace of mind.
Crashplan: the backup powerhouse
Crashplan is a real backup powerhouse, and yet it remains very simple to use. The great thing is that it allows you to geek around and play with all of the little details like backup sets, CPU allocation, bandwidth throttle and backup scheduling. On the other hand, it is enough to just install the software, select the folder(s) you need backed up and you’re done. Just wait as your files a transferred into the cloud.
As I said before, the reason I mention Crashplan is that you can opt for the so-called “seeded backup.” Crashplan will send you a 1TB hard drive that you can load your data onto and send back to their offices. That way, a process that could take weeks or even month depending on your connection speed can be completed in just a couple of days.
Obviously, this comes with a price ($124.99), and unfortunately the option is only available for US customers.
As most of your know I am an advocate of multiple backups — a local backup is certainly not enough. Still, I have difficulty convincing my friends to go for at least one off-site backup solution and one on-site backup. With hard drives failing every second, it’s hard to believe how many people are sure they’re safe with just one external hard drive; let alone other calamities like house fires, floods etc.
Crashplan, too, knows how important multiple backups are — that’s why they’ve integrated a way to get them into their software, free of charge:
1. Perfrom a local backup
With Crashplan you can perform a free local backup using their software. Just select the destination and the files you need backed up.
2. Off-site peer-to-peer backup
This feature is pretty unique among online backup providers: Crashplan allows you to backup to any remote computer you have been granted access to. This peer-to-peer backup offers yet another security layer that you can make use of. Obviously, your files are fully encrypted and only you will be able to access them.
All-in-all Crashplan offers solid online storage and backup for a tiny amount of money. Just don’t ever rely on a single backup source, not even by a trusted company like Crashplan. It is always better to be safe than sorry where your data is concerned.
3. Online backup with Crashplan Central
The third option to secure your files with Crashplan is via Crashplan Central. You can opt for the 10GB plan for $1.50/month or the unlimited plan from $3.00/month. It always amazes me how cheap online storage and backup has become; it should be an investment everybody has to make. For a more detailed review check out this article.
Honestly, there is very little I miss in my day-to-day use of Crashplan. They do one thing well and that is backup. Their software is easy to customize and even beginners can get their first backup going ridiculously fast. In addition, advanced backup users will love the command line support and other geeky features to play around with.
If there is something missing I would say it is sync. If Crashplan offered file sync then it would certainly be more expensive but then there wouldn’t be any need for additional syncing services like Dropbox or Google Drive. That being said, I am a great fan of focus: it’s a lot better to offer one service and offer it well than to try doing everything and end up doing it all half-assed (as many providers do).
I have been using Crashplan for a year now, and I don’t regret a single byte I’ve transferred to that service.
Backing up your data with a NAS: your private cloud storage service
Before we dig deeper into how to set up a NAS and what it can do for you I want to talk about the differences between an external hard drive and a network attached storage device. I’ll answer questions like: when to use an external hard drive instead of a NAS, and what you have to take into consideration when backing up your files to a NAS.
Difference between and external hard drive and a NAS (Network Attached Storage)
The thing about external hard drives is that they are literally “dumb.” They don’t have a computer chip to perform complicated file management tasks, they are merely hard drives plugged into via USB and that’s it. You can only use them on one PC (unless you connect them to your router) and cannot access them remotely when you’re on vacation.
Network attached storage devices are more “intelligent,” they come with a processor and can perform more complicated tasks such as serving files to any device in your network. For example, a NAS can act as a media server for your movies or music. Also, a NAS allows you to access your files from all of your machines, making you location independent.
File sharing also becomes a breeze since you can manage user access and decide who can view/edit files or folders.
In many cases the software that comes with the NAS takes care of the backup, but you could just as easily do this using Time Machine if you’re a Mac user.
Managing files is a lot more comfortable with a NAS than with an external hard drive, lending a level of flexibility that I love, but it will require more expertise to set up.
You can even use your NAS to host your website or run an IMAP server for your email — the sky is the limit here.
My current NAS: Synology DS212+
My current model of choice is the Synology DiskStation DS212+ with two 2TB hard drives plugged into it. That gives me plenty of space for redundant backups, sharing and serving files over my network. I will not go into depth about all the features the Synology offers, but I will talk about how I use it and how I think other people could make use of it as well.
Backup of less critical data
As a freelancer I’ve worked on a lot of different projects over the years. For example, I used to dubb videos from German to Spanish, and all of those videos ran somewhere in the 300GB range. Now, I don’t do this anymore, so I barely ever need to access this data, but I cannot delete it because if my client comes and tells me: “hey, our company lost all our data,” I can say: “No problem, here are the videos I created for you over the years, at least you can have those up and running.”
I don’t want to keep wasting precious hard drive space for these kinds of files by backing them up with my Time Machine. Instead, I move them onto my Synology DiskStation and have them sit there until they’re needed (hopefully never).
Have people send me larger files
As I have also setup my NAS as a server, I can grant other people access to it. This is useful for my tutorial website where people send me video tutorials that are sometimes quite huge. The DiskStation allows me to manage user roles so that people can access specific folders only.
That way I save huge amounts of money off of online storage, because many times those services impose a limit of up to 5 users or require you to pay on a per user basis.
This way, my freelancers then can access their folders via FTP or WebDAV and upload their files without costing me any additional money.
My websites are a great part of my life. They not only make me financially independent, they’re also part of my persona. I can’t imaging how I would feel if I lost years worth of work due a server failure. That’s why I do a daily backup of all of my sites using my NAS.
I always keep the last three days backed up, which should be enough if I mess up some code or something of that nature. As you can see, I use Parallels Plesk Panel to setup a “Personal FTP Repository”:
You could use your server repository to this effect, but I always ran into the problem that it was filling up too quickly and not deleting the older backups, so over night my server would go down because it just ran out of space, costing my business hundreds of dollars.
I can only give you the options and show you how to do it; you’re the ones who need to do the backup. So if you’ve made it through this guide you should now have a thorough understanding of your options as well as their respective advantages and disadvantages.
I might be sounding like a broken record but if I’ve said it once I’ll say it a million more times: you should never rely on one single backup resource. Don’t go JUST cloud, or JUST NAS or JUST external hard drive. Never keep all of your eggs in one basket.
I really hope I could provide some value with this guide. If it helped you, please go ahead and share it on your website, your social media accounts or wherever you like, and leave me a comment letting me know. It seems obvious, but I’d love to hear your backup strategy!
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