Backups are essential both on a personal level and perhaps even more within a business context. My work and play are fairly intertwined, so for the purposes of backups I can’t really distinguish the two. What I will explain in this post can be used by someone to backup personal data but will also be useful to freelancers and small business owners.
There are some basic principles with regard to backups, and you should be aware of them.
- 3 copies of anything you care about – Two isn’t enough if it’s important.
- 2 different formats – Example: Dropbox+DVDs or Hard Drive+Memory Stick or CD+BackBlaze, or more
- 1 off-site backup – If the house burns down, how will you get your memories back?
I used to have an Apple Time Capsule where I backed up all my Apple laptops and iMac automatically (including attached drives). I’ve since gotten rid of the Time Capsule and purchased a Synology DiskStation DS916+ which gives me more flexibility. The Time Capsule had really become too small for my needs at 2TB. The new Time Capsules have a max of 3TB hard drive space, which is still quite tight for my needs.
The Time Capsule also functioned very well as a wifi router, so I had to get another router instead, but that’s a minor inconvenience as they are quite cheap anyway.
The other benefit of having the Diskstation is that I use it for streaming video via the Plex app and then accessing media from any device around the apartment. It’s like having my own private Netflix. I also set up other things like Gmail and Trello backups as well as video surveillance in my apartment. You can read about all this in my dedicated post about backing up with a Synology Diskstation.
I had also considered the Drobo 5n, but after watching the video below and asking some friends for their experiences, I decided on the Synology system.
Another important benefit of using a Diskstation over the Time Capsule is that you can use RAID for better peace of mind. If a drive fails, the files are not lost, you just have to buy another similar drive and replace the dead one. The Diskstation will then take care of setting up the new drive and adding it to your storage.
Of course, if I would be still traveling frequently and changing apartments, the Synology setup would not be practical as it involves more hardware. Traveling with the Time Capsule is manageable, at least with the older version (A1409) that I had.
For off-site backups I used to use Backblaze but I’ve stopped using that as it was quite slow backing up from Europe and consumed resources on my devices. Plus I was never 100% convinced that at any point in time the backups would work.
I also have two external drives which I use for photos. I don’t keep any photos on the Macbook; instead, I transfer them all to one of these external drives, then mirror that drive to the second one. So in the case of photos, I have two copies of them on my external drives, another copy in the on the DiskStation, and another manual copy that I keep in another country (I move between two countries quite frequently).
Photos and videos are very important to me and hence why I have 4 copies at any point in time. The drive that is kept in another country is an absolute last resort and is only updated a few times a year, so in that scenario, I would still lose a few months’ worth of photos and videos, which is not ideal. All copies are encrypted.
You will have noticed that this system is not completely automated. It is, unfortunately, impossible to automate it completely because some devices such as my cameras (Sony RX100, GoPro, Mavic Air) don’t have the functionality to connect to the internet and take backups on their own. That means that I have to manually connect them to my laptop and transfer the photos to my external drive. When I’m on holiday I try to do that every day. During the rest of the year, I do this once a week and only if I used those cameras during that week.
Apart from files on my computers and external drives, I use Evernote and Day One extensively. Time machine backup of Mac includes both local and synced notebooks (at the time when the backup was made). If you would like to generate a manual backup of your notes, what I can recommend you is to back up your notes as .ENEX file instead. You can read the help article about How to Backup and Restore Notes.
Day One keeps in sync across all devices using Day One Sync, and so that creates an automatic backup in the cloud of your notes. The Day One app on the Mac also keeps a local backup, which is itself included in the Time Machine backup.
If anyone has set up something similar, I’d love to have your thoughts.
Tonya Rose says
Very nice and informative guide. When it comes to backup, I am personally all for cloud backup, because natural disasters you are mentioning can happen, and neither your computer nor an external hard drive can survive that. I don’t see any reason why someone wouldn’t use the cloud as a backup solution.
When I started implementing a proper backup arrangement, I made sure to restructure the way I organised the files on my computer to speed up the whole process.
Everything I work on I put in folders categorised by year. Once the year is over I make a permanent read-only backup of the folder (Disk, HDD). I then copy everything I’m still working on into the upcoming years folder.
I don’t deal with terabytes of data so Its usually enough for me to put the current years folder of work on iCloud storage for backup.
This process has been very helpful going back looking at 10 years of archives and having everything well structured for easy access.
In addition to the yearly physical backups I make, I have a NAS device backing up my computer using time machine. Networked storage is a bit quicker than trying to constantly download from online storage.
Most commercial NAS machines you can configure their settings to backup the device to an external cloud storage provider (or another NAS) for extra protection.
Thanks for the feedback Peter, that’s a nice way of organizing things.
Daniel Parascandalo says
Thanks for sharing your views Jean, just did some backup reconfiguration during the holidays coincidentally – introduced some proper off-sites backups giving me 3 copies of each as you rightly suggest 🙂
I strongly encourage the NAS route you’re considering, I’ve been using a Synology DS213j for the past 4 years and the flexibility and automation it gives is priceless (it was the entry level option Synology offered back then). Currently have timemachine setup to back up on a virtual drive on the DS213j. This automatically backs up my macbook which only contains what I consider “active” files (i.e. stuff i’m working on or that are works in progess). I then have a number of other virtual drives on the NAS where I archive work and personal files (like photos, videos etc..). All these virtual drives are then automatically backed to an external hard drive connected to the NAS. This backup is scheduled to run daily early in the morning (I could have opted for RAID mirroring, but I had an extra external hard drive handy, so I didn’t buy another internal HDD which would be needed to complete the RAID setup). Then finally the virtual drives (incl. the timemachine backup virtual dirve) are automatically synced between the NAS and Amazon Cloud Drive (data is encrypted during the syncing process so none of it is accessible directly from the cloud). The only manual process in this is moving “active” projects on my macbook to “archived” on my NAS.
Besides backup functionality it’s great to have access to data from all devices on your own local “private cloud” via the NAS + there are many apps you can install on the NAS for downloads, VPN, iPcameras, DynDNS/NopIP refreshing etc.. in the case of the download app – downloads can be set to automatically download as soon as they’re released via RSS feed for example – love that automation. There are a number of mobile apps for ios and android that allow you to control / interact with the synology NAS too – so you don’t need to use the WebOS when working on mobile.
Jean Galea says
Thanks for sharing your setup Daniel. How much does it cost you for storage on Amazon and how much storage are you getting there?
Daniel Parascandalo says
$60/year for unlimited storage – didn’t really believe it’s unlimited but checked the T&Cs and didn’t seem to find a catch regarding the limit itself – however they do leave some clauses open ended, so i’m not sure if at some point they’ll complain, when for example hitting a specific threshold (still uploading as we speak as I throttled the upload rate for the task so that it doesn’t kill my internet for 3 weeks hehe – takes some time to upload TB of data with local upload speeds 🙂
Daniel Parascandalo says
will let you know if I run into any trouble