In response to a call for opinions on NAS devices by Dan Wilson, O?uz Demirkapi and I exchanged a few tweets regarding RAID and backups and how we each use them to try to ensure we don’t experience any data loss. It’s hard to explain this type of setup in 140 character chunks, so I thought I’d do a quick post outlining my current setup and what I want to do to tweak it in the near future.

Our house is a total Mac household. I have a 17″ Macbook Pro, my wife has a black Mackbook, the twins each have a white Macbook and we have a Mac Mini that sits in a room in the basement and serves as a “server” for the house–iTunes and Calibre servers plus DVR functions with an Elgato EyeTV 250 Plus. The mini streams iTunes content to all the above-mentioned computers plus two AppleTV units.

For file storage, I have an original-model Drobo hooked to the Mac Mini. We store everything from files used in our business, the iTunes media library, the Calibre eBook library, the centralized iPhoto library and more on there.

Current Backup Components

  1. Hourly backups: Each of our computers has Time Machine configured to do hourly backups to a 1TB Time Capsule
  2. Nightly backups: I’ve installed the Mac client for the Mozy online backup service on the Mac Mini. Each night it backs up anything on the attached Drobo that has changed except for music and movie files. This ensures that our business files, photos and other files get backed up daily as they change. I originally had the movies and music set to back up there too, but it took entirely too long through the limited upload speed of my cable modem for large HD movies to get backed up
  3. Monthly backups: I keep a Western Digital MyBook that has two 500GB hard drives (configured to be a total of 1TB) in a safety deposit box at our local bank. About once per month, we bring that drive home, sync all the data on the Drobo to it and return it to the safety deposit box. This ensures that there is at least a relatively recent copy of the media files stored somewhere outside my house in the event of a disaster

Holes in my setup
Eventually, I’d like to move the Time Machine backup targets to point to a partition on the Drobo. It has 4 drive bays that can each handle 4TB SATA drives (when those become available) so it potentially has the capacity to do everything it’s doing now plus store what we’re putting on the Time Capsule. Doing that would give me redundancy for the backups that Time Machine creates unlike using the single drive in the Time Capsule today.

Additionally, the 1TB MyBook drive is, at some point, going to be insufficient to mirror the contents of the Drobo. I’ve been thinking about what to do when that happens. I’m considering purchasing another Drobo unit, mirroring the files from my current Drobo onto it, and placing it on the network at my brother’s house (which is about 150 miles from me). I could then use CrashPlan to mirror any changes to that remote Drobo. That would let me remove the Mozy subscription while keeping a complete set of files outside the house.

I realize this is not the most comprehensive backup strategy known to man, but I think it balances automatic, hands-off backup with off-site redundant storage to recover in the event of a disaster.

I’m also sure there are other great ideas out there and I’d love to hear how you folks solve this problem for yourselves.

5 thoughts on “Conversation on backup strategies

  1. Like I mentioned in the article, there are some shortcomings that need to be addressed and tweaks to be made, but it’s really fairly robust for a family/home-based business. I once lost 5 years of digital photos before learning that RAID arrays are not a replacement for backups and I never want to get that look from my wife again that I got when I told her about losing those photos.

    Storing a mirror off-site somewhere is important for everyone I think, but especially so where I live in the Southeast US where we get all sorts of severe weather in addition to the normal things that can go wrong and ruin your onsite backups.

  2. You may also want to consider archiving some files. Typically there are large files which are seldom accessed which start cluttering up hard drives and making backup deal with more data than it needs to.

    I had this problem with my dv files from my digital video camera. Precious video I didn’t want to lose, but a pain to keep up with on hard drives.

    I wrote an application, ArchiveMac which allows me to burn large files to DVD. It spans large files across as many discs as necessary.

    Otherwise I have a similar setup. I use Time Machine (a life saver!), and Mozy for business stuff. But for critical pictures and video, I burn them to DVD and give copies to relatives for the safety of a second location.

  3. @David – Thanks for the info on ArchiveMac–I’ll definitely go check it out and see if it’s pertinent to my setup. One of the criteria that I have though is that there be as little manual intervention required as possible. Time Machine and Mozy obviously are pretty much “hands-off”. My current setup only has a monthly manual process of retrieving the MyBook from the bank, syncing and returning it to the bank. If it’s something I have to remember to do in order for it to work, I’ll likely forget it, so I like to automate as much as I can.

  4. I also use Mozy (backing up 200GB), and Acronis for local backups.

    In addition to having my local copy of photos, plus local backup, plus Mozy backup, I also upload them all to Picasa / Google. I pay a little bit, but it’s worth that peace of mind. My photos are the one thing I really don’t want to lose!

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