Cloudy with a chance of backups


Ah, personal digital data backup. The technology equivalent of home contents insurance. Pretty boring stuff - boring, that is, until your house burns down, destroying your valuable collection of Barry Manilow LPs, your precious bee keeping magazines, and that photo taken only seconds after you shot JFK from the grassy knoll. (I didn't even know what a knoll was until JFK was assassinated, let alone a grassy one, but I digress).

I spend waaay too much time thinking about data backups. I have written before about the delight I take in a complex network diagram. Around this time of the year, as the nights draw in and the snow begins to fall, there's nothing I enjoy more than gathering the family in front of the fireplace with a marker pen and whiteboard, planning our digital backup strategy for the year ahead.

"This year", I began, "will be all about storage in the cloud". The look of glee on the childrens' faces - it was as though Santa Claus himself would be keeping their data safe and secure!

So without further ado, here's how backups will happen in MrCeri's world for the foreseeable future:


  • CrashPlan has its own desktop app. Most of the other backups are automated using robocopy in Windows batch scripts. A couple of the backups (such as offsite) are manual.

  • Anything vaguely sensitive is stored within TrueCrypt containers (including stuff backed up to the cloud).

  • Backups are worthless without a reliable restore process - one of the advantages of this plan is that photos and music are primarily viewed from the NAS drive, which handily verifies these backups. Validation of the other backups is carried out manually (and not all that often).

  • Remember the Milk seems somewhat superfluous considering I also use GMail (which has GTasks built in) and Evernote (which has good check list support), though it does sync nicely with my phone. I'll probably ditch it soon.

  • The sharp-eyed reader will notice that films are not being backed up. This is because the files are huge, and I wouldn't lose much sleep if they were lost.

  • I evaluated a number of cloud backup services, and eventually chose CrashPlan based on cost and unlimited storage. However, any cloud backup service is hampered by the sheer amount of time it takes to upload the initial backup set, and the corresponding amount of time needed to download any future restores. It will take many months to upload my initial backup set (I'm throttling the bandwidth used by the service to avoid antagonising my ISP!). I don't expect to access my CrashPlan files often - I see it simply as an insurance policy against a complete disaster (e.g. my house burning down or all my computer hardware getting wiped out by an EMP attack).

  • Much as I love a complex backup diagram, I am already planning to simplify this process by using just the one portable USB drive.