My Backup Routine

I'm offering up my backup routine to provide you some ideas and to get feedback on possible holes.

I want my backup to protect against:
  1. Accidental or mistaken changes or deletions of files or data. I.e., losing address book entries, deleting files I don't think I'll need, but wish I had a week later - that sort of thing.
  2. Hardware failure. The only hard drive I've had fail on me, in recent memory was when I worked at PowerSchool. That hard drive failure was concurrent with a blip in their backup process and I lost about three months worth of work. Hardware can fail and it won't happen at a cosmically convenient time. 
  3. Theft, fire or natural disaster at home, which is where my data lives.
What didn't work.
Mozy. Mozy is a service that backs up your data over the internet and stores it on their servers.  I used their free version (2 gig limit) for months and it was great. I tested a few restores and it worked just fine with that 'limited' data set.
Then I upgraded to their "home" package to get unlimited backup and it went to hell. There were two problems. The first, during the big initial backup, my computer and net access ground to a halt. All resources were taken over by Mozy. I worked around that by scheduling the backups at night, but there wasn't an easy way to automate that.  Mozy would essentially have to start over each night and figure out where it left off. It took weeks to do that. The time investment is to be expected, I don't blame Mozy for that, but it needs to run better in the background - it needs to be more invisible.
But the 2nd problem was it would get stuck on a file and just freeze. That is, if it couldn't move a file, for whatever reason, it didn't log that and move on, it stalled.  
I haven't cancelled the account, because there is some data up there and I'm paid through the year. Mozy has updated their software a couple of times since I gave up on it; I may try again. (My last effort was with their version 1.6x. If you're reading this after that version, your experience may be better. Or worse.)

What is working.

Time Machine.  Built-in back up for the Mac. It backs up hourly and snapshots your data daily, and weekly for as long as you have room on your backup drive. When you run out of space it deletes the oldest backup to make room. There are only two configuration options. On/Off and you can exclude files from back up. It's fairly transparent.  In my home environment the hourly disk grinding can be distracting especially if I'm already having a hard time focusing. Being somewhat geek-like, I wish I had more control. If I did, I'd schedule daily, rather than hourly backups and I'd like to be able to manage some of my larger files manually. (i.e., this huge 10 gig data file (VMWare, ahem) need only be backed up monthly, not every time it changes. Overall, Time Machine handles the first and second case pretty well.

DropBox.  DropBox is another internet solution. Like Mozy, you're limited to 2 gig of storage for the free account. And it's not really designed to be a backup solution so much as a file sharing solution. Not in the 'rip off music' file sharing old days. But in the 'here's yet another way to share photos, etc. with your friends' way.  But what's really cool about DropBox is that you can use it to  synchronize data with multiple computers.
You designate a folder (or accept the default) to be your 'dropbox'. After that, anything in the folder is automatically copied to the DropBox servers. If you install their software and login from a different computer, then anything that you've put in the first computer's dropbox folder is copied to the 2nd computer. Anything you put in the 2nd computer's dropbox folder is synchronized with the first computer.  Very cool.
I use DropBox to back up my active client projects. Using a trick to synchronize data outside the drop box folder I'm able to maintain my preferred file organization. 
Dropbox provides protection against hardware failure and theft or fire. If you're interested and sign up by clicking this link, I'll get some extra free space.

Mom. Mozy was supposed to be my complete off-site protection in case of theft or fire. When that didn't work out I switched to plan B. Mom. In this scenario, I purchased two small external hard drives and did a complete backup of my computer to a drive and take it to mom's. A month later, I back up to the 2nd drive, take it to mom's and bring the first one home. Wash, rinse and repeat. I use the Western Digital portable drives and Carbon Copy Cloner to do the backup. This is the theft and fire protection. Not the best because I'm up to a month out of date on things. But I've designated the most important things to be backed up by DropBox, so I'm not out of business if it does happen. Of course, if California falls into the ocean, like the mystics and statistics say it will, having a back up at Mom's won't help. But, at that point, I probably don't care.
4 responses
I tried Mozy too, with the same conclusion. Restoring would take even longer than backups, so I've decided on a more limited use online backups. I use JungleDisk (which uses Amazon's S3 service) for photos, and stuff that's valuable and changes often. At the end of the year, I burn DVDs of the year's photos and remove that content from what's being backed up. I also use Time Machine, but It's giving my MacBook Pro kernel panics right now. It works fine on my iMac, so I'm not sure what's going on. Perhaps a bad plist file on the MBP.
Hi Doug; kernel panics with Time Machine? Yikes. I'm sure you've done the drill, but the first that came to mind was .... I'm not sure. :-)
First of all, there's no way to protect against accidentally deleting a file and then needing it a week later. If you find a way to successfully back up all your data, you haven't deleted it, so the gods of necessity won't allow them to be needed. Only if the files are really and truly gone will they ever be needed again.

Second, you need to visit your mom more often.

I'll let mom know you said so...