A proper backup strategy is an important part of your security strategy. Here on VPN Creative we usually talk mostly about how to mitigate risks related to online security and Internet privacy. However, if you fall pray for hackers, virus, or force majeure, you may find yourself in a situation where you need to restore your harddrives.
In this article we will look at how to setup a proper backup plan for your entire fleet of computers and mobil devices. I’m personally running Macs and iOS devices, so this will be the main focus for this article. If you are a PC, the rules still apply, but some of the tools will be different.
The 3-2-1 Law
As the saying goes, there are two types of harddrives; the ones that have died, and the ones that will die. Backup is getting even more important as the amount of threats are ever increasing. You face more online threats and even malware has started to become a thing on Macs. You also need to protect your drives agains yourself, if you accidentally delete a file or ruin a drive. Even bad guys are targeting your backups. So a good backup can save your files. Whenever I help my friends and family, I always urge them to make sure they have a proper backup in place.
One of the best concepts of backing up is the 3-2-1 law. It means that you have three copies of your files backed up at all times. You use two different media for the backups meaning using both traditional harddrives and SSD or optical media archival solutions. And you have at least one offsite backup in place. The offsite backup is crucial if you have a break in you house or your house burns down. The 3-2-1 law is a great rule of thumb and something you should internalise and implement sooner rather than later.
All these backup systems can be setup to be running automatically in the background. In other words, you set it up and forget about it with peace at heart.
Apple’s build in option is called Time Machine and is a great place to start. Time Machine is part of the operating system and is “backup for the masses”. Since it was first introduced it has gone through many iterations and today it is solid and easy to setup. The only thing it requires is to attach an external harddrive, launch the application and turn a switch. The app will warn you if it has not backed up your computer for several days, if say you have detached the drive. The best thing is to leach the external harddrive plugged in at all time. External harddrives are relatively cheap and the amount of space you get for the money is ever increasing. You can find several great options on Amazon depending on your taste and budget. You should connect the drive directly as opposed to over the wifi for faster speeds and reliability.
An alternative solution to buying an external harddrive is to use Apple’s Time Capsule.
The Time Capsule is essentially a combined wifi router and backup harddrive in one, slick box. The Time Capsules comes in two flavours, 2TB and 3TB at $299 and $399 respectively. You connect to the Time Capsule over wifi and this gives some advantages for backing up laptops which are not always sitting at the same desk but rather moved around in your home. Using the Time Capsule is also better if you are backing up several computers, rather than having to remember to plug the external harddrive into each separate computer on a regular basis.
If you are a little more ambitions, you can use a Network Attached Storage (NAS) such as the Drobo 5N or a Synology Disk Station DS1515+. Both of these systems support Time Machine by allowing you to allocate a specific amount of space for a Time Machine partition. Time Machine will not differentiate between using a Time Capsule, a regular external harddrive or a supported NAS drive. Only difference is that the Drobo and Synology might be a little bit faster and reliable.
Time Capsule backs up your computer on an hourly basis and will let you “go back in time” to find files in specific folders that existed at a previous time. The amount of time you can go back to previous stages depends on the size of your backup drive as it will delete the oldest versions as it runs out of storage space. Another neat feature is to restore an entire computer based on the Time Machine backup. When you start a new computer it will allow you to restore from a backup saved on Time Capsule and recreate it as it was during the last backup. This feature is handy if your computer had a meltdown and you need to restore on a new one.
Time Machine is a good starting point because it costs nothing except the harddrive you’ll need, and it is easy to setup.
Time Machine is a great fundamental backup. But it should not be your only backup you have in place. The second option is the clone backup. A clone backup is complete identical copy of your entire harddrive. The two recommended apps for that are SuperDuper! and Carbon Copy Cloner. Among other features they allow you to boot your computer using the backup drive. So in a situation where your computer’s harddrive fails, you can boot the computer, hold down a key combination on the keyboard and select to start the computer using the clone backup.
Regardless of which of the two apps you choose, you can setup a automation rule to run the backup on a set schedule, for instance every night.
Offsite backup or online backups may be my favourite backup solution. I always tell my friends to have an online backup in place. The reason why offsite backup is so important is because things may happen to your home and your home computers. Your hours can burn down, bulgars can break in and steal your computers. I certainly hope this will happen to you, but to protect your data in those unpleasant situations, offsite backups are to the rescue.
The other situation where online backups are handy is for laptop computers that are often on the road and not necessarily being backed up at home on a regular basis. With an online backup solution your computer will be backed up when you are on the road or traveling. The downside to online backups is that they are not as fast as compared to backups through wires or home wifi.
My favourite solution for offsite backups is Backblaze. It’s about $5 per month in subscription fee and has unlimited backup space. It will backup your drives as long as you are connected to the Internet. It will backup all connected drives except NAS drives.
One downside is that Backblaze will exclude specific types of files and some of the system folders like Applications. So it will not make an entire clone of your drives, but it will backup your personal files.
An alternative app is CrashPlan.
Given that we use cloud services more and more, using Apple’s iCloud drive or Dropbox doesn’t constitute a backup system in itself. That being said, you can use services like Dropbox to restore lost files if they were stored there originally.
Data archiving is very different that backup. You can think of it as cold storage of files you don’t need access to on a regular basis. With data archives you can recover files that may have otherwise been lost by overwriting backups with more recent versions. One solution is called ChronoSync.
Data archives are meant to be stored for a long time. You may want to consider which media you are using for the backup. Make sure it’s a media type that will work and be supported in years to come. Regular harddrives might be the solution for now, but make sure that you review your setup on an annual schedule, so you don’t end up wanting to restore a backup from a format that is no longer supported by your computer.
You basically have two options to backup your iOS devices and you should do both. First of all is the iCloud backup. This function is build into the operating system. You simply have to turn it on in the iCloud settings on your iPhone and iPad.
The other option is to plugin your device to your computer and open iTunes, preferable with a cable. Then you can save a secure backup through iTunes and save it on your computer.
So there you have it. Remember the 3-2-1 law and make sure to setup your systems for automatic backups on daily, weekly and monthly schedules.
If you feel overwhelmed by the options, you should at least start with just one thing: Connect an external harddrive to your Mac and turn on Time Machine. That will go a long way for newbies. Once that is in place, you can delve into the more advanced options. Time Machine should only be one part of your backup plan, but is a good start.
If you have any additional ideas for secure backup solutions that I did not cover in this article, please share your thoughts in the comment section below.