January 23, 2009
Data Backup, Time Capsule
One thing I’ve never been that great about is my data backup procedures. For the last few years my backup procedure was to burn a CD-ROM or two every week of certain directories on my hard disk. Really important files would get put on a USB stick or copied to a USB drive daily to be carried around with me as a method for porting to other computers. All good in theory, but it had the teensy flaw that I’d often forget to burn the discs and the USB sticks and drives tend to get beat around a bit when I carry them with me. I’m also a bit wary that I’ve never had to test my backup CD-ROMs to find something old.
This year, I’m ramping up a notch in my efforts for proper backup. Today I set up a 500GB Apple Time Capsule (an Xmas gift) to work with Time Machine. It’s pretty straightforward to set up, which I like: less chance of me screwing things up. Example why this is important: I ruined the first two attempts to do the first full backup due to me curiously poking around with the settings while it was running.
The Time Capsule seems to run pretty well. It’s nice and quiet, although it does put off a lot of heat. For a little while today I was storing it in the foot space under a chest of drawers, but I was worried about the ventilation in such an enclosed space and on carpet. While it did have at least five centimetres of space on every side save the bottom, I moved it to a spare bookcase shelf instead. I’m not sure if I’m being a bit paranoid there, but it’s no good having a backup solution if it goes up and dies on you prematurely.
Time Machine seems to be good as a just-run-and-let-it-go backup service. I really should have been using it earlier, but my USB HD was a bit small and conked out on me around the same time I got the iMac and I never got a replacement. Now I’ve got backups of the entire hard disk every hour. I’ve still got to figure out which directories I need to exclude from the backups - there’s no point backing up temporary directories that change all the time - but that’s not urgent.
Now I’ve got an external hard disk and a regular backup system, I’m not sure what to supplement this with. The Time Capsule on its own isn’t sufficient, as in the case of damage or theft in my office both the computer and the Capsule are likely to be damaged. The Capsule is great for on-site backup, but I’m going to need an off-site backup too.
I could pay for one of those internet backup services, but I’m not sure that’s best for me. My internet connection is pretty darn slow and expensive by world standards.
Alternatively, I could get a couple of USB HDs and either regularly mirror the Time Capsule or do manual backups. Then I can keep one in an off-site location and swap it every now and again. That’s not too bad an approach, although it does mean buying at least two 500GB USB HDs, manually doing the backups and storing them somewhere that isn’t here. There’s also the possibility that Time Machine might mangle the backups without detecting the problem; it’s not much use having multiple copies of corrupted backups. Manual backups instead of mirroring could fix this.
Or I could stick to burning CD-ROMs. It’s not that expensive to burn a CD or two every week, and it’s easier to store them off-site nearly anywhere. Plus I’ll have a different method of backup in case one method goes awry. The downside is that I have to remember to do it, the directory structure needs to be set up in such a way that important files are all together, and there’s a limited amount of data that can fit on one disk (although I can go to DVD to help fix that issue).
And of course, I could do multiple of these. However there’s a downside to tying up the backup procedure with too much bureaucracy; I could end up just avoiding doing any of it. That’s why I wanted the Time Capsule in the first place.
I’m still mulling this one over. The logical part of my brain says the USB HD thing makes sense, as if the Time Capsule conks out then I’ll have a perfect mirror image with which to create it. And my gut feeling is to at least burn a CD-ROM every month or so in case something horrible goes wrong with the whole system.
I’d like to read what techniques you use for backing up your important data. Is there some nice techniques I’ve overlooked?