I write frequently about the need to make frequent backups of any computer information. After all, you don’t want to lose what you worked so hard to create, do you? I guess I haven’t written about it in a while as a newsletter reader sent a note today asking, “How about an update on what you use for backup now??”
This is my reply:
Well, I never backup to ONE thing! Having only one backup is almost as dangerous as having none. I don’t believe in placing all my eggs in one basket. I always make at least three backups of my desktop system and store them in at least three different locations. I probably backup more than that on my laptop computers.
I back up everything on my desktop computer’s hard drive to an external hard drive that sits beside the computer. I use TimeMachine software for that, a great backup program that is included with every Macintosh. That’s the fastest backup I have and it works automatically all day and night, making backups of all new files automatically within minutes after I create them. I never have to remember to make backups as TimeMachine does all that automatically. Several other companies produce similar software for Windows.
If I need to later retrieve a file, using that full backup of everything on a hard drive attached directly to the computer will be the fastest way to restore it. It even saves all versions of all files. If I need to retrieve a file version as it existed last month or last year, I can do that within seconds using Time Machine and that external hard drive.
HOWEVER, I also know that a fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, or even a burst water pipe might damage or destroy my house, my computer, AND that hard drive that sits beside my computer. That would also destroy more than 30 years’ of genealogy work if that were my only backup copy. Storing backups only in the house is high risk. Therefore, I also make off-site backups.
I have experimented with all sorts of online backup services. I now back up all of my documents, family photos, and much more to Amazon S3 and Amazon Glacier. I like Amazon S3 but am reluctant to recommend it for others. It is quite difficult to get it set up and working if you haven’t spent your life supporting computer systems of all sorts of operating systems, as I have. However, there is an easy method of using Amazon S3 or Amazon Glacier: a piece of software simplifies the job.
Arq (pronounced “ark”) is software available for both Windows and Macintosh computers that performs backups automatically, all day and all night (if you leave your computer running). The first backup probably will take days to complete, as there will be a lot of data to be sent to Amazon’s file storage services. The exact time required depends upon the amount of data to be saved and the speed of your Internet connection. In this case, the important speed is the UPLOAD speed as you are uploading files. Most Internet providers like to quote their DOWNLOAD speeds as those are bigger numbers. However, when copying files to any remote service on the Internet, download speed is unimportant. It is UPLOAD speed that will control the file transfers.
Once the first upload is completed, subsequent backups will only require a few seconds. The software only has to transfer the new or changed files, not everything. Assuming backups are being made hourly, these incremental backups should not last more than a few seconds each. Most users won’t even know when the backups occur.
If you need to restore a file, Arq or any other good backup product will not only allow you to retrieve the current version of a file. It will also restore previous versions! This is very useful if you make an error on a document and don’t discover the error until a week or two later, perhaps after updating the file many more times. Arq, or any other good backup product, will allow you to retrieve the file as it existed two weeks ago or two months oagp or even two years ago.
Arq is available for Macintosh and Windows computers and will back up whatever files you speify to Amazon S3, Amazon Glacier, Google Drive, Google Cloud Storage (including “Nearline”), Dropbox, OneDrive account, your own SFTP server, or a folder on your own network attached server.
You can learn more about Arq at https://www.arqbackup.com/.
I haven’t used it myself but I am told that Cloudberry is a similar program although it is only available for Windows. You can find more information about Cloudberry at https://www.cloudberrylab.com/.
Finally, I still do not trust any one online file storage service, not even Amazon S3. Any company might go bankrupt tomorrow or be bought out by another company that isn’t interested in the file storage service. While highly unlikely in a cloud storage service, it is still theoretically possible that a combination of hardware and software failures in that service’s data centers might mean the loss of your data.
The solution to this is simple: Use two or even more online file services. They won’t all disappear at the same time! The loss of data on any one service should be a minor inconvenience if you have multiple backups. Such a loss should never be a catastrophe.
I use a second online file storage in addition to Amazon S3 and Arq. The service is located overseas, in a country that prohibits release of private data to anyone, not even to the country’s own government. All data being stored is first encrypted in my own computer, then sent to the file service’s servers overseas. The encryption is so good that the employees of the file storage service cannot read my files. In fact, they cannot even see that NAMES of my files nor can they see how big any file is.
Of course, there are still other solutions. While I don’t use these myself, I still will recommend Mozy or BackBlaze or CrashPlan or Carbonite or any of the other dozen or so online backup services. They are easier to set up than is Amazon S3 or Amazon Glacier although they cost more than Amazon S3 and a lot more than Amazon Glacier.
Next, I make copies of all my documents to my off-shore file storage service. If privacy and encryption wasn’t so important to me, I might use Dropbox or Google Drive or a similar service. Many file storage services, including Dropbox, Google Drive, and others (but not all of them) will automatically copy files to and from the desktop computer, as well as to and from the laptops. The same files also become available on request in the handheld cell phone, and any other place I specify. When I turn the laptop on, all my new Dropbox, Google Drive, or other services files are immediately copied to the laptop and are available there within a minute or two; I never have to manually copy them. I stopped using the /Documents folder on my hard drive (Windows used to call it \My Documents.) Instead, I can move all those files from /Documents to /Dropbox and all new documents I create can now be saved in /Dropbox. The /Documents folders on my computers are empty.
My 20,000+ .mp3 music files are on my computer’s hard drive and also are backed up on the external hard drive beside the computer as well as copied onto an iPod music player and to a hard drive attached to the hi-fi in the living room.
I often copy various files to flash drives which I keep in my backpack/briefcase although that’s a manual process and I don’t keep everything there. Just my Powerpoint presentations, all my genealogy data, a lot of recent photographs I have taken, and a few other things that I might need at any time when I meet a friend or relative.
For instance, I took several dozen pictures and videos recently at a party celebrating a relative’s high school graduation. While those are already backed up on my external hard drive and on Amazon Glacier and in the off-shore service, I also keep copies on flash drives in my pocket or backpack. If I meet another relative who would like copies of everything, I can quickly insert the flash drive into his or her computer and copy the several gigabytes of files over. (Those videos are large!) That’s easier and cheaper than using CD-ROM disks and it works as additional backups for me.
So, yeah, I think I am backed up. But I change backup procedures frequently as I experiment with new things. My only rule is: “You can never have too many backups!”