Managing and backing up files across several home computers
March 3, 2014 11:01 AM   Subscribe

What are your tools and best practices for managing your digital stuff across several computers at home?

I've accumulated a desktop (Windows XP) and two laptops (Ubuntu and Windows 7), alongside smartphones and such. Conceptually, very little of my digital stuff is computer-specific, but right now it tends to live on individual machines or is copied haphazardly. There's also a few things on Google Drive. I have an external hard drive ostensibly for backups, which I don't use very much probably because I don't have any kind of non-manual backup system set up.

I'd like to set something up to facilitate saner file and media organization and access between my computers, and so I can do regular backups. Bonus points if it also helps with sharing with my partner's computers, and with TV set-top boxes for whenever I get around to figuring out that business.
posted by parudox to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I manually backup MP3s and photos to Amazon S3. I don't acquire that many of either so it's no big deal to copy them up to Amazon anytime I buy a new album. Since I buy from Amazon and the Ubuntu music store mostly I also have the auto back ups to their respective cloud services. However, I like having everything in one place where I have control. I'm paying about $4 a month for the 80GB or so that I have on S3.

My documents directory is synced with Ubuntu One automatically. I'm still under the 5 GB free threshold there - but barely. I'm going to need to prune the directory or pay up for more storage with Ubuntu soon.
posted by COD at 11:28 AM on March 3, 2014

I should have added that I keep the music and photos on a shared drive so any computer in the house can access them (We have at least 8 counting tablets.) Then each desktop or laptop is synced to its own Ubuntu One account for document backup.
posted by COD at 11:38 AM on March 3, 2014

Amazon S3 is an excellent choice but you do need to software to interface with it such as Jungle Disk.
Pros: a world-class backup solution. Cons: You will need to manage two accounts your S3 and your Jungle Disk account.

Another, prehaps easier option is Crashplan.
posted by jacobean at 11:40 AM on March 3, 2014

If you only need to back up select directories, Box or Dropbox? Both are super hassle-free.

But yeah, if you're backing up whole hardrives and such, Amazon S3 is way cheaper.
posted by jng at 11:48 AM on March 3, 2014

Sorry, I mis-read the question! :)
posted by Quisp Lover at 12:27 PM on March 3, 2014

I don't have any kind of non-manual backup system set up

SyncToy has worked well for me. You can set up different tasks that sync sets of folders, use filters if you want and it has options of how to sync (copy all data to both, copy all data from one to the other are two examples, there is a third that includes deleting files that are not on both, I think.)

If you set it up this way with the external HD as the official backup location, then each machine could be set to copy all of its media to the HD on a regular basis. One machine could even host a regular transfer from the HD to the other boxes if it has permission to both. This is for keeping your files in sync, not for backing them up. Having more than one copy is a good start, but offsite backup is preferable.
posted by soelo at 12:59 PM on March 3, 2014

For things that I only need when I'm (mostly) online, Google Drive / Box / Dropbox, etc.

For things that I want to have a real physical presence (mirrored) on every machine, SpiderOak synced folders. If you don't require secure zero-knowledge cloud storage, other cloud sync providers can do this, too.

(Of course, you can then use your cloud sync provider as backup storage, too.)
posted by introp at 1:06 PM on March 3, 2014

In my opinion this is an unsolved problem. Particularly if you want to sync computers that are not all on the same fast home network. (Ie: a machine in a different city, etc.)

For your specific use case, the #1 thing you can do is get an SMB file server for your media files. That will take care of the Ubuntu and Windows machines. There are various appliances out there that do this, but I prefer a full standalone Linux server running Samba so I can run other stuff on it too. You can built it for $200 plus the cost of the hard drives, or even less if you scrounge up used hardware. This will also take care of TV set-top playback, with a video server on the Linux box and cheap video clients near the TVs. I am very fond of using Plex for this, there are other options.

This solution doesn't help with your smartphones. It really depends on what data you want to access on the phones. Dropbox is fine for occasional access to documents. In a pinch you can use it for media too, but it's not great at that. (Plex is also good for video on the phones, but not so much audio.)

Other tools to have in your toolbox, if you feel hackerish, are rsync, rsnapshot, and unison. These all help synchronize files and make backups in various ways. They also require a fair amount of fiddling to do anything useful; if the docs for them scare you off, Dropbox is probably the product for you.
posted by Nelson at 3:35 PM on March 3, 2014

I have the following setup to manage a couple of laptops, as well as servers:

A Synology NAS (DS212J) as a central media repository (videos, mp3's, books, photos). It also runs Crashplan so handles backups from our laptops, and some servers. It has 2 drives that are mirrored, in case one fails.

A Crashplan central subscription (in case the house burns down) to have the same backups in the cloud. I don't backup video files, but do backup all other media, documents, and user profiles.

My phones sync with my PC into a folder which is backed up with the rest of my data.

One laptop accesses the media (music, photos) remotely on the NAS drive as a networked drive. I prefer to keep a copy on my laptop so that I have it when I travel. I use FreeFileSync to sync my local machine with the NAS drive every once in a while.

I also run Crashplan on the servers that I manage (Linux and Windows), which goes to a combination of Crashplan Central, and the NAS drive, as appropriate.

Remember to test your backups - don't wait for a crash to test the restore process!
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 4:19 PM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here are a couple of things to ponder -

One convenient way to go about this would be to simply have one machine holding all your data, and all other machines accessing data from there. That basically is the "home server" option, but most people will be put off when they hear the word "server" and immediately think it requires big machines with superb cooling etc. No, even an old laptop will do.

The only downside to this is that the one machine that houses your data needs to be on every single time you need access to any data.

There are lots of resources on the internet to help with this.

Here are some ideas to bounce of off ---
Dedicate your desktop to "storage". Put everything on there.

Enable sharing. Access it from other machines using \\ip_address_of_desktop\shared_drive (or if you are using default shares you can actually do \\ip_address_of_desktop\c$ for C:\ drive etc).

Access that from cell phones using apps that let you access shared drives (most file explorer type apps do that)

Finally, for files you change on a regular basis use Dropbox. Easy and simple.

As a last step, see if you can separate "backup" from "duplication". You avoid duplication by keeping everything in one place (or using Dropbox to avoid duplication). For backup, use the desktop to backup to an online service, or perhaps to an external hard disk that you plug in every once a while etc etc.

If you have any questions, go ahead and post it, I can try and answer a few.
posted by harisund at 6:28 PM on March 3, 2014

Unison is essentially a cross-platform SyncToy. Works well. Should be available via the usual package installation process on Ubuntu; on Windows you'll need to download and run its installer.
posted by flabdablet at 9:44 AM on March 4, 2014

Here's what I'd do in your situation.

1. Keep all of your documents and stuff on your current music server.

2. Set of Dropbox or equivalent to sync certain files that you need locally on any computers (which you really should only need on portables that you take out of the house).

3. Sign up for Backblaze which is a great backup solution. They have a $50 unlimited backup space deal.

4. Plug in a USB drive to which you can back up your server to

Here's what I do:

1. Server that is my DVR, file server, etc

2. Backed up by Backblaze and a Synology NAS

3. The NAS also runs Time Machine backups for our MacBook Airs

4. I've signed up for iTunes Match to both backup my music and give me access to it from anywhere.
posted by reddot at 7:29 AM on March 8, 2014

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