Best backup solution 2014
May 6, 2014 12:57 PM   Subscribe

I've always backed my files on CDs and DVDs, but a few years back I decided to go for external hard disks because they seemed more practical. I would love to get SSD external hard disks, but they are very expensive. I'm currently looking at cloud-based backup solutions but I don't really know where to find something of quality that is private and relatively cheap. Any ideas?

I once read that there's a big chance that external HDDs can fail on you, especially if you leave them unpowered for long durations, so I always make sure I connect them at least once a month. Most of my work archive is on these external hard disks (most of which are Seagate). I read that SSDs are amazing for these types of back-ups because they seldom or never fail as opposed to regular electromechanical magnetic HDDs, but they are very expensive for the kind of storage space I'm looking for (around 1.5-2TBs). Cloud-based solutions more attractive, but I have privacy concerns. If I can find something secure, private, safe, and relatively cheap, it would be great.
posted by omar.a to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Why not use an always-running RAID NAS? HDDs can definitely fail on you (like light bulbs, someone once told me, as in you never know when one's just going to -pop-). With RAID, you could just replace the (hopefully just) one drive that failed, and no data would be lost, because the other drive(s) would have a full copy. SSD is too expensive at the capacity that you're looking for - it'd be cheaper to buy multiple redundant HDDs.

Also, to be fully safe, it'd probably be a good idea to either schedule a backup to the cloud IN ADDITION TO the above local backup, or to just rotate to another NAS, keeping the original in another location.
posted by destructive cactus at 1:02 PM on May 6, 2014

I've been very satisfied with CrashPlan Pro's cloud solution for our small office. It's $9/mo for each device and I think they have a non-pro option that is even less money.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 1:06 PM on May 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Backblaze. $5/month. (one review) In terms of privacy, here is how it works. Add your own passphrase for added security.

(FWIW, I also do local backups to an external HD, primarily for convenience, but I rest far, far easier knowing that I also always have a backup in the cloud)
posted by misterbrandt at 1:14 PM on May 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Everyone i know who does art/music/design stuff and really doesn't want to lose anything uses dropbox or backblaze, but mostly dropbox.

I, like you have a lot of files on several external drives and have just been procrastinating on actually buying backblaze service.

You handle the local backup, and it doesn't have to be super redundant. Let them handle the seriously redundant offsite backup. I make two local backups to two separate drives, one at home and one in my office.

I once read that there's a big chance that external HDDs can fail on you, especially if you leave them unpowered for long durations

This was true in like... the early 90s. It isn't true anymore, an unpowered hard drive is the best state it can be in. It's true that lots of spin ups will wear it faster, but only very occasionally using it is well, only very occasionally using it. stuff like this doesn't exist anymore.

If you're really concerned buy enterprise grade drives like seagate constellation, or WD RED type stuff. Hitachis commercial drives are the best on the market by a wide margin, by the way, and only cost ~$150 to get in the door, not super $$$$. The cheapest synology enclosure with a couple commercial/NAS grade drives in it will set you back maybe $400. Forget the SSD solution. Write your external HDDs to that, then run backblaze on your computer to clone the external drives to their servers.
posted by emptythought at 1:46 PM on May 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

The thing about online/cloud backup that's always kept me from considering it is that with most ISPs having some kind of bandwidth cap, you will pretty much exceed it running your first backup or when (not if) you need to do a restore.
posted by Gev at 1:52 PM on May 6, 2014

I use Backblaze plus a cheap Buffalo NAS with two HDs in RAID 1 (mirrored) configuration.

The RAID setup ensures that a disk failure won't cost me any time - the NAS will continue to work seamlessly and just send me an email to tell me I need to swap the disk that just died. The odds of the two disks failing simultaneously are pretty small.

BUT... someone could steal my stuff, or there could be a fire or a random meteorite, so Backblaze takes up that bit of slack. If Backblaze go out of business, I still have the local backup.

If I had to choose just one of those things, it would be Backblaze. The only downside of relying on that is the time it would take to download 4TB (or whatever) of files from the cloud.
posted by pipeski at 1:53 PM on May 6, 2014

RAID is not backup.

RAID is not backup.

Repeat after me: RAID is not backup.

If you delete a file: RAID will not help you. You will delete the file from all mirrored disks.

If you get a virus: RAID will not help you. The virus will delete the file from all mirrored disks.

If MS Office corrupts your document: RAID will not help you. MS Office will corrupt the document on all mirrored disks.

If your computer catches fire: RAID will not help you. It will be on fire.

I use Crashplan as an online backup. I have 1.3TB automagically backed up every night for less than the cost of a new hard drive every two years.
posted by Jairus at 2:09 PM on May 6, 2014 [7 favorites]

My set up is kind of like pipeski's. Every night, computer's files get copied up to a NAS using RAID 1, backed up onto a spare local hard drive, and backed up onto Crashplan.
posted by odin53 at 2:31 PM on May 6, 2014

I back up my computer to a network drive at home, and important files are backed up both to that drive and Amazon Glacier. It's pretty cheap, but there is some latency/expense in retrieving files - I imagine I'd only do it if both my computer and network drive went kaput, and in that case I'm ok with a delay and shelling out a little money. I don't use any kind of fancy RAID configuration for the network drive - just a backup program that I've set to do daily incremental backups and full ones twice a month.

If you want a solution where you can restore things more often and more easily, Crashplan or Backblaze are better. In addition to remote backups, Crashplan's software also lets you back up to an external drive which is convenient if you want to restore files quickly.
posted by bluefly at 5:21 PM on May 6, 2014

As mentioned by others, I will recommend backing up to both an external hard disk and an offsite location such as "the cloud".

The advantage of using an external hard disk is that it is fast, both in terms of backing up your files, and restoring your files. Products like SuperDuper even allow you to boot from your external hard disk, such as when your internal hard disk totally died. The disadvantage is that your external hard disk is (typically) right next to your computer, so they can both die (e.g. theft, fire, flood) at the same time.

The advantage of using an offsite location is that your internal hard disk and the backup will unlikely die at the same time. The disadvantage is that it is slow -- especially when you need to restore an entire hard disk.

For me, I backup to multiple external hard disk, and rotate their locations weekly by storing one of the backup disk at work. I know of others that store an additional external back-up disk at their parents or friend's home. A bank or post office security box will also work.
posted by applesurf at 5:46 PM on May 6, 2014

I backup my MacBook and the GF's iMac to a file server with a RAID6 array (soon to be ZFS RADIZ2) using Apple's Time Machine. This gives me a backup from which I can do a bare metal restore and be up and running in a few hours should either of the hard drives in our primary computers die.

RAID is not a backup. However, I do appreciate that it gives me a little more robustness in terms of basic hardware failure and it pools storage for a (rather obscenely) large media collection. So I augment this setup with Crashplan. All three computers backup off-site to Crashplan encrypted with a 448-bit Blowfish key.

Even if our home burns to the ground and everything in it. Even if I delete every file I can find. Even if someone steals everything I own, all the data is safe on Crashplan's servers and I've got the account configured to not delete files that are deleted for quite a while.
posted by Brian Puccio at 6:16 PM on May 6, 2014

I used to use BackBlaze, but recently switched over to Crashplan and feel it is a much better service, All my locals drives are backup up over Crashplan as well.

I also keep all my documents in Dropbox. Music and Video are on dedicated drives. Those drive have clones and I run Time Machine.

I feel pretty good about my backup plan and I still lost 5000 images a few years ago due to HDD failure. Redundancy is the key IMHO

posted by silsurf at 6:06 AM on May 7, 2014

I used Backblaze for a while. Lovely service except that if a file isn't included in a backup for 30 days, they delete the copy on their side. Which is fine in most cases, but if I do something boneheaded like delete a folder and don't realize it for two months, it's GONE. Not what I would consider a backup.

I'm now backing up to a local drive, Crashplan (which allows you to set a flag to never delete folders/files) and Amazon Glacier via Arq on my Mac. Redundancy in online backups mainly becuase I haven't completely vetted out the restore process for Crashplan and I'm too lazy to get around to it.
posted by neilbert at 9:01 AM on May 7, 2014

For a good backup you need to have at least two copies (other than the live one) of everything that you care about, one of them at a completely different physical location. You also need to have versioning -- doing a clean mirror of a drive at regular intervals is not going to help when you realize you lost a file prior to your last mirror.

In my ideal world I'd have parallel backups, one on-site, and one backed up to via network. (Real businesses do this by using data archiving facilities that house physical copies of data in secure location, but that's not feasible for personal use.) Given the limitations, in the US at least, of consumer broadband connections performing full backups to a network location can be somewhere between difficult and impossible.

What I do for my own use is this: I have a NAS system on my network with a large amount of disk, and I make daily incremental backups there, rebasing to a new full backup at regular intervals. (Having very long incremental chains is both dangerous, and can make restore tedious and time-consuming). I had formerly kept the backup box on a different level of my house, on a separate electrical circuit, so physical disasters were less likely to affect it, but that's mostly my own obsession.

For offsite, I pay for a Crashplan account, and back up key files that I would not want to lose (music, family pictures, household records, etc) there. Anything that I consider to be particularly sensitive I save to an encfs partition locally and have the encrypted filesystem backed up; never trust anyone else's security.

This has saved me from several potential disasters, and in fact allowed me to completely recover all my data when I had my main PC destroyed by a flood in our basement. I'd like to do more, but this is the minimum I'm comfortable with, and what I recommend to friends who are serious about backing up their data.

For most people, this is going to be some degree of overkill, but the basic outline is what I'd recommend: have a local disk or drive array that you do proper versioned backups to, and back it up with a cloud storage program that maintains your most crucial data offsite. Most of my butt backup companies will also allow you to seed your backup with a physical disk which they send you, to avoid having to do a massive initial upload, but I don't feel the need to do that, since I keep local copies of anything and only cloud-backup the stuff I'd be devastated to lose.
posted by jammer at 9:46 AM on May 7, 2014

nthing crashplan.
posted by lalochezia at 10:26 AM on May 7, 2014

I once read that there's a big chance that external HDDs can fail on you, especially if you leave them unpowered for long durations.

Even if that were true (and it isn't - the chance is very small, not big): with a good backup strategy in place it wouldn't matter, because you'd just replace the failed drive and immediately back up again whatever it was you were backing up with it. If the prospect of doing that is daunting, then your problem is not poor choice of media technology; it's lack of thought given to requirements and/or poor choice of workflow.

I'm frequently amazed by people who put copies of their stuff on an external drive, then delete it from their primary drive so that the external drive now has the only copy, then pay thousands of dollars for data recovery when the "backup" drive takes a tumble onto the tiled kitchen floor. If it's not a copy of something else you still have, it's not a "backup". Not even if it's on a drive with "Backups" written on the label.

The fundamental principle here is that your digital information doesn't really exist until you have at least two copies. If you've got one, and some cloud provider (even a really good cloud provider like Crashplan) has another, that's better than there only being one copy - but if Crashplan goes belly up, or somebody hijacks your account and locks you out, or you lose Internet access for a while? You need your own backups - plural! - as well.

As for SSDs: I think they're a poor fit in a backup application unless you have quite unusual needs.

A roughly exponential performance improvement rule has applied to both rotating and solid state storage for a very long time now; solid state has pretty consistently cost about ten times as much as rotating per gigabyte stored, and that shows no real sign of changing much.

The point of paying ten times as much per gigabyte is to gain raw access speed, but backup is the kind of application where you don't usually need raw access speed. You need reliable access. When you need your backup, you really need it.

When an SSD fails it will generally fail catastrophically. When a hard disk fails, it most often loses a relatively small amount of data at first and gets worse. If you've got two hard drives with identical content (e.g. a RAID1 mirrored set) then even if they both start to fail at about the same time, you're overwhelmingly likely to be able to recover 100% of what you stored on them.

All of which means that for any given quantity of backup storage, you'll get much more reliable recoverability out of $500 worth of hard drives than $500 worth of SSDs - especially given a backup workflow that puts completely interchangeable redundant copies in physically distant locations.

Always-online backups are convenient, but if you find yourself restoring stuff from backup often enough to make that much of a difference, then (a) there's probably some attention wants paying to some other part of your workflow - are you abusing your backup subsystem as a poor substitute for version control? and (b) you're not well protected against your own mistakes and/or data-destroying system failure.

I recommend keeping several frequently updated sets of disaster-recovery backup drives (at least two sets, more is better, where the drives within any given set have identical content) completely disconnected almost all the time, except when it comes time to update the oldest set from your current live data in rotation. Because each set is regularly updated and you're rotating the sets, you'll notice drives failing well before they die completely, and you'll never risk destroying your most recently updated set.

If you do want always-online backups, have one of those as well as, not instead of, the offline disaster recovery sets. And it is quite convenient to use network-based providers like Crashplan and/or Dropbox for that. But seriously, if you're not also putting in the time to maintain your own local backups, you're doing it wrong.
posted by flabdablet at 11:59 AM on May 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I mirror my data drives, backup on to external hard drives and use Crashplan.
posted by cnc at 7:57 PM on May 7, 2014

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