How should I back up my data
August 5, 2018 5:08 PM   Subscribe

All my storage is full, across all my devices and accounts- iPhones, Mac laptops, camera, iCloud, Gmail. My whole life has become a popup message telling me I'm out of storage. It sucks. How do I back everything up?

I have a lot of photos and small video files:
on a MacBook running Sierra 10.12.4,
on my last four iPhones,
on my DSLR camera,
in my Dropbox,
and on my previous MacBook.

I don't need my gadgets and accounts to sync automatically- I find that creepy.

I would like reliable places to store all my photos and videos so I can blank my old gadgets and get rid of them.

I am currently paying a monthly fee to store things in iCloud and on Google Drive. I don't even really know what either of those are, but they kept threatening to lose my data so I'm paying their stupid monthly ransom. I'd like to not have to pay that any more.

I bought a new Seagate external drive, but infuriatingly, it isn't working- I just tried to format it but it is showing a "corrupted" message (this is the first time I've even plugged it in but I no longer have the receipt or packaging, dammit). I also lost important data last year when a Western Digital external drive failed. Are all external drives garbage?!

I would like to get a few drives- one for each category of stuff.
I prefer drives that don't need to be plugged in all the time. I don't need to carry them around though- the'll live in a drawer.
I'm not particularly tech-savvy so I want something uncomplicated.
I really don't want the drives to fail and lose all my stuff.

Can this just be simple without a million confusing formatting instructions?
Also can it not be suuuper expensive? I'm in Canada and would prefer to purchase from a store rather than online.

Please give me clear step by step instructions, because aaaarrrgh, this is incredibly frustrating.
posted by pseudostrabismus to Computers & Internet (4 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have a Mac, so hopefully someone can chime in with some specifics on what to use there, but I do have a few pointers that will hopefully be helpful.

For the external Seagate drive that's acting up, it should be covered under warranty still if you just recently bought it. You shouldn't need to provide proof of purchase.

In general, external hard drives are going to be the cheapest and simplest option for consumer-grade backup and mass-storage. The Wirecutter has some reviews on external hard drives, but from a reliability standpoint there isn't a *huge* difference between any of the vendors. I tend to gravitate towards Western Digital drives, but I use Seagate drives as well and they're fine. Check for the warranty period; usually drives that are meant to last longer will have longer warranties.

Finally, assume that any storage device will fail eventually. Keep at least 2 (and preferably 3) copies of anything you want to keep in different drives/locations. Stuff that absolutely must not be lost should be backed up offsite somewhere; cloud services like Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive are good options for this, though there are others that are more oriented towards backups.
posted by Aleyn at 6:34 PM on August 5, 2018

Any non-redundant hard disk is prone to failure. As a storage guy, I have heard too many stories of how someone stored all their precious data on a drive, then had a problem, and "lost" it. The saddest ones are when they return the drive to the manufacturer to be "fixed," because it's a guarantee you won't get your own drive back! At least if you have the failed drive, you can pay a recovery company a small fortune to have a good chance at recovery. External drives are not necessarily "garbage", but the quality of hard drives in general has been somewhat in decline as pressures to reduce price and increase capacity have placed great stresses on the few remaining hard drive manufacturers, and they are also in a losing battle against SSD's, which have greatly impacted the number of hard drives sold for PC's and laptops.

One of the best ways to safely store data is on a NAS unit of some sort. We are in an era where small NAS units are plentiful and can store gobs of data. Manufacturers such as QNAP and Synology (not an endorsement) or free software such as FreeNAS (obDisclosure: forum moderator) allow you to attach storage to your home network.

The best way to do this, in my opinion, is to create a RAID1 of two hard drives that are sufficiently big to store "all your stuff." Given the items you have mentioned, I am guessing that you do not have sufficient stuff to warrant more than two drives.

RAID1 is a mirroring technology, and what it means is that you have two independent disk drives that each contain a copy of your information, both updated in real time. A small two drive unit like a Synology DS216SE will hold two hard disks and offer up the storage as shares on the network, and will fairly easily allow the disks to be configured as RAID1.

This doesn't exactly match your ideal scenario, but if we were to assume that you felt that the reliability and uncomplicated factors were most important, this is a good way to go. It's local, it's fast, it's flexible, it's under your control. You can decide how much storage you want to buy and then buy it.

It is still possible to lose your data even if you do this ("oops I dropped the NAS unit!", "the house burned down", etc), so it is a good idea to infrequently make a copy to ANOTHER disk, for which an external drive stored not-at-your-residence is a good idea. This covers risks such as loss from disasters.

In general, doing it yourself will be somewhat more difficult than iCloud or Google Drive, but will also place it directly in your control.
posted by jgreco at 6:37 PM on August 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

I really don't want the drives to fail and lose all my stuff.

Thay will all fail, you can only hope they don't all do at the same time and that you have your data in more than one place.

Don't use external drives, use regular 3.5" internal rotational drives big enough to store all your important data with room to spare (try not to go over 80% full) and put those in separate USB enclosures.
When a drive dies, get a new one and put it in the same enclosure; when the enclosure dies, take the drive out and put it in a new enclosure or inside your desktop computer. This will probably be more expensive in the short term than regular external drives, though.

Full disk encrypt the backup drives, when they die you can just trash or return them to the manufacturer for replacement without worrying about your data being stolen. I don't use Mac but it should be easy to set up. Write down your password to paper and keep it safe! No password = no more backups.

You'll need some plan for when, what and how to backup. Ideally you should add integrity checks (or better still, redundancy) to your backed up files but that would require more work on your part.

Fuck the cloud.
posted by Bangaioh at 4:22 AM on August 6, 2018

I use Google Drive. For music, I just manually upload the new music 6 or 8 times a year when I buy an album. My phone automatically syncs photos to a Nextcloud server on my web server, which then syncs the photos back down to my desktop. Early each year I copy the previous years' photos up to Google drive. My documents folder also syncs to Google Drive.

I thought about just using Nextdrive for everything, but I decided I trust Google more than I trust my $10 a month web host. 100 GB at Google costs me $24 a year. I think a TB if you needed it is about $100.
posted by COD at 5:22 AM on August 6, 2018

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