The Data Backup Thread (& request for more suggestions)
This thread is for discussing systems for backing up data.
The topic comes up often, and I figured it would be nice to have somewhere to point people.
I've listed below some online backup services, as well as tools for offline backups. Please reply and share your backup solutions, and I'll add them to the top post. Also, I know I am missing plenty of online backup services and offline tools from this list, please point them out!
* Onsite vs. Offsite: Onsite backups are backups that reside in the same physical location as the machine they were pulled from. Offsite backups are backups stored in a different location. There is merit to both. Onsite backups are typically quicker to restore from, while offsite backups protect against data loss from damage to the computer's physical location (fire, floods, etc), which would destroy onsite backups too.
Ideally, you want one of each. Offsite backups may be a hard drive in a safe deposit box, burned DVDs taken with you to work, or a service that stores your data on someone else's rack of servers "in the cloud".
* RAID is not a backup: There are various forms of RAID, but in general, the purpose of RAID is to provide redundancy. It protects against the immediate effects of drive failure. This, however, should not be confused for a backup. Why is it not a backup? Backups protect against more than drive failure. If you suffer data corruption, your RAID system is going to write that corrupted data across all drives in the array. Bam, data loss. RAID is simply for maintaining uptime in the face of drive failure.
There are online services that provide a few different types of backups:
* Normal Backup: Couldn't think of a better name for this. You select files/folders on your system to be backed up, and copies of these selections are stored for safe keeping.
* Sync Folder: This is a folder on your computer whose contents are automatically sync'd with a cloud-based service. You stick a file in this folder, it gets uploaded and stored in the cloud. Generally used for sharing documents across multiple PCs, but also serves as a useful backup.
* Network Share: Similar to a sync folder, but here, the remote storage is mounted as a network share. The local storage is just a cache system for temporarily holding items being read from/written to the remote storage. Isn't necessarily a "backup" per se, except the remote storage is typically a cloud-based solution that has its own redundancy, so your files are a lot safer there than your own hard drive.
CrashPlan (normal backup): Excellent cloud backup system, with inexpensive unlimited storage plans. Works on Linux, Mac, Windows, and Solaris.
JungleDisk (normal backup, sync folder, network share): Amazon S3-based cloud storage. One of my favorites as it supports every kind of backup you could want, and on all the major platforms. Works on Linux, Mac, and Windows.
Carbonite (normal backup): A flat-fee unlimited storage backup system. Works on Mac and Windows.
Mozy (normal backup): Similar to Carbonite, a flat-fee unlimited storage backup system. Also has a free version with a 2 GB space limit. Works on Mac and Windows.
Dropbox (free, sync folder): 2GB of cloud storage, (up to 8GB with referrals). A folder whose contents stay in sync on all your computers/ Works on Linux, Mac, and Windows.
Live Mesh (free, sync folder): 5GB of cloud storage. Similar to Dropbox. Windows only.
Ubuntu One (free, sync folder): 2GB of cloud storage, also stores contacts and other user data. 50GB storage available in $10/mo paid version. Ubuntu Linux only.
ROLLING YOUR OWN
Sync to external hard drive: There are many pieces of software you can use to sync files from your computer to an external hard drive. Some tools include:
* rsync (UNIXes)
* rsnapshot (Linux)
* LuckyBackup (Linux)
* SyncBack (Windows)
* Synkron (Linux, Mac, Windows)
* SyncToy (Windows)
* Unison (UNIXes, Windows)
* Second Copy (Windows)
Sync to NAS: Similar to above, for the slightly more hardcore. Sync to a NAS (network attached storage) instead of an external drive. Useful for backing up multiple computers on a network, instead of just one. Same software tools as above apply.
Burn data to DVD-R: Most systems have DVD writers these days, which is an easy way to get a copy of your data off of your hard drive and into a format that is easily taken offsite. For backup jobs that exceed the size of a single DVD, there are software packages which will span backup jobs across multiple discs. Some of these tools include:
* Macrium (Windows)
* DiscSpan (Linux)
* ... more, gotta find 'em...
Windows Home Server: OS for installing on a home server, with utilities for automatically backing up Windows-based PCs on your home network. Windows only.
Time Machine: Built-in backup software in OS X. Backs up to external disk or to a Time Capsule (wifi-enabled networked hard drive). Mac only.
Distributed version control system: Mostly the realm of software developers. Usually used for maintaining a central code repository. The nice part about the "distributed" VCSs is that each checked-out version of the repository is a full copy of the repository itself. Some people use a DVCS like Git to backup some of their files to external services like GitHub.
(Below is where I berate people for not having a backup system in place. Skip if you want... at your own risk! )
My Soapbox Rant:
Do you fail the *Legion* Backup Test? It's a simple principle. The test states that this very moment, you should be able to completely wipe your OS (Windows, etc) from your computer, and be able to get back to exactly where you started from with a little OS and program reinstalling, and recovery from your backups. In other words, if you are unable to wipe out your OS this instant and still have everything you need safe, you fail the *Legion* Backup Test.
Yes, I enjoy naming sh*t after myself.
I am of the firm opinion that every single computer user needs to follow a few tenets:
1. Recognize that you have important, irreplaceable (or at least not easily replaced) data
People often say "I don't have anything important". Then they lose a hard drive and freak out because digital family photos are lost forever. What are you out if I walk into your house and take your computer and disappear with it forever?
2. Treat your OS (and hard drive) as disposable
Many people are truly playing with fire with their data. If you have no backup, the life of your data hangs on whether your OS remains functional and your hard drive remains alive. If you're a techie, you can deal with your OS breaking, but even you are screwed the moment your hard drive fails, and fail suddenly and spectacularly they can.
Oftentimes, the OS isn't necessarily broken, but it's the presence of non-backed-up data that causes people to spend forever trying to fix Windows instead of spending the half hour it takes to wipe it and start over. If this is the case, you fail the *Legion* Backup Test.
Sometimes, you haven't even lost data or the ability to use the PC, but some piece of malware has exploited a hole in Flash and has taken root in your computer. You should be nuking Windows right now but you've got MP3s and porn you don't want to lose and so now you're spending hours trying to clean the system up.
The fact is, whether you like it or not, your OS is disposable. You should treat it that way. Once you do, you realize that dealing with computers becomes about 1000 times easier.
3. Set your most important data to be backed up automatically
Backups that are a pain are backups that don't get made. If you forget to refresh the backup on your external drive for weeks, you're not really protecting yourself.
Most of the online-based backup services have the ability to be set to automatically perform backup tasks. Your most important stuff needs to be backed up in a "set it and forget it" system.
4. Even a crappy backup system is infinitely better than none
It's not necessary to set up a hardcore backup system with all sorts of redundancy.
Ideally, one should have a combination of onsite and offsite backups. But if you're starting from scratch, just having a little Windows utility backing up to a Western Digital My Book external drive, or burning your documents folder to DVD every week and taking the disc to work, puts you in a much better position than before.