The importance of a good backup strategy

Today I received a support email from a Simon customer who had a hard drive failure, and lost their data. Worse still, they were in the process of recreating their Time Machine backup at the time, so didn't have a backup.

That prompted me to post about my backup strategy. When you live your life and make your living on computers, there is little more valuable than the data they contain. So it is critical to protect it from a loss that could set you back years.

Fortunately nowadays most important data is in the cloud... various remote servers. For example, if you use iTunes Match, your music collection is safely on Apple's servers (well, hopefully safely). Photos are still at risk, but Apple is rolling out the iCloud Photos service that will keep them offsite. And other services like Dropbox help protect important documents... if you put them in there.

For myself, I have a multi-pronged data management and backup strategy.

In terms of data management, I use cloud services to sync my data between my iMac and MacBook Air, which has the added benefit of keeping offsite copies of the important data:

  • My documents are all stored in Dropbox.
  • My app source code is managed by Subversion (for my app-specific code) and Git (for my open source code).
  • My music, (soon) photos and other data are stored in iCloud.

In fact, I replaced the Documents folder in my home directory with a symbolic link to a Documents folder within the Dropbox folder, so all of my documents are safely in Dropbox. It's not necessary, but you can easily do this via a couple of simple Terminal commands:

sudo mv ~/Documents ~/Dropbox/Documents
sudo ln -s ~/Dropbox/Documents ~/Documents

The first command moves the Documents folder to within Dropbox, and the second one makes a symbolic link to that folder where the old Documents folder was. The sudo is needed as the OS will normally prevent moving the Documents folder; Terminal will prompt you for your password.

But that doesn't mean that backups aren't important too. Backups are useful to get back earlier versions of documents (via Time Machine), or provide redundancy in case a cloud service loses something, or just as a quick way to get back up-and-running. Plus, of course, protecting data like preferences that aren't included in Dropbox or other cloud syncing.

I use multiple services for backups, too:

  • I use Time Machine via a Time Capsule in a different part of the house to do hourly incremental backups of the most important files. Useful to get back earlier versions of documents.
  • I use SuperDuper! to make nightly exact clones of my SSD main drive and spinning media drive onto backup disks. Useful to quickly get back up-to-speed if a hard drive fails, or I need to revert an obscure file.
  • I use Backblaze to make nightly offsite backups of pretty much all of my files. Useful in case of a major disaster like my house burning down, or failure of one of the other backups.

(Full disclosure, if you use the Dropbox link to sign up I'll get more space, not that I need it, and you'll get 500 MB bonus space. And similarly that Backblaze link will give both you and I a free month of service.)

Your data is valuable — don't risk losing it when it is so easy to protect it!