World Backup Day: My 3-layer backup solution

I've always been paranoid about losing data. Other than life and limb, I have no real fear of losing anything physical because it is all mostly acquirable. However, my trove of digital files: documents, movies, music, photos, home videos, etc. are practically impossible to re-acquire. 

Over the years, I've tried various solutions with limited success. However, at the end of last year, I finally figured out what I need to do to cover all my recovery needs. I thought I'd celebrate the World Backup Day (3/31) by writing about it. If I can convince even one person to follow at least some of what I am doing - I'd consider it worth the while. 

So here we go...

Computer Setup

I use Macs. I have data stored in the following ways at home:

  1. On a 1TB Internal Fusion drive of an iMac. This is my Primary boot drive. This is where I also store primary copies of all my apps and data: home videos(iMovie), music (iTunes), Photos (iPhoto) and Documents. 
  2. On an external 8TB Drobo 5D drive enclosure. Here I store all my raw Photos (Lightroom), Video files (iMovie) and ripped, purchased movies. So everything from the camera goes here. Every year, I am adding about a TB of data to this storage. 

Backup Solutions

I use the following 3 layers of backup.

  1. External USB drives.  I use Super Duper to make a clone of the iMac's internal hard-drive to an external USB drive. This runs once every week. I also clone to a disk partition on the Drobo 5N. This is for the cases where the external drive itself goes bad. 
  2. Time Machine. Time Machine is Apple's built-in solution that backups up all connected drives automatically. It keeps hourly backups for the last 24 hours, daily backups for the past month and weekly backups for all previous months. I use an 8TB Drobo 5N that is connected to my home network. The Drobo 5N is also raided and supports the loss of 1 disk without data loss. 
  3. Online Backup. I use both Backblaze and CrashPlan to continuously upload all my data to their cloud servers. 

Recovery Needs

Here is how and why I've setup the backup solution as I have. I believe each layer above solves a very specific problem and any backup solution won't be complete without every one of these. 

  1. Immediate Recovery. The easiest way to recover data for me is via the Time Machine backup over the Drobo 5N device. This is great for a few files, an older version of app or anything I inadvertently deleted. I can go back in time quite a lot but rarely have to. It is fast, easy and generally effective. However, it is not fully reliable. Time Machine is good but I've had corruptions where recovery was not possible. I've also had cases where Time Machine would just not backup certain files for no clear reason. One prime example  is the "iTunes Music Library.xml" file that stores your playlists. This often gets corrupted if you force quit iTunes. You lose all your playlists and Time Machine won't help you. 
  2. Boot from external drive. I use the External USB drive for that. This is needed because you cannot reboot from a Time Machine backup. So if your primary or boot drive is dead - you cannot recover from Time Machine either. However, if you can boot from an external drive - even if it is older - you can still recover the latest data using Time Machine. If the External drive goes bad then I have to remake a new external drive using the Drobo 5N's partition as my external boot solution. 
  3. Disaster Recover. I use online backup as the last resort. Something I should never have to go to but if my house catches fire or a bad electrical surge renders all my on-site equipment useless - I still have some place to go to. Why do I use two online hosts? Well, simple - firstly, you cannot trust online backup completely. Largely because it will be very rare that you will be able to test a restore from them. They are slow and cumbersome to download from and expensive if you ask your data back on a disk. Secondly, they are slow to upload your data - so anything not uploaded will be lost. I am hoping that one of them will have the data. In my previous testing, I've found Backblaze to be very fast in uploading data but not very reliable in keeping that data. I've found CrashPlan to be excruciatingly slow but more reliable. And, at $5 a month - why not just get both? 

Other Considerations

  1. I use Dropbox to shuttle files between computers and the iDevices. While not a backup solution, it does end up taking a backup of all my important documents and photos. 
  2. While not a backup solution, it is important to note that the Drobo (and other drive enclosures) provides a raid solution and contains 4 disks and can withstand the damage or loss of 1 disk without any data loss. 
  3. I use 1Password to store all my passwords and important account information. It keeps an encrypted backup of this info on its severs and also on Dropbox. 
  4. We take a lot of photos on our various iDevices. Those photos are automatically uploaded to iPhoto on the desktop via PhotoStream. However, videos aren't. Those have to be manually uploaded. 

Further Improvements

Here are some things I'd like to do to go even more robust. 

  1. Take more frequent backups to local USB drive. 
  2. Use more than one local USB drive and then rotate them daily. 
  3. I check Backblaze and Crashplan restore options once in a while to make sure that the data is being backed up correctly. I need to do this more regularly and also try some restore options.
  4. I'd like to replace my external USB drive with a bus-powered portable drive so that I can keep copies at home and office.


Backup is important. You will only know how much once you lose your precious, priceless assets. Don't risk it. If nothing else - at least spend $5 a month and get BackBlaze or Crashplan and let it go on auto-pilot.