If you only have one backup you have no backup
“Sure I have a backup!” is one of the small lies people tell their employers (or worse, themselves) which can be very costly. Many times even having a backup does not mean your data is safe. I’m among the ones that have learned it the hard way.
What inspired me to write this post was that my computer didn’t start this morning but went into an infinite reboot cycle. Luckily a simple shift-reboot fixed the problem but I wouldn’t have worried about my data even if it hadn’t.
Some time ago the hard drive of my beloved MacBook failed (not a rare thing, I know). I luckily had a backup uploaded to my companies server so I thought I’ll be on track once I got the computer back from repairs. However when I downloaded the archive from the server I found out it had been corrupted. I have no idea what caused it as only few people have access to the server and neither of them should have any motivation to mess with my backup!
You can imagine I was furious..until I remembered I downloaded the backup to one of my age-old spare computers because I needed the template for price estimate. That wasn’t a fun experience either as I only later remembered the darn thing didn’t have Microsoft Office installed. However the backup archive extracted flawlessly. By complete coincidence I had created myself another backup which ended up saving my files.
Since that I’ve drastically changed my backup policy. First of all, I subscribed to CrashPlan. For only 5$ a month it automatically backups yout data to their cloud. This (or any similar service) is a must-have for anyone. Be warned though, the initial setup process can be rather long, especially if you have loads of data to upload. As I proceeded with almost clear harddrive it wasn’t an issue. Also don’t forget to exclude movies/music and other folders that contain heavy yet easily replaceable content.
I also keep all my source codes at dropbox. Especially the ones that are not in any distributed version control system (pet projects or just experiments). This is a manual process and something you can easily forget though. For me, dropbox serves as a last-resort backup solution where files can easily be outdated. You could probably script an automated solution, but I’ve never bothered. I feel rather safe with CrashPlan.
After the last crash I also got myself a time machine. Even though it might seem a bit costly, it will well be worth the while if you ever actually need it. The problem with time machine is obviously that it’s a physical device. They can break exactly like your computer, get stolen or million other things.
Most importantly, I always have at least 3 backups of my data. Even if 2 of them fail, at least one will hopefully be operational. You could probably even go further than that by having an extra backup at S3, but I think 3 is enough.