Data Backup Strategies

February 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Geek Dad

Lately I’ve been thinking more and more about the importance of backing up the data on our computer.  So much of our lives are stored on that computer and a hard drive failure could make it all disappear.  A year and a half ago we had a hard drive die on us.  Fortunately, I had been doing a manual back up our photo library.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t done it in a few months.  We had been using 2 hard drives and between my backup and our email archive, I recovered all our old pictures and some of the newer ones in a lower resolution.

I did do some research on data recovery and learned that when a drive has a mechanical failure the only way to recover data is to send it to a lab and fork over several thousand dollars with no guarantee they’ll get your data.

When we were ready to purchase a new computer last winter we decided to switch to a Mac.  A big selling point was the built in Time Machine which will continuously backup your data to an external hard drive.  Time Machine also has a nifty interface for going “back in time” to find your lost files.  Luckily, we’ve only had to use Time Machine a few times for tracking down email that was accidentally deleted, but each of those times it worked flawlessly.

Even with our new setup I kept asking myself “was that enough”.  The iMac and the backup drive are about 6 inches apart.  A fire, theft, or leaky pipe would still wipe out everything and that photo library is extremely valuable to us.  We’ve got some Google Adsense money saved up and I’m planning to cash it in and invest in an improved backup strategy.  Here’s the plan:

1)  I’ve got several old Lacie external drives floating around.  I plan to backup our photo library onto one and bring it to my mom’s house next time we visit.  I can then bring a second drive the next visit and bring the first one home.  This backup swapping will keep an emergency off site backup available.  The problem with this is that it is manual (ie I have to remember to do it) and the backup is one time so in a worst case scenario we’d only have as much data as the last backup.

2)  Install a Drobo.  This is an external storage device that can hold up to 4 drives.  My plan would be to use the Drobo to store our music and movies along with any archived data.  What is special about the Drobo is that if 1 drive were to fail you could simply swap it out with a new drive and all your data will still be there.  This will be a foolproof storage solution for our data, but is still vulnerable to theft, fire, etc.

3)  Install Jungle Disk.  This is a utility that uses Amazon’s S3 online storage service to backup your data online.  You designate which folders on your computer you want to backup and Jungle Disk will start uploading.  Jungle Disk will monitor your folders and upload any new files or changes automatically.  This is the ideal solution.  Continous backup to an offsite location.  The downside is that given bandwidth restrictions and cost, I will probably limit this to only our photo library.  My cost estimate is $20 for Jungle Disk, $5-10 for first upload, and then less than $10 a month after that for storage and further uploads.

While expensive, these combinations would give us plenty of storage and enough redundancy to ensure our digital photo library can not disappear.  I can’t help but think that digital cameras have made photography more popular than ever, but how many of these photographers would lose everything if their hard drive were to crash?

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