How I backup my stuff

Like most people, I rely heavily on my computer, yet I had a flagrant disregard for backups.  I didn’t care much for backing up any of my stuff that I had on the computer, telling myself that it would be fine and to pay those bad thoughts no mind. Then I lost a piece of work that I really couldn’t afford to lose during my a-levels and lost a lot of sleep as a result re-writing it.

Ever since that fateful time I have been plagued with spreading the message to others that backups are essential in preparation for the inevitable. Its like that voiceover in a scene from the film ‘Goodfellas‘ where Ray Liotta is talking about getting whacked;

“If you’re part  of a crew, nobody ever tells you that they’re going to kill  you, doesn’t happen that way. There  weren’t any arguments or curses like in the movies. See, your murders come with smiles, they come as your friends, the people who’ve cared for you all of your life. And they always seem to come at a time  that you’re at your weakest and most in need of their help.”

(except the crew are your devices).

It used to be that I backed up to multiple floppy disks, then CD-RW and later USB sticks and external hard-drive. None of which was painless, fool-proof or seamless.

However these days this need not be the case and I’d like to share my current and hopefully robust methods. If you have a better solution I am willing to give that a whirl.

Before we start, a ‘top tip’  regarding what a backup actually is:-

“Simply put, unless you know that you can reliably do a restoration of your data, you don’t have backups”
bulletproof-backups-for-mysql, Chris Lea

Say it with me, “a backup is only a backup if it can be later retrieved”.

I have a need to backup all of my computer data that I use on my computer, I am not so concerned with losing the operating system and have it restored to the exact state it was in pre-pop so i’ll be ignoring that. Also I will keep my advice on backing up the stuff I create on external web services another time (my websites, delicious and others).

My secret is to use ‘dropbox‘ and use the dropbox folder as my primary working folder and save everything to this location. It is also possible to re-direct other folders such as itunes to capture that data too. Dropbox will immediately backup my data to my account online and “hey presto” all is saved and I can relax. The secondary benefit of using dropbox is that all of my files are available online anywhere  and this feature has saved me on a number of occasions as I have a resources folder with all sorts of useful bits. I used the free 2GB dropbox for quite some time but due to my freelance work I make many versions of the same project (don’t ask) and needed a tad more – to date I have used 7GB of my 50GB $99 per year limit.

Next, although trusting dropbox, I backup all of my computer data onto an external hard drive using a hard drive dock I nicknamed “the toaster” and keeping this offsite. This Apple macbook has some free software called ‘time machine’ that automatically backups everything when the toaster is connected. Most hard drives from seagate come with software to do the backing up – manually copying folders is a bit risky and normally involves you having to think about what stuff you need. Plus the software only sync’s new changes, making the backup much quicker.

So there you have it: dropbox, my hard drive dock and one or more hard-drives lets me sleep well with both online and offsite backups that I have tested.

2 Replies to “How I backup my stuff”

  1. Completely agree re. Dropbox. I’m still on the free version but it’s transformed the way I work. I think there was an article in Wired (or something similar) a couple of months ago that proposed a mixture of online, hard drive and versioning backup procedures.

    It sounds complicated but the infoNet guidance on versioning is really useful. More useful if you simply lose a particular file.

  2. Thanks Andy, ‘versioning’ was the word that escaped me when I wrote this. With the link you gave me I will be adding the ‘draft’ and ‘issue’ to future projects, solving a problem where the solution had eluded me. Previously I have just been using date-filename (20100705-filename) but that method doesnt take into account if it is merely a draft or was issued to the customer – your document resolves the problem and is so simple. Thank you.

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