01 January 2013

A Backup Strategy

Anyone using computers for any amount of time knows that backups are a must.  We’ve all heard or read that it’s not if your hard drive fails but rather when your hard drive fails you’ll wish you had backed up your files.  However, history has taught me that it’s not always a failed hard drive that makes me run to my backups but the more likely catalyst is my own actions.  For example, have you ever re-imaged a computer, thinking you’ve backed up everything you considered important, only to realize five minutes after installing the operating system that you forgot to include something really important in the backup set?  I have! :-)

So, with the new year starting, now is a great time to think about a backup strategy.  Even if you have a backup strategy, it’s still a good idea to review your backup process to ensure everything that needs backing up is actually getting backed up.

If you have ever researched backup strategies it’s no doubt that you have heard of the “backup rule of three” also known as the “backup 3-2-1” rule.  I have no idea how long this rule has been around as I can’t seem to locate the origin.  It essentially states the following when creating data backups:

3. Keep three copies of everything you intend on backing up.
2. Maintain your backups in at least two different formats (e.g. hard drive and memory stick, cloud storage and DVD, etc.).
1. Ensure at least one copy is kept off-site (e.g. in case of a disaster such as a flood or fire).

Based on these rules I have made use of the following technologies to satisfy my backup needs:

  1. SkyDrive – If you are not familiar with Microsoft’s SkyDrive service, you should definitely check it out.  You are provided with 7 GB of on-line storage space for free – 25 GB if you happened to get in on an upgrade deal that was offered a few months back (plus another 100 GB if you happened to attend this year’s //Build/ conference).  SkyDrive also comes with free use of Microsoft’s web-based Office products including Word, PowerPoint, OneNote, Excel, and Excel Surveys.  If 7 or 25 GB is not enough space, you can pay to upgrade your space.  There are also mobile clients available for Windows Phone, iPhone/iPad, and Android-based devices.  For more information regarding SkyDrive and its features, click here.

    In my case, I use SkyDrive to store my various documents including Word and PowerPoint files, all my photos and music, and miscellaneous other files.  Pretty much anything that I would like to have easy access to from any device I may be using.  I do not store my videos on SkyDrive, however, due to their large size.

  2. Windows 8 Storage Spaces – Used in conjunction with a local machine running Windows 8 Pro (the only “tower” PC on my home network), Storage Spaces provides added protection through mirroring or parity.  In my case, I have three physical hard drives tied together via Storage Spaces using parity (~RAID 5).  If any of the three drives fail, I can replace the malfunctioning drive and the missing data will be restored automatically.  Also, if I need to add more storage to my server, I can simply install a new hard drive and add it to the Storage Spaces pool.

    This server is used as a central location for all backups on my home network as well as the primary storage location for all photos, music, and videos.

  3. Carbonite – Similar to SkyDrive, Carbonite offers cloud-based storage.  However, Carbonite is designed and built from the ground up for backup purposes.  Carbonite’s pricing plans are very attractive as well, starting at only $59/year for unlimited storage space (for one PC).  One of the best features of Carbonite is its simplicity.  For the most part, you simply install it, sign in to Carbonite, and forget it.  However, by default, video files are not backed up (note that videos are automatically backed up with the Home Premier service).  However, it’s a simple matter of right-clicking the video files and telling Carbonite to back them up.

    I use Carbonite to backup my Windows 8 Pro machine – which contains all the documents and files that I care about.  Depending on how many files you have to backup, it can literally take days (weeks?) to perform the initial backup.  However, once the initial backup has been completed, new files or modifications to existing files are backed up quickly.  In the case you ever need to restore lost or damaged files the restore process can also take an extended amount of time based upon the overall size of data that needs to be restored.  If you anticipate the need to restore large amounts of data, Carbonite offers a courier service as part of their Home Premier plan in which case they will mail you a copy of your data on physical media.

The following diagram provides a general overview of how the above technologies are tied together:


With all that said, does my approach satisfy the “Backup 3-2-1” rule?  Let’s see…

3. Keep three copies of everything you intend on backing up.  Yes.  I have copies on my local file server, in SkyDrive (with the exception of videos), and within Carbonite.  I suppose I’m skimping a little bit here with videos but I am also banking on Carbonite to take reasonable steps to ensure they don’t lose my backups on their end.
2. Maintain your backups in at least two different formats (e.g. hard drive and memory stick, cloud storage and DVD, etc.).  Yes.  I have backups on local hard drives as well as two separate cloud services.
1. Ensure at least one copy is kept off-site (e.g. in case of a disaster such as a flood or fire).  Yes.  I am utilizing two separate cloud services.

So far this backup approach is working for me.  Although I believe it is a good approach it is by no means the only approach or even necessarily the best approach.  As with most processes out there, use what works for you and throw the rest out :-)  If nothing else, hopefully this post will at least get you thinking about backups and implementing a solution before you actually need it.

What backup strategy are you using?  If you have some great ideas, please let us know in the comments below.