Backup Strategy

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Having read Backup 2021 — MacSparky it encouraged me to look at my personal backup strategy. I hadn’t reviewed my personal backups for a while and I found that they were quite lacking in some ways: it turned out I had lots of backups on various different media but there was actually no strategy around it, so I didn’t really know what was backed up where - very little wasn’t backup up somewhere, but finding it was an issue.

This all meant I felt I needed to start from scratch and build a strategy:

  • What did I need to backup
  • What did I want off site
  • What did I need easily restored and how frequently did I want it backed up

What to backup

This bit is relatively simple, my personal data is stored in two main places:

  1. My iMac internal drive
  2. An external drive attached to that The internal drive has my day to day working data and the external drive holds basically what I call dead data in that it gets used and added to but not really changed.

What did I want off site

I want it all to be backed up off site that was a simple one that off site backup is my last line of defence that I hope never to use - however I do want it. The issue is getting it off site, although these days it is relatively painless compared to just a few years ago with internet connection speeds far higher, especially the all important upload speed.

What did I want easily restored

Well again this is a kinda easy everything - however want as we all know is different to need. In reality my ‘archive’ data doesn’t need to be easily restored but my internal drive working data really does. In the end I did figure I would keep a local (easy) backup of my ‘archive’ as well as live data.

How often to backup

These days my default is every hour - if not continuously. A lot of people still think in terms of once a day or longer but why, when in nearly every situation doing a backup hourly is totally possible? How much does redoing an hour of work cost, what about two hours when for some reason the last backup had failed? Now think about two days - if you are anything like me it makes me feel sick to think about losing two days of work, an entire weekend gone!

I remember probably knocking on the door of 20 years ago I was working in a law firm and I got a call from a secretary saying she had just lost a whole load of work she had spent all day working on. What had happened was a series of things done by a tired person:

  • A large document had been dictated
  • This had been transcribed into a Word doc and saved
  • The tape (yes they were still using tape) had been wiped ready for reuse
  • The document was being edited and the following key combination was pressed: “Control + A” followed by “Space”
  • We think then an autosave happened, the phone rang, Word crashed… whatever… as you can now imagine, there is this complex long document that is now a blank page, the secretary has to go to the lawyer and tell them what has happened and that they now have to re-dictate the document for the secretary to re-transcribe. Hourly backups would have saved so much trouble, it wasn’t long after that we installed data systems that would take hourly snapshots of the data.

Anyway back to the matter in hand, I went with:

  • Working data
    • continuous off site (it’s not true continuous but not far off) on site hourly
  • Dead data
    • continuous off site (it’s not true continuous but not far off)
    • on site daily

What to use

Over the years I’ve used various different software for my personal backups:

  • Acronis was one of the first I used before cloud backups
  • Crashplan was great and cross platform before they changed their pricing model
  • Most recently I’ve been using Arq which I found really good when I started using it, they didn’t have their own cloud storage offering, you had to buy the software and pair it with a cloud storage solution making it more complex to set up, the one I used was Wasabi.
  • I nearly stuck with the Arq-Wasabi combo but I had also used Arq and B2, lots of people rave about Backblaze so in the end that’s what I went with.
    • It’s simple and fast it has good apps for mobile meaning you can get to your backed up files from your phone and even share them from there. For some extra money you can move files into B2 directly from your backups for long term storage or sharing Whilst talking of fast and simple, I use a Mac (as my main machine) so I get Time Machine. I have had some issues with this in the past but as a first line of defence it’s excellent for hassle-free backups and restores. Apple describes how it works better than I could:

Time Machine will automatically make hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month and weekly backups for all previous months. The oldest backups will be deleted when your backup disk is full.


I also have a copy of Carbon Copy Cloner which whilst I only use a small part of its abilities I have found invaluable.

The final Plan

I like to think of my various backups as lines of defence getting slower to restore as we move down the line. There is one thing that you may have noticed I haven’t mentioned, which is syncing software like OneDrive, Dropbox or iCloud. These are, in my view, backups (in fact these days they can be very dangerous, but that is for a different post) - however they do form a line of defence which is why I will include it here:

Working Data

0.5 OneDrive

  1. Time Machine - hourly backups to an external HDD on the underside of my desk
  2. Carbon Copy Cloner - hourly backups to an external HDD on the underside of my desk, this drive is larger than my Time Machine one and therefore will have a larger history.
  3. Backblaze - on-change backups to cloud storage

Dead Data

  1. Carbon Copy Cloner - Daily backups to an external HDD on the underside of my desk
  2. Backblaze - on-change backups to cloud storage

This gives me a nice cross-section of backups on site and off but probably most importantly there is a design and structure behind it so I know what gets backed up where and when, enabling me to restore data from the best place when needed.

Unsurprisingly my final personal backup strategy is very similar to David Sparks and if you haven’t yet read his article, I would recommend doing so.

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