I take a lot of photographs, quite a few videos and also try to keep MP3 copies of all my CD’s.  In addition I have guitar tabs, emails and all sorts of other data which I really need to keep.  Although a good deal of my stuff is now ‘in the cloud’ I like to know that I personally have all the data and don’t depend on any single cloud provider continuing to exist.

However, I’m also lazy, disorganised and generally half-arsed in my approach to administration.  Backing up is never at the top of my list, so when I came to tackle it properly I knew I needed a completely automatic solution that would work with zero intervention.

This was my checklist

  • must back up EVERYTHING – all my photos, music etc.  At the time it looked like probably 100Gb plus, currently it’s 500Gb and by the end of this year I have no doubt I’ll be double that again
  • at least one copy of my data must be ‘off site’ (i.e. not in or near my house)
  • at least one copy must be ‘on site’ otherwise it won’t be quickly or reliably accessible
  • must not require any physical media – swapping tapes, DVD’s etc means I have to remember to do something

As this is all ‘personal use’ I also needed it be relatively cheap….

Here’s how it works.

In my living room I have a small Buffalo network attached storage drive wired into my network router.  It cost me about £150 about 2 years ago.  It has 2 1Tb hard drives in it, configured as a RAID mirror.  In simple terms the same data is written to both drives and if

 when a drive fails I can put a new one in and it will rebuild the data from the other drive.  I have a spare drive waiting for the fateful day, and I’ve tested it (that cost another £60).

Over wi-fi this drive is just about fast enough to work with directly, but for working with photographs in Lightroom etc I work on my PC and then ‘publish’ the files I want to keep to my NAS drive.  At that instant I have a copy of the files on the SD card, on the PC hard drive and mirrored copies on the NAS, so I’m fairly safe.

The instant the files hit my NAS drive, stage 2 kicks in.  I have an old MacMini which is too old to do anything useful with, but it sits next to the NAS and runs Crashplan.  This constantly backs up everything on the NAS to the Crashplan cloud servers using my broadband.  It’s bandwidth limited so it doesn’t kill my connection, but ensures that all my data gets ‘off site’ within a day or two of being written at worst.  The more upload bandwidth your broadband has the faster it will go, and I’m lucky to be on cable and get a reasonably good upload rate.

Additionally, the Crashplan software also copies the same data to a USB attached drive on the PC in my office (which is upstairs and at the other side of the house to the living room.  That takes a matter of minutes.

The best bit about Crashplan is that I can selectively restore via a web-browser, at my full download speed. So if my entire house were to disappear I can get the scanned copies of my insurance documents on my mobile phone or any other PC in an instant.  

Because the MacMini does nothing else, it just sits quietly (it has no fan) in the living room without mouse, keyboard or monitor doing what it does all day long.  I can VNC to it if I feel the need to check up on it, but I don’t because Crashplan emails me every day to tell me how up to date my backups are (usually very close to 100%).

Friends and Family

One downside of being an IT geek is that I am the family computer consultant, fixing Dad’s laptop in return for a Sunday lunch.  The Crashplan software is brilliant – all my family’s computers automatically back up to my living room over the internet, absolutely free of charge.  When it all goes horribly wrong I know I have copies of Mum’s holiday snaps safely in my living room and my office.

All the data is encrypted so I can’t see it, but I can tell whether it’s up to date.  Right now Dad’s laptop is 100% backed up, but next week they’ll be downloading all the memory cards from their fortnight abroad and it will take a week or so to transfer it all.

The Costs

NAS drive – about £150

Spare disk – about £60

USB3 hard drive – about £80

Crashplan subscription – $5 per month

Links and Disclaimers

I don’t work for Crashplan in any capacity, I’m just a very satisfied customer and recommend them wholeheartedly.  Even if you don’t sign up, get their software and use it to back up to a USB drive or to another PC.  It’s fully automatic and means you just can’t forget to do it, and if something goes wrong it will email to tell you.

My NAS drive is a Buffalo LinkStation Duo, 2 x 1Tb.  It’s not perfect but it’s worked pretty well – the user interface is a bit clunky and it’s awfully slow to rebuild the mirror when swapping the drive.  The newer versions have much bigger capacity options.