March 18th, 2010 by ravi

Merlin Mann and John Gruber have been, quite admirably, extolling the virtues of backing up your computer in recent blog posts. They remind you that it might be tedious, but it will be well worth it when your hard disk ultimately fails. Mann lays out his idea of “The Holy Trinity” when it comes to what backups are:

  • If it’s not automated, it’s not a real backup.
  • If it’s not redundant, it’s not a real backup.
  • If it’s not regularly rotated off-site, it’s not a real backup.

And then outlines a detailed plan of action that you should adopt, including information on the necessary hardware, setup and process.

This is all commendable stuff. But I worry that in trying to “scare you straight” when it comes to backups, Mann and Co might be erring on the side of making the perfect the enemy of the good. The anxious reader might do well to keep his prescriptions an attainable Holy Grail but proceed with the comfort that every step towards it is, in itself, a giant leap towards preventing data loss.

To that end, my own more pragmatic thoughts (based on my own guesstimation of the probabilities of events and their simultaneous occurrence) follow.

  • You do not have to start out by saving each latest bit on your computer. Lost a set of photographs you uploaded yesterday? It’s probably still on your camera memory. If not, you will still survive.
  • If you made a copy of your files elsewhere, that is a significant step towards a backup. As long as the copy is not on the same computer and you remember where it is! Off-site backups are a wonderful idea, but even a DVD lying next to the computer with a copy of important files is X% as good (where X > 50%).
  • Verify your backup. It doesn’t help if you have the most sophisticated scheme in place, fully automated, rotated, and archived off-site, if you have no way of ensuring it works. And the best way to ensure that: peek into it! Choose a few random files and try restoring them.

If you have read this far into the post, it suggests you find my advice worthwhile, and at the risk of abusing that notion, I offer three steps that will get you within swimming distance of the shoreline:

  • Switch to a Mac. I understand this may be an extreme step but unless you are deeply vested in your Windows PC, consider the switch. If not for any other reason, then for the next bullet item below.
  • Configure and use Time Machine. If you ignored recommendation 1 above, then find something for PCs or GNU/Linux that is the equivalent of Time Machine. A simple pragmatic truth of life is that you are less likely to do something if it is complicated. And arguably, there is no simpler way today to do backups than by using Time Machine.
  • Sign up for an online backup service. Mozy promises unlimited backups for $5/month. There are a few other providers of such a service: iDrive, Carbonite,

Do the above now. And then go read Mann and Gruber’s posts.

// Link: Yes. Another Backup Lecture. | 43 Folders

One Response  
  • business backup writes:

    All good points about having a legitimate data backup plan. I had a data loss about a year ago, and it was devastating. I thought we were backed up locally but the restore didn’t work.

    That’s why I went with a reliable online backup service like Remote Data Backups. Redundant offsite storage, redundant bandwidth, encrypted. They even offer free 24/7 phone support, which is awesome.

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