Getting serious about backing up (Part I)

3 Mar 2008

We got our first family computer last fall, a 24″ Apple iMac. It had been running like a champ until a strange hardware problem popped up a few weeks ago. It didn’t boot properly a few times, and when I investigated further I found that the system was reporting that the hard drive was starting to get flakey. Following a trip to the local Apple Store, I was back home with a new 750-GB drive (replaced under warranty). Fortunately, I had a full system backup and didn’t lose a single kilobyte of data. Here’s what I’m using as my personal backup strategy. Perhaps it will be useful for someone who runs across this post.

I’ve been busily ripping my CD collection into FLAC and AAC formats since I got the new computer. That’s well over 100 GB right there. In addition, I’ve got a complete archive of every podcast I’ve ever produced with the full uncompressed, unedited audio; some ripped DVDs (DVDs that I own, of course); Final Cut Pro projects; every digital picture I’ve ever taken; and a boatload of software. All told, I’ve got almost 450 GB of data on that disk. Backing up to a few DVDs isn’t going to cut it.

I bought a 500-GB Western Digital MyBook last year which seemed huge at the time. Currently I’m doing weekly full system backups to it with SuperDuper!, an awesome backup and drive imaging tool for OS X. SuperDuper! can be used for free to create a bootable backup to an external drive, or, if you pony up $27.95, it will do a “smart update” on subsequent backups that copies only changed files. That saves a ton of time when you’ve got hundreds of gigs to backup. When I got my iMac back from the Apple Store I did a SuperDuper! “restore” back to the new hard drive, and I was back in business.

I decided that I didn’t want to have the external My Book plugged in 100% of the time so I upgraded my wireless access point to an Apple Airport Extreme because I wanted to use the hard drive sharing feature. It works really well, but I’ve only got a 100-Mbit switch on my home network. That’s a far cry from the Firewire 800 connection that I use when it’s plugged in to the iMac directly. Feeling the need for speed, I just bought a Netgear JGS524 24-port Gigabit switch from ($180 after rebate). That should make the Airport Extreme’s USB 2.0 connection the bottleneck instead of my network.

I’ve shelled out a few hundred bucks at this point, but I’ve got great protection from a system failure or accidental deletion. I’m well on my way to a complete solution, but I haven’t dealt with the tornado or fire scenario. I’m working on that now, and I’ll give the details in Part II.

4 responses to Getting serious about backing up (Part I)

  1. wow two days in a row…. You really are back!

  2. Tim!

    Great to see you dust off the cobwebs on technosavvy and jump into blogging again. I had to comment on this post because I use a similar strategy (though mine’s a little more paranoid – However, I adore SuperDuper and will name my next dog after it.

    I’m also exploring the use of Mozy for online backups. $5/month for unlimited storage is pretty reasonable I think. I played with the home version and it worked well, my only concern was keeping private data on another company’s servers. However, if you create your own encryption key when you setup your account, that should prevent the wrong eyes from seeing your stuff.

    Looking forward to part 2 of your backup series.


  3. My only frustration about scheduling SuperDuper! backups is that you have to be logged in on the machine that is backing up. Since my kids have their own logins on our iMac, I don’t tend to keep myself logged in when I’m not using it. I wish you could use a cron or launchd job to start the backup.

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