Archives For backup

I’ll try not to be too nostalgic here, but I can’t help mentioning that my first PC, a 12-MHz 286 I bought in college, was equipped with a spacious 32-MB hard drive. I could fill that drive today with just a few photos from my Canon G9. In contrast, the iMac I have a home has a 750-GB drive. That’s a mere 23,000× increase in capacity.

I have a few hundred CDs at home, and I wanted to to make sure I had them available on my home network. Rather than encode them in a lossy format like MP3 or AAC, I decided to use Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) format. Using Apple Lossless produces only modest compression of about 50%, but it retains full audio fidelity. I only have a couple dozen DVDs, but thanks to Handbrake I can make digital copies of those too, and each weighs in at about 1.5 GB. In an era of cheap disk storage it seems like a good compromise.

The iMac disk eventually got full enough that I couldn’t back it up to my 500-GB external drive anymore. After keeping my eye on them for over a year, I decided to upgrade to a Drobo and loaded it up with three 1-TB hard drives. The result is a cool 1.8-TB of redundant storage.

Loading the Drobo

The most attractive aspect of the Drobo is that it’s practically infinitely expandable. As larger drives become available you simply pop out one of your existing drives and replace it with a larger one. The Drobo automatically arranges all of the data and spans to the new drive to maintain the redundancy. I didn’t need all four drives to get started, so I just put the 1-TB drives in three of the bays.

iMac with Drobo

I plugged the Drobo into the iMac using the Firewire 800 port for maximum copy speed. Even with the fast interface it took several hours to move a few hundred gigs of data to the Drobo.

AEBS and Drobo

The final step was moving the Drobo to my hall closet and plugging it in to the USB port on my Airport Extreme Basestation. This makes the Drobo available on my network so that any machine in the house can access the media or backup files to it. So far so good, but I have to admit that that the backup speed is only mediocre even over a Gig ethernet wired network. I suspect the so-so performance has a lot to do with the relatively slow USB 2.0 interface. It’s plenty fast to stream media for Boxee on the iMac though, and since I run the backups over night, the speed doesn’t really matter.

Stay tuned for a description of how I’m using my old MyBook external drive to store encrypted data off-site.

Earlier in the month I posted about the strategy I’ve been employing to back up my 24″ home computer. Using SuperDuper! and a 500-GB external drive attached to my Airport Extreme works great, but it doesn’t really solve the my-house-burned-down-and-now-I-lost-all-of-the-embarrassing-pictures-of-my-kids problem. To address that glaring deficiency I needed a way to move my backups offsite.

Enter Amazon S3. In their own words:

Amazon S3 provides a simple web services interface that can be used to store and retrieve any amount of data, at any time, from anywhere on the web. It gives any developer access to the same highly scalable, reliable, fast, inexpensive data storage infrastructure that Amazon uses to run its own global network of web sites. The service aims to maximize benefits of scale and to pass those benefits on to developers.

In other words, when I utilize S3 I rent a tiny little slice of Amazon’s massive infrastructure. The price is certainly right too. The storage is unlimited and costs $0.15/GB per month. Transferring the files to S3 costs $0.10/GB and from S3 $0.18/GB for the first 10 TB. My monthly cost is about $4.

As extensive as it is, S3 is designed to be technically simple. Unfortunately, technically simple doesn’t mean simple for the end user. To really use S3 most people are going to want a front-end tool. I chose Jungle Disk. Jungle Disk runs on OS X, Linux and Windows and costs only $20. When I start the Jungle Disk software, it appears just like any other drive on my OS X desktop. I can browse files and move things back and forth just like any other disk. I can also install Jungle Disk on all of my computers with one license which makes it ideal for storing files that you might need to access from work and home. If you’re concerned about Amazon snooping through your files, Jungle Disk will encrypt all of your data before it gets sent to S3.

I decided to spring for Jungle Disk Plus for another $1/month because I wanted to take advantage of block-level file updates and resumable uploads. Both of these features reduce the total amount of traffic that gets transferred.

All in all, I feel pretty safe at this point. I’ve got regular full-system backups that can be used to restore my system from scratch if I have a major hard drive crash, and I’ve got some insurance for my irreplaceable files. The next step will be increasing the amount of storage available at home. That 500-GB drive is pretty much full. I’m thinking Drobo.

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.