March 31 is World Backup Day

March 31st is World Backup Day, an idea that spawned from this Reddit thread 3 years ago. There’s no shortage of reasons why it’s important to backup your digital data and I feel most people already know that by now.

However, most people are also doing it wrong:

  • Backing up your PC to a hard drive in the same PC is #notabackup
  • Backing up to a hard drive that is 30 cm away from your computer is #notabackup
  • The photos that are still in your phone is #notabackup
  • Putting your stuff systematically in Dropbox is #notabackup

The backup 3-2-1 rule is regarded as a rule of thumb and best practice:

  • 3 copies of anything you care about – Two isn’t enough if it’s important.
  • 2 different formats – Combination of Dropbox / DVDs / Hard Drive / Memory Stick / CrashPlan
  • 1 off-site backup – If the house burns down, how will you get your memories back?

Protect your legacy and backup your digital valuables properly.

Backup strategies

Windows 8 File History

This is by far the easiest way to have continuous backups of your personal files with Windows 8. You can even set your destination to a remote location on the network.

For more information on how to activate it, I highly recommend Scott Hanselman’s blog

Windows 8 System Image Backup

I like to have a full system image of machines I really care about such as my own PC. It would take weeks to fully restore all my software in the case of a system crash. That’s why I create this full system image weekly. With that, I can go from total crash to full restore in just a few hours.

It’s almost hidden, but Windows 8 has a built-in System Image backup tool. Even better: there is a command-line version of this tool that can be used with scheduled tasks.

[code]wbadmin start backup -backuptarget:\spockbackups -include:C:[/code]

Windows 8 Storage Spaces

The natural evolution of Drive Extender, a feature I know quite well from the good Windows Home Server days. Windows 8 Storage Spaces improves upon the original idea of software raid. You allocate physical drives as part of your “storage pool” and create “storage spaces” (buckets) that can have different raid-like configuration.

Here’s an example on how I do it with 8 physical drives

  • Multimedia: Parity
  • Backup: Simple (no resiliency)
  • Documents: Two-way mirror
  • Photos: Three-way mirror

This is not a proper backup per se, but data redundancy makes recovery quick and easy in case of a hard drive failure (which happens more than you’d like).

Acronis True Image

Acronis True Image is a commercial software that specializes in full system image. It features multiple backup schemes (full, incremental, differential), “encryption” and a wide range of other things.

I used True Image for two years, and while I find that is a rich and powerful backup suite, the consolidation algorithm is very poor. Unusable, even. You’ve been warned.

Cloud storage (Dropbox / Google Drive)

Most people won’t be able to fit all their pictures in 2 GB, which is what most cloud providers are offering in their free tier.

However, Google recently announced a substantial price cut for their Google Drive service. 2$ / month will get you 100 GB of storage, more than enough for most people willing to have an off-site backup.

CrashPlan

For about 5$ / month, CrashPlan offers unlimited online storage for 1 PC. Yeah, your red that right: unlimited online storage! That means that if I can have a single location for ALL my backups and push them to CrashPlan Central from there, it will count as a single PC… brilliant!

This works perfect for work laptops that are not always connected to my home network. They will remotely sync with my home server at night between 2am and 8am, while the Internet usage does not count towards my monthly limit. (Thanks, TekSavvy!). This is also during that time that I upload the backups to CrashPlan Central.

To this date, they don’t seem to mind the 2 TB of data I’ve uploaded over the last 2 years.

Going further

Encryption

What if your hard drives are stolen? You might think your personal data is of no interest but believe me, it is. Your backups should be encrypted.

SpiderOak, Acronis True Image and  CrashPlan all have some kind of encryption capabilities in their offering. However, when it comes to encryption, I only trust software that is open source. Which is why I highly recommend the use of TrueCrypt, a long time favourite in data privacy circles. (TrueCrypt has been discontinued. Use VeraCrypt for now)

Backup cloud services

You should not trust the cloud. I would be sad if I lost all those years of email. Tools like Gmvault can help creating local copies of your Gmail account.

Email is just an example; backup your data that’s only in the cloud.

Remember when Megaupload was one of the biggest cloud storage providers? They were raided and went out of business overnight.

Practice restoration

Backups always succeed. It’s restores that fail. Make sure you’ve tested your restore procedure. How do you test that procedure? Restore to a virtual machine! Visualization software like VirtualBox can help you in that regard.

My own solution

What Source Destination Scheduling Technology
Full system image Simon-PC On-premise home server Weekly Windows 8 System Image Backup
File-level backup Personal PCs On-premise home server Continuous Windows 8 File History
File-level backup Work PCs Home server Nightly CrashPlan
Off-site backup Home server CrashPlan Central Nightly CrashPlan

In my case, my home server is a big part of the puzzle. All the data is in one physical place for on-premise restoration of files and system image, protected from (1-2 simultaneous) hard drive failure thanks to Windows 8 Storage Spaces. Combined with CrashPlan for local/remote backups and off-site backups to the cloud, this is a true backup solution.

Happy World Backup Day! What’s your backup strategy?