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My Backup Strategies - Part 1: Computer Backups

A while back, I started following Scott Hanselman's blog, and I came across an article he did years ago regarding his backup strategy. He calls his strategy "The Rule of 3", and he went into detail about how anal he is with his backups (and rightfully so), to the point where he actually takes external drives to a safe deposit box at the bank every couple of weeks.

After I read his post, I got to thinking about my own backup strategy and how I basically didn't have one. All I was rocking at the time was a hacked together "NAS" that consisted of a handful of external drives connected to my AirPort Extreme. The drives weren't always used for backups, and they really just provided additional, easily accessible storage for my whole house.

Realizing I had been pretty lucky with not losing anything I cared about up to that point, I figured I should piece together a more formal strategy before I became not so lucky.

BACKING UP THE MAC WITH TIME MACHINE

I have a 6-year-old MacBook Pro (MBP) that I use very rarely these days, but still do some important work on from time to time. Being that it has a backup system built into the OS, Time Machine, I figured that would be a good place to start.

Of course, Apple recommends using one of their Time Capsules for backup storage, but since I didn't want to shell out the extra money for one, I just used one of my external drives.

Initially, I just left my drive plugged into my AirPort Extreme, but for whatever reason, the backups wouldn't always take place, so I took a different approach where I plugged the hard drive directly into my MBP and kicked off the Time Machine backup manually.

This worked well enough for a while, especially since I really didn't have much to backup, but still required me to remember plugging in the drive and kicking off the backup every so often. I switched to a more automated solution after a couple of years of doing this, but more on this in my next post.

BACKING UP MY PCs

Traditionally, in order to back up my PCs, I would just manually copy the most important items to external drives or burn the data onto DVDs. Being that both processes were time consuming, and I was really inconsistent with doing both, I figured an automated solution was needed.

After doing a bunch of research a year or so ago, I landed on a product called Acronis True Image. There are probably better options out there today, but what I like about the tool is that it's not fully subscription-based like so many other tools these days, so you can just pay for it once and be done.

I say it's not "fully" subscription-based, because you aren't required to keep up a subscription in order to use the tool, which is the case with the Adobe suite, for example.

But, if you would like to keep getting updates, you will need to renew your license periodically. I just paid for the tool one time over a year ago and have been running the same version since without any issues.

Other than the financial benefits, I find it pretty intuitive and easy to use:

You select the files/folders you want to back up, tell Acronis where to put them, and then set up a schedule for how often you'd like the backups to occur. I installed this tool on my desktop, as well as on my wife's desktop, and just selected the handful of folders and drives that I would like to have backed up on each machine.

Originally, I had the tool save the backups to the external drives attached to my AirPort Extreme, just like with my Time Machine setup, but I have since upgraded my network storage and updated my settings to point to the new storage (more on that in the next post, too).

One of the downsides to the tool, however, is that it uses its own archive file format, so if I decided to go with a different tool down the road, I would no longer be able to extract the data from the archives, if needed:

Using a standard archiving format would be nice, but I guess a proprietary solution is what forces customers to keep coming back for more.

Overall, I am pleased with the tool and will continue using it for the foreseeable future. All of this is very high-level, sure, but I just wanted to share with you the tools I am currently using to perform backups on each of my machines in case you're in need of a backup solution.

Keep an eye out for the next part of the series on "My Backup Strategies" where I cover stepping up my NAS game by getting rid of the hacked together AirPort Extreme "NAS" and introducing a Synology DiskStation.

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About Tony Thorsen

Father of two, husband of one, Maker of many things. Tinkerer, dreamer, pixel nudger.