Backup strategy revisited

I am taking my Macbook Pro in for repair today, so I spent most of last night backing up all the data (critical and non-critical) in case the system needs restoring or it has to be away for a while. It made me re-evaluate my backup strategy a bit.

I do the majority of my work on my Macbook pro (120Gb) on my home wireless network. I also have a Linux machine as a backup solution. This backs up to an external 250Gb hard drive overnight, using rsync (so as to only backup the changed files).

This solution is not great, and it is a bit cumbersome. I plan to replace this with a solution that will involve RAID-1 (two hard drives mirrored. If one fails nothing is lost).

There are a few ways to do this:

  • I could add RAID 1 to the Linux machine. This is a little difficult as it is a tiny machine that sits underneith the TV and there is really not the room for a second hard drive.
  • I could replace the external hard drive with a USB enclosure that uses RAID 1. This is not too expensive, but adds a second device which also needs space and power.
  • I could invest in a NAS box, such as a Synology, QSNAP or Thecus.

BUT, it’s not that simple…

As I do most of my work on the Macbook the first and formost important thing for me is to backup that data, live data that I am working on at the time.

As I work on a wireless network I dont want to transfer 120Gb every time I backup. This leaves be two options:

  • I could use a backup program that detects changes
  • I could use OSX’s built in Time Machine

Time Machine takes hourly backups of the current dat, along with weekly and monthly backups as space allows. The problem is it only works (properly) using Apple Airport hardware. There are hacks around for getting it working on a normal NAS, but there are pitfalls as well.

I have experimented with rsync options and even those seem to interfere with the operation of the macbook while I am working. Time Machine (from what I see) is fairly seamless.


That leaves one option, the Apple Airport Extreme.

Although it does not (as standard) use RAID the data is actually in two places anyway, the Macbook and the backup drive. This is a perfect solution for the Macbook backup, but what about archives?

Archives work a little differently. Data is passed from the Macbook to the Airport-attached hard drive. Once it is there it gets deleted from the Macbook.

This means that is the hard drive fails the data is lost… back to RAID!

After consideration I feel my best solution is to use the Apple Airport Extrme with a hardware RAID external hard drive. This means that the macbook live data is actually on 3 hard drives, and the archive data is on 2.

What do you guys use for your backup solution and archive data?

8 replies
  1. Lyndi
    Lyndi says:

    Yikes, the scenarios you have sketched are very technical and involved. Fortunately I do not have anything half as difficult as this to deal with on my home machines. I use a desktop as well as a notebook at home, but all I do is to blog on them. All I need to worry about is the database backups as well as an occasional backup of the WordPress core files.

    At work things are a bit more complicated but fortunately there the problem of backups is not mine.

  2. Jim
    Jim says:

    @Lyndi: That’s a good situation to be in, backups can be a right headache to deal with. I used to use DVD’s, but these have been known to fail/get lost so I don’t trust that method. I must admit I do take the issue a little far, I am currently wondering what will happen to my data if my house burns down 😀

  3. Rarst
    Rarst says:

    My backup setup is not too good (relatively).

    1. Most of local stuff is mirrored to external HDD and flash drive daily via SyncEXP.
    2. Blog database mailed me daily, copy in mail plus it gets in mirrors via WP DB Backup plugin.
    3. Blog FTP account is made weekly and gets in mirrors via Cobian Backup.

    Need to add two things:
    4. add Dropbox as one more mirror destination for docs
    5. add backup to second drive for large files

    Bit messy, I am not very happy with it but it works and revamp would require few days of sorting stuff.

  4. Jim
    Jim says:

    @Rarst: That seems pretty thorough, looks like you have most bases covered there 😀

    I am in a similar “complex” situation and my proposed solution should (in theory) be a one-stop-shop (several times over LOL)

  5. Rarst
    Rarst says:


    Biggest problem with my setup is that it mirrors only for local stuff. Mirror as backup is unreliable, good backup must provide means to restore files X days back (where X is as big as space allows).

    Cobian can handle proper backups but I need better folder structure to setup that. And better folder structure means current one is used fo? years and veeeery outdated.

  6. Jim
    Jim says:

    @Rarst: Good points there. I think it depends on your reasons for backup. Personally I just want the files I have on my laptop backed up (and archives, of course). If I delete a file that’s fine, I don’t need (myself) the ability to retrieve it from backup, although I can see where some people may need that. That is a different matter for my server, and that is in hand.

    If you are referring to coding and overwriting files then version control would be a better option I think, something like subversion. I am going to implement this on my projects as soon as I get my Macbook back!

    Also, amen on the folder structure point, the only thing more untidy than my office is my folder structure! 😀

  7. Rarst
    Rarst says:


    Biggest problem with mirror are viruses. I had sneaky infection once that hit plenty of exe files – I had to redownload 1/3rd of my setup packages.

    Also backward sync is an issue, for some docs that are bidirectional synced file broken on flash drive (which are pretty unreliable) might pollute original files on local drive.

    Problem with good backup it’s real pain to setup. 🙂 And even if it is automated still need to be checked manually that archives are recoverable.

  8. Jim
    Jim says:

    @Rarst: You are right, it’s a real can of worms… and when you move from protecting your own data to protecting others it’s even worse!

    Fortunately my clients data is protected rock-solid, I just don’t have that sort of funds to throw at my home data, so I need to make do 😀


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