Phillip Smith

The ultimate data backup triple-play for under $500

Continuous, offsite, and encrypted -- just do it.

For the last couple years I've struggled to find the perfect backup solution. The perfect backup solution I was after had to meet certain criteria:

  • It had to be continuous and require almost no thought;
  • It had to be both onsite (for fast access) and offsite (in case of theft);
  • It had to to be encrypted so that my client's data was protected.

Recently, it all came into focus... so I thought I'd share my "ultimate data backup triple-play for under $500" in case you're in a similar situation.

The first thing I did was ditch my Buffalo Linkstation Mini 1TB Network Attached Storage (NAS) device (great conceptually, terrible in practice) and bought a Western Digital My Book Studio 2TB drive with firewire 800 and USB 2.0 interfaces. Unlike the NAS device, the firewire 800 connection means that my local, onsite backups are blazingly fast and the device only cost $210 CAD at Canada Computers.

Next I signed-up for Backblaze -- an online (thus offsite) backup service -- after reading this (very convincing) article about their hardware and HTTP-based backup software. The Backblaze service costs $50/year for one computer with unlimited data (wich is the key, as I have a lot of data to backup).

Finally, I found a way to make the process of backing up to my 160GB "classic" iPod painless and functional by ditching my hand-crafted rsync scripts and replacing them with the easy-as-pie iPodBackup software. The current cost for a 160GB iPod is roughly $259.00 and you can probably find one a lot cheaper on eBay or Craigslist.

Those pieces in place, here's how it all works:

  • I have a full backup of my computer on the 2TB hard drive that runs continuously via Apple's Time Machine software (not as terrible a piece of software as I thought it would be, to be honest). The hard drive mentioned above is one of the few at that price that comes with built-in hardware-based encryption -- so the drive is locked and encrypted when I dismount it.
  • A continuous encrypted backup of my essential client files (~40GB) happens via Backblaze so that I never need to think about it and can access the data in a pinch from the road. Backblaze lets you provide your own private encryption key, so that data is also encrypted both on-route to Backblaze and at their facility.
  • Finally, I perform a semi-regular encrypted backup of my essential client files (~40GB) on to my iPod, which I bring along with me on trips so that I have a copy of all my client data in my pocket. The iPodBackup software handles the creation of an encrypted "sparse image" before it moves the backup to the iPod, so I never have to worry that much about losing the iPod or having it stolen, as the data is encrypted.

All this for under $500. That's a low price to pay for complete piece of mind. :)

And, because I saw a tweet from my friend Rolf about it this morning, I should mention quickly what I do on the server that hosts my e-mail and Web sites. Basically, after much futzing around, I ended up with a simple solution using rsync and expect (to handle authentication prompts) that backs-up all of my Web site data, e-mail, and anything else lying around my account. This is all backed up to the free 100GB Strongspace account that I received as part of my lifetime hosting account with Textdrive (now Joyent). That backup runs every day by itself -- never have to think about it! -- and makes those files available via sFTP and a nifty Web interface.

Note to those of you that use a Linux desktop operating system: obviously, a lot of the above is Mac-centric. If you have some suggestions on how to achieve roughly the same set-up on open hardware and free software, it would be great if you could pop it into the comments. :-)


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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