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Backups, why aren't you doing them? Don't wait until it's too late.

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So I figured I'd jump start my blog with a post I've been wanting to write for a long time now and finally got around to doing so. I was going to write a "I'm back" post after spending the past 2 weeks debating on whether to restart this blog or go with a hosted solution instead but why not kick it off with a real post? Well here it is, a follow-up to something I wrote a long ago.

Backups are important for everybody, there's no question about it. If you have anything of value on your computer you need to back it up. If you can safely say that if your hard drive died and all of your online content was wiped you would continue functioning without a blink than I applaud you, in your case I highly recommend a different type of software called Reboot Restore RX (I run this on my netbook so if anything happens to it a reboot will clear it up but it doesn't save any data without manual intervention).

I've talked to some IT professionals who know way more than I do about things I don't even know about, yet most of them don't perform automated backups of their data and those that do only back them up locally (like a USB drive or NAS). While I'll agree that anything is better than nothing, it's almost 2014 and the number of options for off-site backups out there is crazy. I understand cost is usually the biggest factor, but we're not talking about paying for terabytes of space. My personal backups (comprised of files that I either cannot replace or projects that have taken countless hours to build) make up less than 40GB of space total. I expect this size to be much larger than a typical computer user's backups but if you save all of your home movies and high resolution pictures to your desktop then it can be upwards of that size.

So now for the core of this post: How I backup things and how you can be doing it easily and cheaply.

I'm going to start off by saying that there are 2 basic rules for backups: 1) Anything is better than nothing. 2) There is no such thing as overkill.

My backup strategy is a bit complex, but it's thorough and works for my needs. I decided to create a simple diagram to give a basic overview of how I do my backups.

  1. I keep 1 local backup for quick restores and 3 geographically diverse off-site backups for emergencies.

  2. I keep my important data synced between my laptop, NAS, and a Windows 7 VM hosted off-site via Synology's CloudStation app. This allows me to have the data available at all times since I use the off-site VM to work on stuff (like typing up this blog post). Since my NAS and VM are always on, they are constantly synced up over the WAN and my laptop gets synced up whenever I power it on via the LAN so even large files aren't a problem.

  3. My NAS backs up to a Virtual Private Server each night via rsync. This VPS is in a different geographic location from my VM and is essentially a backup of a backup.

  4. My VM runs CrashPlan Subscription which backs up any files that change to CrashPlan's servers every 15 minutes. The benefit for this is that the files are versioned so if I backup a file and then find out I need the original version from 6 months back I can restore that version, this is great for writing code since during development the files change so frequently I can revert back to an older version for whatever reason. It has the added benefit of allowing me to install the CrashPlan app on any computer/server and I can back them up to my VM which will then back that data up to CrashPlan's servers thus only needing to pay for one subscription.

In total, my backup solution runs me about $29.15/month with $20 of that going towards my Windows 7 VM that I utilize for other things. A bit on the high side, but a worthy investment for peace of mind and the versatility it allows me. It's also worth noting that $29.15 does not include the cost of the NAS, power, or Windows licenses so there is a bit of an investment to get up and running.

Now let's take my backup solution and build a budget friendly option!

It's definitely worth sticking with CrashPlan Subscription since you can't beat it, for $59.99/year you can backup unlimited data as often as you want. I really like it because it's the only consumer backup solution that supports Linux without a GUI which was very useful in the beginning before I got the Windows 7 VM. Basically, you can install this on your desktop and it's a "set it and forget it" solution. One word of caution for those who are eyeing the "CrashPlan Pro" option: the network speeds are veeeeeery slooooow compared to the consumer plan. After over a year of using the Pro plan we were barely able to backup at 10Mbps (our backup server was on dedicated a 1Gbps port in our cabinet) and our daily backups would never complete because it would take more than 24 hours to backup.

Looking for something cheaper and don't mind getting your hands dirty? Then a VPS is your best bet since you can be in control of your own backups be it FTP, rsync, or any of the other software solutions out there (heck, you can even run your own CrashPlan server for free on it). The trade-off here is that it can be as basic or as complex as you want to make it if you have the knowledge and willingness. I grabbed my backup VPS from my own company since the location is perfect for me (the server is in Downtown Denver and I live about 10 miles from the data center), you can check out the plans here if you're interested (you can also opt for a smaller and cheaper VPS if you know you won't need a lot of space). In the interest of fairness I'm going to list some other options for those who need something in a different location or with different features/resources:
  • BuyVM - Storage VPSs starting @ $7/month in Las Vegas. I'm friends with the staff here and have a few personal VPSs with them also.

  • Hostigation - VPSs starting @ $20/year in North Carolina and Los Angeles. The owner runs a tight ship and my company has a VPS in NC for external monitoring so it's top notch.

  • RamNode - VPSs starting @ $24/year in Atlanta, Seattle, and in the Netherlands. The owner is very cool and I used to have a VPS with them for playing around with. They are known for their performance but the amount of disk space included is plenty for personal backups.

  • Backupsy - Backup VPSs starting @ $10/month. This is the only provider on the list that I have no experience with at all. I've heard good things about them though so I'm throwing them out there because of their diverse locations.

Between CrashPlan and the providers listed you pretty much have your off-site backups covered. Of course there are hundreds (if not thousands) of options out there so don't be afraid to search for something that better fits your needs. After all, a backup solution is not a "one size fits all" type of thing so what works for me might not work for you and vise-versa. There are no guarantees in life and backups are no exception, that's why I keep 3 off-site backups with different providers in different geographic locations.

For those of you interested in exploring local backups only, you're in luck! There's a plethora of options out there for you, although not as many as the off-site solutions there are still enough for you to find one that fits your needs and budget.

My first recommendation for everybody is a consumer NAS. They are very affordable, easy on the electric bill, and the software offers you more than you could ever need. There are a few brands out there but I highly recommend Synology because of their cost and reliability. I have a small 1-bay DS110j at home with a 1TB drive in it and it's more than enough for my needs (and it costs only $5.24/year in electric). My dad has an even older 2-bay DS210+ and it's running strong also. I've heard good things about QNap, and it's about $50 cheaper on Newegg (comparing 1-bay devices) so it might be worth looking into if a lot of the Synology features will go unused for you.

Have a lot of spare computer parts lying around? Then building your own NAS might be your cheapest option. Just build up a working computer with as many hard drives as you can find (or need) and grab yourself some free software like FreeNAS or Openfiler and you're up and running. I wish I could say I had more experience with them but unfortunately I do not, I blame Synology for spoiling me. Of course, you could easily just install a Windows or Linux OS and configure them as a local server with some NFS/CIFS/SAMBA shares or an FTP server or some of the many backup applications out there. When you go custom like this the sky's the limit!

Now before I finish up this post, I want to touch on RAID a bit. RAID is NOT a backup solution. RAID is a hardware redundancy. As I mentioned, my NAS has a single drive in it so no RAID there. My Windows 7 VM and Debian VPS both have hardware RAID as does CrashPlan's servers (at least I hope they do). If you can afford it, RAID is always the best option but it's not a guarantee which is why multiple backups are the best solution.

I could go on and on about backups but I think this post is a good starter post regarding backups. I'll put out more specific posts in the future. :)

Comments

John James 09-15-2016 @ 3:01PM EDT

Thank you so much for this list. I will post it in our Seller’s Bootcamp at icraft.ca. Any new business starting out can at least focus their resources elsewhere. Cheers, Christine

dedicated hosting 09-15-2016 @ 2:30PM EDT

Such a great post with great information for small business owners! Thanks so much!

jacob wallace 09-12-2016 @ 12:44PM EDT

Such a great post with great information for small business owners! Thanks so much!

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