Backup Strategy 2015

I just changed large parts of our family backup strategy, and looking back, it’s been 2 years since I last detailed what we use, so I thought it’d be a good time to revisit the topic. In our family, for computers, we have several Macs. For data, we have about 20 GB of personal and financial documents, and a little more than 200 GB of photos. I believe in having at least two backups, one of which must be offsite/in the cloud.

Previously, we used Dropbox and Boxcryptor to share our personal files, and the photos resided on a Synology DS412+ NAS. I was never comfortable having our personal information on Dropbox, even using Boxcryptor, which had the side effect of making things more cumbersome. Synology has a private Dropbox feature, called Cloud Station, and we’ve moved everything off of Dropbox onto it. It’s been problem free.

For backups, we continue to use Time Machine to back up our Macs to a Time Capsule, and Crashplan to back up our Macs to the cloud. This works fine. Previously, I had also used Crashplan on the Synology to backup our photos to the cloud and also to an external USB drive. This never worked well. Crashplan is not officially supported on Synology, so anyone wishing to use it has to rely on a third-party package. Every time Synology updated the operating system (which is fairly often), Crashplan would break. It would also break at other, random times. Finally I couldn’t get it to work anymore at all. As an aside, as part of my trouble-shooting, I learned that if there are problems, the Synology will mount the USB drive as read-only, but not make it apparent that it has done so. This backup system was just not working.

So, I threw out Crashplan and the external USB drive on the Synology, and replaced it with two things. First, I started using Synology’s package to do backups to Amazon Glacier, their cloud archiving service. It took about 5 days to backup 230 GB of data, and cost a little under $10. If I understand the billing correctly, it will continue to cost about $10/month to store that data, which I agree is somewhat expensive. And should I need to recover it, it will cost a lot more. But I consider the Glacier backup a disaster recovery backup only, and don’t anticipate ever having to recover from it. The Glacier backup is scheduled to run once a week.

The other thing I did was purchase a second Synology NAS (a DS415+, the next hardware rev of the DS412+), and set up nightly backups from the first Synology. I believe it’s an rsync-based system, and it provides multiple versions of files. It was painless to set up, and because it’s a local backup, it took a bit less than 2 hours to do a full backup.

So now, I have our data on 4 hard drives locally (each Synology has 2 drives in a RAID), as well as in the cloud. Additionally, our Macs are backed up to two different places, one of which is in the cloud.

Backup and Dropbox Strategy

The hard drive on my iMac is making a funny noise, which is a good excuse to review my current backup strategy. It’s fairly simple these days. All of my data is on a 3TB iMac fusion drive. That gets backed up 3 ways. It’s backed up to an Apple Time Capsule, which also serves as my main WiFi router. I also use CrashPlan to back up to their cloud service, CrashPlan Central. And as a third backup, I use CrashPlan to back up to a USB drive every couple of weeks. The USB drive is otherwise stored in a (hopefully) fireproof safe. This gives me the safety of an off-site backup as well as the speediness of two different on-site backups. I’ve had occasion to use the Time Capsule to recover some files, but I have not yet had to rely on any of the CrashPlan backups.

CrashPlan provides the software to do local backups for free; they make their money on CrashPlan Central. I signed up for the 4 year CrashPlan+ Family unlimited plan, because we have several computers to back up. When I first set up the CrashPlan cloud backup, I used their ‘seed service’, in which a hard drive is mailed to you, you use it to do a local backup, and then you mail the drive back to them. This is much faster than doing the initial backup entirely over the net.

These days, a discussion of backups wouldn’t be complete without talking about Dropbox. My wife and I share a Dropbox account. It’s a great way to share family-related information, and it’s automatically backed up. But we wanted some extra security on the files we share, so we encrypt our Dropbox account using BoxCryptor. BoxCryptor creates an encrypted volume on top of a Dropbox directory. This shows up on Windows as another drive; on Mac it shows up as a volume. It encrypts files on a per-file basis, instead of creating a monolithic encrypted filesystem. This allows DropBox to continue to sync on a file-by-file basis when something changes. BoxCryptor is free for individuals; the paid version has extra features.

One feature to consider is encryption of file names. It provides an extra level of security; if someone were able to look at your DropBox account, they’d only see a bunch of files with gibberish for file names. In the end, I decided against enabling that feature. We’re giving up a little bit of security (the file data itself is still encrypted). The advantage of not encrypting file names comes up in the case of recovering deleted files, should you have to do that. You’ll be able to locate the files to recover because the file names are still readable. That wouldn’t be possible with encrypted file names.