My Backup Strategy

We save some of our most important belongings on our computers. Not all files are important, but some you’d certainly like to have safely stored for the rest of your life. A good example are childhood photos or personal photos in general.

On a sidenote, I believe it’s important these days to find a healthy ratio of what to keep digitally and what to delete. Likewise I prefer to be selective with the photos I take. You should live the moment and not your camera.

Having said that, I’d would have a hard time if I’d lose my most personal photos and essential documents. Life is unpredictable, but you can protect your things. Think about a decease of a friend, wouldn’t you like to have your photos of each other stored safely? On the other side, music and movies are thanks to streaming services like Spotify/Rdio and Netflix more or less always accessible and don’t need to be backuped in my opinion.

So what is safe? Nothing is 100% bulletproof, but a protection against 99% of the data-loss causes isn’t hard. I believe in a combination of an on- and off-site backup, which basically means having a fast backup around you and another at a different location. Below I outline my backup strategy and give an overview of trustful online storage and backup providers.

How I Backup

Layer 1: I have a MacBook Pro with a 160 GB SSD on which I only store my most important photos, personal documents, business documents and project files. Everything else, like archived documents, music and movies is saved on an external 1 TB HDD. Additional I synchronize all data from my MacBook Pro with arRsync on the external hard disc. Consequential I have a backup of my most important files.

Layer 2: A second external 1 TB HDD backups my first 1 TB HDD daily with Apple’s Time Machine application. With that I have already two backups of my most important files and one backup of everything else. This means my MacBook Pro and one external hard disc can simultaneously die.

Layer 3: Most scenarios should be covered by those two layers, but what’s about fire or a robbery? For that the best is to have another copy in a second location. You could for example rent a safe deposit box, store it at a friends place or use an online storage/backup provider. I choose the latter, because of it’s higher availability and redundancy.

The next section covers off-site backups.

Off-site Backups

As mentioned a backup stored in another location is a great way to be protected in case of fire or a robbery. You could use for example a friends place, your workplace or rent a safe deposit box. You’d have running costs if you settle with a safe deposit box, but can place as much data as you want. The total costs for large data capacities are probably cheaper than using an online storage/backup provider. Furthermore you aren’t limited by your internet connection, which is especially useful when you need to restore a big chunk of data. On the other side, updating your backup is a bit more time consuming, because you need to travel between locations.

This brings us to the alternative, online backups. The benefits are that your data is most times redundantly saved in a secure data center and theoretically everywhere available. So it doesn’t matter if you are at home or on an island, you can always access your files as long as you’re connected to the internet. Most companies provide an application to automatically backup your data. The downsides are that the running costs are most likely higher and you are limited by your internet connection, which can be painful when you need to recover lots of data. Some providers will send you a hard disc with your data for a fee though.

Factors and Online Storage/Backup Providers

I trust the following three providers and services.

Amazon S3 and Amazon Glacier

Amazon is well known and the pioneer of Cloud Computing. Their storage service Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) is the standard of secure online storage and designed for a 99.999999999% durability. As an alternative you can choose the cheaper Reduced Redundancy Storage (RRS) with a 99.99% durability, I use the latter. The RSS storage pricing starts at $0.076 per GB, but there are additional request and data transfer costs to consider. Use the Amazon Web Services Simple Monthly Calculater to estimate your total monthly costs. For example an initial backup of 50 GB (10,000 files) costs $3.84 if you decide to use RSS. The month after would cost $3.80 if you don’t add, request or delete files. By the way the first 5 GB on S3 are FREE for one year!

Additionally Amazon introduced Amazon Glacier on August 2012. Amazon Glacier is a low-cost storage service for infrequently accessed files. The durability is also 99.999999999% and the storage costs are as low as $0.01 per GB. However the retrieval of files typically takes 3-5 hours and Amazon charges a lot more for the retrieving process. You can use again the Amazon Web Services Simple Monthly Calculater to estimate the total costs.

The downside of both services is that you have to buy a third-party application to automate the backup process. I highly recommend Arq, which is very easy to configure, works seamless and doesn’t kill your bandwith or your Mac’s CPU while running. You can also set a maximum S3 storage budget to avoid a high bill.

I’m using this combination since two years. My bill for April 2013 was $0.21 for 2 GB on S3 and $0.36 for 30 GB on Glacier. As mentioned I backup only my most important and frequently accessed files on S3. All other essential files are saved on Glacier.

If you seek to backup more data online, the following providers might be a cheaper option.


CrashPlan is an online storage and backup provider used by companies like Google, Adobe and Cisco. Patrick Rhone introduced me to it and he highly recommends it. 10 GB costs $2/month and for $4/month you can backup unlimited data! CrashPlan provides a client for free.


Backblaze is the second and last provider for an unlimited amount of data, which fits my criteria. It’s the choice of Shawn Blanc and costs $5/month. Backblaze comes also with a client for Windows and Mac.

Bottom Line

Again, you’ll find many other providers, but I don’t feel comfortable recommending them to you. All mentioned providers and backup applications offer free trials, so the best thing is really to test them individually and settle down with your prefered solution.

On top of that you could use the free online storage from Dropbox or Google Drive to backup your most important files and sync them across all your machines.

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