Now that I’m 24 and getting started on my own adult life, there’s a lot of responsibility when it comes to keeping stuff (mostly memories). When you’ve been dating the same girl for about 5 years, there’s a bunch of pictures on my MacBook that I wouldn’t want to get rid of. There’s all these documents I’ve created for teaching maths and physics. And then there’s my precious music library.
So I’ve been thinking about backing this up in the easiest and most secure way I see possible. I’m a pretty average nerd: I don’t have a Drobo drive at home, nor do I rent any server space from Amazon. I don’t have multiple external hard drives, nor do I want to pay for a real life vault to keep them in (there really are people who do this).
First: Storing stuff in the right place
I keep all my music in iTunes, and for 25 euros a year, I get to enjoy iTunes Match, which not only keeps a copy of all of my songs in very decent quality. I can download and re-download parts of that library to my iPhone, iPad and MacBook at any time. This is very useful, since transferring music and playlists was about the only thing I used the cable connector for. Now I can do it on the fly; downloading an album I want to listen to for any reason and deleting it afterwards to save space on my device.
All my important documents, from my high school days up to my current job are kept in my Dropbox folder. This does not include my songs, since I find that iTunes Match offers me a much better service. I do not pay for extra space; I currently use about 70% of the free 8,5 GB I received over the years. These are (mostly) text-documents (Word, Pages, Excel, Powerpoint…) and PDF copies. Not only does keeping them in Dropbox have a certain back-up value (when my computer dies, the documents are still there); they’re easily accessible everywhere, using an app or the web client (which is quite superb).
My pictures are kept locally on my three iDevices: they’re in iPhoto on the MacBook and in the ‘Photos’ app on the iPhone and iPad. And then I also use the mobile Dropbox app’s ‘Camera Upload’ to keep another copy of the photos in a Dropbox folder.
Second: Off-site back up
Using a Mac comes with a lot of nifty built-in features, of which I like Time Machine the best. It allows one to connect an external hard drive and use the available space (I found it works best if you dedicate a whole hard drive for it) to make back ups of your computer. When first connecting the hard drive, the Time Machine utility will automatically make a copy of your whole computer. Afterwards, it will create incremental updates every hour. So say you have a Word document, it will be backed up, but if you change it, it will back it up again. This gives you the ability to ‘go back in time’ - hence the name Time Machine - and get an old version of your document. This is very nifty when writing a paper or a book, if only to see what has changed through time.
I use a 500 GB LaCie hard drive to back up my 121 GB MacBook Air. I keep it at the office, the thinking being that if my house (or my office building) burns down, I’ll always have either my MacBook or my Time Machine at hand. (Of course, if the office burns down while my MacBook is there, I’m a bit screwed.)
(Pro tip: if you own confidential information, or if you’re just a little paranoid when you keep your hard drive at the office, you can use another built-in feature called FileVault 2 to encrypt your Time Machine.)
You can also easily have your iPad and iPhone back up themselves to your iCloud account through the Settings app. It will back up (only) when connected to a power supply and WiFi. Since I do this, and store quite some stuff on iCloud, I pay 16 euros a year for 15 GB of total space. This is more than plenty for me, while the free 5 GB is not enough.
Ever since my podcasting buddy Maarten recommended it in February 2010, I’ve been wanting to use Backblaze myself. I’ve paid 95 dollars for two years of unlimited back up, about 75 euros, installed the Backblaze app and let it make an initial backup. It kinda works the same way as Time Machine does, but it backs up to the cloud, and you can’t see previous versions.
I intent to actually never ever use my Backblaze backup, it’s effectively a worst case scenario insurance. But if things go terribly awry, I expect them to have my back.
My strategy exists of four automated online services: iTunes Match (which costs 25 euros a year), iCloud (16 euros a year) Dropbox (which doesn’t cost me anything) and Backblaze (which costs 75 euros for 2 years). Total estimated cost: about 80 euros a year.
Next to that I also have a good quality external hard drive and use the built-in utility Time Machine.