Always backup
Posted on Nov 8 - 2020
Don't do my bullshit

A couple of days ago I decided to clean up the infinity of files that I have kept over the years. I saw that among all the folders of the various clouds that I used (Dropbox, Google Drive, Onedrive, Box, Mega, and others) some files were missing. These are old videos shot from my 4th generation iPod touch.

I was very fond of those videos. 😕

So besides having badly managed all my files, I didn’t have any backup method in case of problems like this or worse. My mistake was to give higher priority to saving more copies of the files that I consider important, leaving out the others. I decided to take the backup seriously.






Cloud doesn’t always mean backup

First of all, it must be borne in mind that many of the services such as iCloud, Onedrive, and others mentioned above aren’t backup services but synchronization. All the files you upload to the cloud are synced to all your devices, stop.

In short, if you:

  • Permanently delete a file.

  • Edit and save a file and then realize you’re wrong.

  • You’re so stupid that you get ransomware or some other bullshit that corrupts your files.

  • Other bad things.

You have lost one or more pieces of your life that you consider important.

Put simply, a backup is mostly something that works separately on your computer and allows you to have a history of all your files, so you can restore them at any time. This concept is different than syncing your files across multiple devices.

I won’t go into specifics because for this there is always Wikipedia and there’re endless possibilities to customize one or more backups.
The important thing to understand is that you can restore any file before a mess happens.

NB: I recently read that Dropbox introduced a file version history service. Interesting.



Nas, worth it?

As soon as I searched for the word backup, the solution immediately appeared to buy a NAS and use it for a backup strategy rather than to provide an uninterrupted service like a NAS. There are infinite types of NAS with as many infinite customizations. But, at least in my case, I don’t see it as a good choice.

First of all, I started cleaning all my files before backing them up and I realized that have a lot of duplicates. Once deleted, I saw that the files to be saved weigh relatively little (about 500 GB), and spending a hundred dollars for a NAS seems quite useless (I love having a minimalist view of things). In addition, since it is a simple backup, I would never have used all the sharing features, multimedia, apps, and many others that a NAS can provide.

I then moved on to the simpler solution. External hard drives.



Strategy 3-2-1

So just copy all the files to some external drive to solve this? FUCK NO!

The concept of the integrity of files comes into play. So copying your files doesn’t mean you are 100% sure they match up to the smallest bit with the original ones. With this, I am not saying that if you copy a photo then the new version is different, but in the long run (time, disc construction, temperatures, and many other factors) the photo may undergo a change.

Apparently, the best backup strategy is called 3-2-1.

I make it simple:

  • Have at least three copies of your data.

  • Store copies on two different media.

  • Keep one copy of the backup off-site.

Also in this case just search on the internet to understand the reason for this choice.

Having both a desktop and a laptop I decided to create my backup strategy in the following way.
I use Time Machine for a full system backup. I found on eBay a very cheap Apple time capsule, replaced the internal disk and configured both my MacMini and the MacBook to manage network backups. In addition to the time capsule, for the MacMini, I connected an external hard drive that always runs time machine to have at least two copies of the operating system with its files.

I took my 500GB of important data and copied them to two supports, always external hard drives. One of these is connected to the MacMini while the other is unplugged and safe in the house.

For the off-site side, I searched on the internet for something valid, both for what it offers and for the asking price. I’ve evaluated: amazon S3, wasabi, Backblaze B2, and others. In the end, based on my needs, I started the 30d free trial with Arqbacksup which allows me to save a copy of my data on Google’s servers for a few dollars a month.

So I didn’t exactly follow the 3-2-1 strategy, but I think I won’t lose my important files again.
Obviously, I’ll keep you up-to-date.



Update Nov 15, 2020

I realized that choosing a cloud-based backup is much more complex than it seems. I’m not saying it’s hard to set up a backup program or sign up on some site like AWS or Azure, but since it’s about uploading documents, photos, and other strictly personal files to a server somewhere in the world, there’re a few things to consider.

Cloud hosting services are run by companies, and they reside on a specific continent that has specific laws set by the government. It’s interesting how over the years the concept of privacy has been lost.
So, before uploading something to the cloud you must be sure that what you upload is yours and remains yours and nobody else’s. Anyone who thinks something like: “so much so that they make my photos of the sea” or “I have nothing to hide”, is very wrong. Collecting even a grain of information can be a winner for those who want to manipulate you in the future.

The first to fall into the trap was using any cloud service that gave me free GB without any problems.
Also, you should always see what company is present at the moment when you register or use any service. For example, the cloud Mega, structured to provide maximum security, was purchased years ago, by a Chinese investor. The founder of the service himself said to keep away from the service.

So I decided to break the offsite backup rule to better evaluate the services offered and above all the policies behind each service.



Update Nov 21, 2020

For the moment I don’t take any off-site backup, but in the future, I’ll configure, according to my requirements, an AWS server associated with a backup software as Duplicati, or through borg to encrypt all the files first and then send to the cloud.

In the meantime, I decided to try Carbon copy cloner to manage my two local backups on external drives. The peculiarity is that CCC allows you to make backups of data by checking their integrity and possibly replacing damaged files. There’re many customizations and it includes not only backup but file snapshot as well. Also, I read in the documentation that it allows backups even remotely, fantastic.



Update Nov 30, 2020

Last update. I structured backups in the following way:

  • With CCC I manage two external hard drives for backup, the first is always connected to my MacMini and the backup is executed every night. I connect the second disk once a month (in my case I don’t need to make weekly or daily backups).

  • With Apple’s AirPort Time Capsule have regular system backups for both the MacMini and MacBook. Once a month I use another external drive to have an additional monthly Time Machine copy.

  • Welcome cloud. I make daily backups of strictly necessary files with borg and the cloud BorgBase, totally open source. The files are encrypted using a key that never leaves my Mac and then sent to the cloud.

All the local disks that I use are encrypted using Apple’s disk utility. If you have to use other systems such as Windows or Linux distributions, VeraCrypt is the best.



Update Aug 07, 2021

I split my 500GB files and got ≃ 2GB of essential files which are synced between devices via iCloud.
In addition to these files, I have a 2TB external drive connected to my MacMini which contains all the various documents and memories.

So, in recent months, I have changed various backup strategies to arrive at this configuration:

  • Local

    • CCC with three defined operations:

      • Once a month - copy and integrity check of the entire MacMini disk + 2TB disk connected to the Mac to an external disk.

      • Once a month - copy and integrity check of all documents synchronized with iCloud on an external disk.

      • Every evening - copy and integrity check of all documents present and synchronized with iCloud on the 2TB disk connected to the MacMini.

    • Backup of the entire system and device files via Time Machine with Apple’s AirPort Time Capsule.

  • Cloud

    • Arq backs up to perform an incremental backup of my 2GB in the Cloud through Google Drive, Backblaze b2, and Dropbox.

      Borgabse is a great tool for offsite backup, but I decided to use Arq as I can have multiple copies of the same backup on different platforms and use all the cloud space I have and never use. Obviously, Arq supports local encryption before backing up to the cloud.

    • Backblaze personal backup to sleep more peacefully in case all the discs I have at home were destroyed. It isn’t a real backup as it has a maintenance history of one month (possibly expandable to a year), but for a fixed price you have unlimited space, really good.



Update Dec 31, 2022

I’ve minimized my backup strategy leaning towards the concept of minimalism. I’m out of 3-2-1 again because I still haven’t decided how to handle offsite backup.

I have 500 GB of important data but also 1 TB of other data. These are not fundamental data but I don’t want to lose them. From here it becomes more complex to find a cloud to manage ≈1.5 TB of data.

I was initially willing to pay for a cloud subscription but would like to minimize all expenses “forever”. Also, I would just use the cloud to upload all files initially and then add items per month, that’s a waste.

Speaking of devices, the 2014 Mac Mini and the old MacBook have been replaced by a MacBook Air M2 16/512, A M A Z I N G. 🤯

Then the configuration is much easier:

  • Two 4 TB external drives managed by carbon copy cloner

  • AirPort Time Capsule 4 TB which manages MacBook backup using Time Machine

That’s it!