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Personal Data Backup Multi-Tiers Backup Plan

Here is the description of the plan I intend to implement to have a proper backup system. I currently live since too many years on the edge of a disaster, ie the loss of all my data in case of a big event such as house fire, water flooding, etc. I used to backup my data a lot, but each system requires a different software and methods, I have to back up Raspberry Pis’, Windows desktop and laptops, and a Mac. So I have a lot of USB Drive with out of date backups, and they are all on-site. In case of fire, everything will be lost.

This is about to change in the few weeks with my Multi-Tiers Backup Plan.

Reasons

I am the first to tell everyone around me to backup their stuff, in case of a mistake occurs. Put your entire life on an external drive, a simple drop on a hard floor and your life is gone. I already lived a similar experience, it was when I was 12 years old. All my stuff was on my old 286 PS/2 computer, I got a problem (after deleting some system files) and my mum got this PC to a technician who easily fixed this issue by reinstalling everything… and formatting the hard drive. I lost every little things I wrote with my childish finger, the long hours of programming in BASIC my first games, everything.

So now, I always keep several copy of my important work. However they are still centralized, mostly in my house, so if a minor error occurs (hard drive failure), I can easily restore my work. And I have done it several times.

But in case of a catastrophic failure (say, a fire that destroy the whole house), I’ll lose too many things. In case a thief rushes into my house and take some drives and laptop, I also would lose too many valuable things.

Implementing a real Backup system is not trivial:

  • Copying everything on a hard drive that is kept visible on the your house is not a backup
  • Keeping copy on SD card, hard drive or even NAS that stays in your house is not a backup

I recommend the reading of this article about the Backup Rule of Three:

THE BACKUP RULE OF THREE

Here’s the rule of three. It’s a long time computer-person rule of thumb that you can apply to your life now. It’s also called the Backup 3-2-1 rule.

  • 3 copies of anything you care about – Two isn’t enough if it’s important.
  • 2 different formats – Example: Dropbox+DVDs or Hard Drive+Memory Stick or CD+Crash Plan, or more
  • 1 off-site backup – If the house burns down, how will you get your memories back?

So here is my implementation of this Rule of Three, which divided my backup systems into three tiers.

Tier 1 – Automated, Online File Backup

  • Automated: there is no active actions from my part to trigger any file copy start.
  • Online: means the backup system that is always connected to the machine, by network.

Most modern operating systems, such as Windows 10’s File History or Mac’s Time Machine, and even some external tools such as Dropbox, provided an easy way to set some files under tracking and keep a (limited) history, and provides the ability  to restore older version of a given file.

This tier is split into two parts:

Tier 1.1 – Documents (off-site backup)

I use a cloud service to keep track of my data, such as photo to share with family, a bunch on projects I am working on sometimes, … You can pick any from Amazon Cloud, Google Cloud, Dropbox, etc.

As an annex, I must add that I use the following commercial clouds for dedicated work:

  • For Lightroom publication, I use Adobe Cloud which is becoming really marvelous for photographer. And it is included in the Lightroom licence.
  • For everything related to source code, GitHub is a great tool.

These are not backup and not automated (you have to pull/push to/from GitHub and publish on Adobe Cloud) but they can also work as a source of truth in case of disaster at my home. But in any case I keep a copy of these content on my Tier 2 and Tier 3.

Tier 1.2 Mac/PC Files Synchronization to a local NAS (on-site backup)

The Big NAS is being bought, so I will fill this section later on. For the moment, only my Mac is synchronized on a small connected storage on my xDSL box, and no file history is supported. I do not use Time machine for the moment, but I plan to use it once I’ll have a large enough NAS available.

On my MacBook Pro, it basically stores only the photography files I am currently working on, and my Music Collection (I can edit tags, import music anytime).

Other PCs simply backup the user’s documents.

I will NOT synchronize the same documents than in Tier 1.1. Thanks to this organization, they will be on different folder on my machines.

Tier 1.3: smart phones, tablets (off-site backup)

The different smartphones at home are automatically backed up to device-manufacturer backup solution (such as iCloud). I do not plan to change this.

Not included

The various Raspberry Pi’s content are not backed up with this solution.

Protections

This Tier ensures basic protection against laptop thief, system hard drive failure, system reinstallation.

Since the backup are online, this also means my data can be subject to a “crypto-locker”, even though I think this can be easily circumvented by file versioning.

In case of device takes fire or a disaster occurs in the house, Tier 1.1 will be immune, Tier 1.2 will be lost.

Tier 2: Offline Full System Backup

This Tier is to backup full file system images, easing the restoration. This Tier is “offline”, meaning a physical interaction is needed to “connect” the backup storage. This is where I’ll have a lot of work to do.

The backup are intented to be “onsite”, but hidden in my house in case of thief or even flood. In case of fire, however, I’ll have to rely on Tier 3 backup.

This cost the same among of storage as the system to backup. Please note there is no versioning.

Tier 2.1: Mac Clones (on-site backup)

I use Carbon Copy Cloner to easily clone my Mac system partition (and user data) to a USB hard drive. It is automatically executed once I connect the USB drive on the MAC. So it is a manual backup, however I do not have to click anywhere to trigger it.

I was so pleased recently when I needed to boot on this clone that I highly recommend in always having one, for each Mac systems.

Tier 2.2 Raspberry Clones (on-site backup)

Pi’s are quite sensitive in case of power off while writing on the SD Card. That’s why I regularly clone the SD card completely to back it up. This is a fully manual process, involving shutting down the system, removing the SD Card, cloning it and reinstalling it. I have some Pi’s system I want to use in read only, so “automatically scheduled backups” to a NAS be setup later.

Not included

Windows PC are not system cloned, due to the lack of a software that can do as easily as Carbon Copy Cloner. And you wouldn’t be able to “boot” on a cloned hard drive as easily.

Protections

This Tier ensures easy system reinstallation in case of device fire, laptop, smartphone, iPad loss or breakage. Personal data will be reinstalled by Tier 1 backup.

This case, backups are offline, this means they are not subject to “crypto-locker”.

Still, if a disaster occurs in the house, Tier 2 will be lost, but all these data will be protected by Tier 3.

Tier 3 : Off-site NAS Backup

Once my NAS will be setup, I want to have a backup of some of its content to a remote cloud provider, even if it costs me a bunch of euros more. I’m looking at Amazon Glacier of BlackBlaze but I have not chosen which one yet.

Not everything needs to be saved. Here is the Backup Priority and Policy applied:

Tier 3.1: High Policy, ie “Irreplaceable” files

Most of the NAS content (or all if fit on a single Hard Drive) needs to be backed up on at least one cloud storage service and on two different high-capacity archive hard drives “A” and “B” that will be both stored off-site. I think of buying 2 Seagate Archive 8 Tb. One at my offices, one during rotation. Rotation will occur every month.

These files include:

  • Documents that are already on online cloud.
  • Family Photo
  • Old Professional Photography sessions and shootings. I kept a lot of RAW files (DNG and CR2). I will remove older one keeping only various resolution of JPEG files.
  • Music collection

Tier 3.2: Cloud backup

Periodically schedule storage of my photography files into a remote, online cold storage service such as Amazon Glacier.

Not included: Low Policy, ie “can be restored” files

These files can be easily redownloaded from the net, with some of more work. These files will NOT be backed up outside of my house.

Protections

This Tier ensures last defence system against a real disaster.Restoration might cost money (especially for Amazon Glacier) but at least the data can be retrieved.