Data Backup My Way

Data backup is a sensitive subject now a days with natural disasters on every TV channel each day of the week.  While I don’t have TV anymore, I’m aware of the local natural disasters that are waiting for to happen in Seattle and the Puget Sound region with Mt. Rainier, Howard Hansen Dam breaking, another earthquake or a fire within my own home.  No one is immune to the threat and to think you are, you are only kidding yourself.

I grew up in a household where we practiced data backup on QIC-80 tapes in the early 90s, which weren’t quick or reliable, then moved onto other mediums like Zip Drive (click of death anyone?) and then onto CD-R (every misplace a CD-R?).

Before I purchased my second hand Mac Pro (named BigMac) sometime ago, I hadn’t owned a personal computer that I cared about for 5 or more years.  Once I began accumulating large quantities of photos, I knew I had to figure out a solution that was easy to maintain.  If you introduce a complex solution, the likely hood of you keeping it up to date becomes less likely.  I wanted to implement a solution that would be easy going forward.

Drive Configuration

BigMac has three hard drives, and one external eSATA drive.  The layout of the drives are the following:


What To Backup?

What you want to backup will determine how much space you’ll need, and how long it’ll take to backup to your primary (local) and secondary (offsite) backup.  You also need to know what to exclude from the backup, i.e. you want to backup a directory, but not temp files within it since those are expendable.

I’m backing up the following data:

  • User Profile
  • Music (stored outside of my user profile)
  • Working Lightroom Library
  • Archived Lightroom Libraries

I’m not backing up within the specified criteria:

  • Lightroom previews

The selected criteria selected equates to ~910gigs


Local Backup

I’m using OS X’s Time Machine.  This runs every hour and captures all of the changes and provides an intuitive user interface to restore files.  Here is what my Time Machine panel looks like as of today, 04/04/2011.

Off-Site Backup (CrashPlan)

Off-Site backup is the new wrinkle in the grand plan for myself so I wanted to go a route that again would be, easy to setup and easy going forward.  I knew that leveraging “The Cloud” for this task would require more upload bandwidth at home and the potential for quota overages.  I have Qwest’s VHDSL service that provides 40Mbps download and 20Mbps upload without a quota, so I won’t have to worry about any additional monthly overages while I perform my first sync.

For this task, I choose CrashPlan’s CrashPlan+ service.  It’s unlimited storage with 1 computer for $3 month or $50 year was worth checking out.

What I found was a versatile, mature client.  The client allows you to backup to the following locations:

  • CrashPlan Central (their name for their own service)
  • A CrashPlan friend (FREE)
  • Another computer within your account (FREE)
  • Folder/External hard drive (FREE)

I’ve only used the CrashPlan Central service, but the three additional options I hope to be exploring soon.

The three most used panels within the client I’ve used to date is the Backup & Settings (General & Network).  The key areas to the configuration I found is the network upload and download speeds you allocate to it, and the percent of CPU you allocate it as well.  I could of sped up the initial sync greatly by pumping up the CPU utilization while a user is present.


This solution works for myself, and may or may not work for others.  Not everyone has an ISP that does not have an upload quota or fast upload.  Not everyone wants to trust a 3rd party with such data.  I have an ISP that doesn’t enforce a quota and I’m willing to trust my secondary backup with CrashPlan.  Below is what my final configuration looks like.

If you have any questions, please ask in the comments.


8 comments on “Data Backup My Way”

  1. Really good info and well written.

    My only problem with Time Machine is that it eats up hard drive space and I don’t need to have file from months ago.

    But, alas, I it is a good backup program.

    Thanks for posting.

    • I have an external hard drive i back up to using time machine. i make sure the drive is connected at least once a week, maybe more.

    • Thanks Paul, it’s a tricky subject and difficult to write about in a high level.

      That’s true about how TM will store a relatively useless file for months at a time, but it’s good at what it does and to me, the OS files would fall under that category.

  2. A very interesting post, thanks. I’m trying to come up with a plan for backups during an upcoming trip where I will be travelling for a year. I wonder if the upload will work when I’m using some campground wifi.

    • Anne – Trial and error! The CrashPlan client does a real good job of picking back up where it left off at though it does take about 10 minutes to do CRC checks n’ such to make sure all is well before it begins syncing again.

  3. Excellent information – looking at CrashPlan now. If they have a referral program, please send me the link so you can get credit.

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