Ask Hackaday: What’s Your Backup Solution?

Here’s some very, very sad news from [Charles] over at The Maker’s Workbench: on July 16th, his house was hit by lightning causing his workshop to catch fire. His family is safe, but unfortunately thousands of dollars in gear has gone up in smoke. [Charles] lost a Reprap, a ton of dev boards, a huge amount of tools including an awesome soldering setup, and his laptop and file server.

Short of taking up residence inside Yucca Mountain, there’s little that can be done to prevent random, disastrous acts of Thor. The only bright side to [Charles]’ ordeal (if there is one) is that most of his file server – including all the code he’s written over the years – was backed up on the cloud.

Hackaday readers aren’t much for marketing buzzwords like ‘the cloud,’ so we’re wondering what your backup solutions are. If the cloud isn’t for you, is a NAS at home a good idea? rsync will do wonders, but even hard drives at an off-site location fail; maybe tape is the best choice. Of course if you have a laser cutter, there’s always the option of cutting patterns of holes in stainless steel plates and preserving your data for thousands of years.

If [Charles]’ story doesn’t inspire you to backup often and preserve your data, consider this: the greek poet [Sophocles] wrote 123 plays, seven of which still survive. Put in perspective, that’s like the only songs in The Beatles’ catalog surviving 2,500 years coming from the Yellow Submarine soundtrack.

118 thoughts on “Ask Hackaday: What’s Your Backup Solution?

  1. I keep each family device/work repository rsynced on the hour with my homeserver running a RAID-1 array . I also encrypt & sync everything with a (highly recommended/nice value) paid account… that way I have a quick recovery base (the home server) and a disaster recovery plan (

  2. Having read all the comments, there are a couple of things I’d like to add.

    first, insurance, you may have had good insurance, but it clearly wasn’t good enough insurance, you get to decide your level of cover when you take your policy. if you decided that you only had X amount of stuff when you actually had Y amount of stuff, then that’s actually your own fault! (the lack of cover, not the fire of course!)

    Sure the insurance company may not understand rep-rap, but they should understand the fully built commercial solutions. -e.g. maker bot.

    There are some things that your insurance company may not deal with, but again, if you take a decent policy, then you should find all your stuff covered.
    an example is that when my garage/workshop was broken into and equipment stolen the insurance company, whilst slow were actually good.
    they asked for model numbers of things that I had, and proofs of purchase for the more expensive things. they accepted copies of the manual for tools in lieu of a receipt for certain items. they tallied up the cost. I paid the excess, and a few weeks later a truck full of new stuff arrived outside my house.

    in my case the couriers that they used did not have the correct licenses to transport the gas for my new welders, the insurance company said, get this yourself send us the receipt and we’ll refund in full. -and yes, that was regular household insurance, nothing special, not extra caveats, not a specialist company etc…

    Perhaps another message that should be taken away from this is check your policy. make sure that it’s value of cover is enough, make sure that you have pictures of anything that’s unusual. (to prove that you have it), have scanned copies of receipts etc

    Make sure that your policy covers what you need!

    As for data, when I was in college/uni. my backup strategy was.
    keep a copy on the school network -this was further backed up.
    keep a copy either on a disk in my pocket
    keep a copy on the FTP server I used at home.
    Keep a copy on an FTP server at my parents house.

    Keeping this many copies can lead you into problems of version control, so files were manually controlled with v_1, v_2 etc to let me know what the most up-to-date file was.

    now my backup consists of data being stored on a laptop, and occasionally backed up to an external disk, or to a credit card sized USB drive that stays in my wallet.

    this article has made me think that I really do need to have a think about what I want/need from my backup solution, I feel my data is valuable enough that I don’t want to loose it. but not so valuable, (or rather there is little return on it) to make it worth paying for cloud based storage.

  3. For data backup I like to sync with Google Drive. For extra backup, I’ll copy everything to an external hard drive about once a month. As a final backup about once every six months I like to copy stuff like photos and source code to bluray discs. I then store those in my fireproof box, and also store extra copies of them in my parents’ fireproof box. Really you could store the copies anywhere, such as a safety deposit box.

  4. Previously a victim of fire. My backups made it through safely, but it forced me to improve my system. This is what I have been doing for the last 3 years.

    Current arrangement is a low-power FreeNAS box in my server closet that is connected to 3 iSCSI-attached NAS enclosures and a drive-dock for sneaker-netting my off-site backup. The 3 NAS enclosures that make up a RAID-Z and are in 3 separate locations of the house (attic, server closet, and garage).

    A drive-dock is piggy-backed off of the NAS in the garage for easy rotation of my off-site backup (every few days). Monthly snapshot, plus diffs since last monthly snapshot, are copied to the off-site disk every night — one of the two off-site disks stay in my desk at work.

    The current setup has survived a NAS enclosure failure and a disk failure without any down-time. That’s more than can be said of my work’s backup/storage solution:)

  5. Routine backups using backupPC on an older PC running Ubuntu. Also have a NAS drive in the basement.

    Photos, the most important thing for me, are stored on DVDs in a fireproof safe in the basement. Pain in the ass to create and perpetually out of date, but at least most of my photos are safe.

    I also upload some photos to various services I can get for free, picasa, dropbox, skydrive, tumblr, flickr, google docs etc.

  6. If I was backing up to physical media (or backing up at all, my server is pretty much jsut misc. use.) I would back up to solid state drives, in electromagnetic and esd safe bags in waterproof/fireproof containers.

  7. I keep 3 copies, but only one type of media.

    I backup my computers to my RAID5 server, which then rsyncs every night to an identical box at my parents. I`ve tried other forms of media, but none are efficient for 8TB of data.

    1. The data dropout rate is pretty bad on the clay tablets. We have no idea how many clay tablets have been lost over the years. Some on purpose, some by neglect, some by being ‘lost’, many by environmental conditions. We are lucky to have the ones we do have. Even the writings we do have are hard to deal with due to language changes. Even during my life some words that were perfectly fine have been hijacked by other meanings.

      Ahh… what me might learn if we could just recover the scrolls from the Library at Alexandria.

  8. All my computers except my gaming PC back up to a normally-unmounted encrypted disk on my home server. That disk backs up to an encrypted external disk. The Windows gaming PC backs up to an unencrypted external disk. The space on the shared encrypted disks already “oversold” so I want to move to a deduplicating file system, from there I’m thinking of backing up to an encrypted “cloud” container as well.

  9. I have two 3TB drives in removable caddies set up with mdadm RAID 0. I just plug them into my server every week and run rsync on the internal RAID 10, then pull the drives and store them in my desk at work.

  10. Well, like Charles, I have experienced an entire meltdown or two. My current source for a primary backup is Carbonite. I hooked up with these guys way back before they started their television commercials. Since then, and of course, I have not had a major crash; although, I have recovered docs that I accidentally dumped.

    I have found local media to be cumbersome and not 100% reliable (case in point). Safe deposit boxes require trips to town and that requires fuel. Free solutions via the net? My experience has been you get what you pay for. Since I value my information a bit more than securing it for free, I tend to lean toward a pay service for my off-site backup solution. I might decide someday to look for a free fix but for now, short of a nuclear winter, I can sleep at night.

  11. Both of my servers (one Linux and the other UNIX) are backed up to tape every night of the week. The tapes are stored in a U.L. listed media safe that is similar to one that survived the collapse of one of the World Trade Center buildings. I’ve been following this procedure since the late 1980s and, excepting one total hard disk failure, have never had to recover from a disaster such as described above.

    Nevertheless, I religiously follow this nack-up procedure without fail and implore my clients to do the same. I had a client in the mid-1990s who suffer total system loss following a lightning hit. Fortunately, they were following the back-up plan I had developed for them, as as soon as we had replacement hardware on hand, I was able to do a full restoration and get them up and running.

    Depending on an external hard drive for backup is folly. The same situations that cause internal disks to fail will affect the external ones. The ONLY reliable backup method over which you have complete control is redundant copies to tape. Backing up to the “cloud” is useless if you can’t contact the “cloud” to recover your files following total system failure or loss. Also, do you really want total strangers handling (and possibly stealing) your data? Just what do you know about the people running the “cloud” anyhow? And, what if you have to restore 100’s of gigs of data from the “cloud?” Just how long do you think that will take? I’m patient, but not that patient!

  12. Besides clay tablets and fire suppressing range hoods, here’s how I rolled mine with mdadm and double it as an HTPC:

    Some quick stats:
    ~ 300MBytes / s R
    ~ 300MBytes / s W
    About 4TB usable. Currently at 3TB with Linux LVM.

    + all that plugged into a good UPS to prevent less stress on the electronic hardware…

    Now if you were really paranoid and wanted to add fire protection here, build a brick shed in the back yard, drag that same network cable over …. :)

    Now for my most critical data like family images, I duplicate to two flash disks and store them at another location.


  13. Even tapes are not ‘totally reliable.

    My first working with tapes was in college on mainframes. One job was to retrieve old weather data from archival tapes. We cleaned the reel-to-reel tapes before reading (yes, they built a machine for that), retentioned the tapes (ran them fully onto a spare reel and back, then read them. A that we still had large blocks of data that dropped out because the tapes were 10+ years old.

    Even with newer LTO drives and tapes, I lost data from individual tapes, that were used for off site backups. They were treated well, kept in padded cases, stored in environmental controlled area (Iron Mountain), and we cleaned the drives regularly.

    I had similar experience with DLT’s, and 8mm DAT drives.

    One thing that helped was we kept one copy of data on tape onsite, and 2 copies offsite. (IBMs TSM Backup system managed the tape rotations, etc, but I have also used the typical Unix backup of multiple level of backup, and just doing 2 copies. One offsite, one onsite, and leave the offsite there for multiple ‘generations’. It uses more tape, but it works. The TSM method is database driven and uses fewer tapes, but keeps your tape drives pretty busy doing ‘offsite tape reclaimation’).

    Using CDs and DVDs for archival backup, they too need to be ‘refreshed’ more often than we might thin, as well as being stored properly. Some of this type media is still subject to bit rot due to the metal film corroding. So reading it to check checksums, and every couple to 5 years writing the data to multiple copies of new media helps keep the ‘bits fresh’.

    Some flash technology often needs to be read every year or so just to keep the ‘bits fresh’, so the data doesn’t drop out.

    There is no ‘permanent backup’. They all have their drawbacks. There is some scenario that causes them all to fail.

    Just keeping backups is good, but it takes a lot of work to ensure even offsite backups are kept readable.

    There is also a difference between the ‘awe crud’ need to recover a file or two kind of restore and doing full system images.

    I recommend that people backup using the 3-2-1 rule. 3 copies, 2 different media, 1 offsite. Yes, it is still not 100%, but better than nothing which is what most people use.

    I do like local NAS type storage for initial backups and ‘awe crud’ restores. Using software similar to Crashplan, is good, but still it needs to be stored there, AND somewhere else or two. One thing I like about crashplan if you have the bandwidth, is you can store on an external drive elsewhere on your network (onesite), encrypted at a friends house on a network attached drive, as well as at Crashplan (if you want to pay for it).

    I would investigate but I don’t have enough bandwidth, and they don’t have a Linux client. Crashplan does.

    My backups are 3 copies to external drives a different places on my network, and an occasional copy to DVD. But this is personal and not business data.

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