Backup Software

I'd never heard of World Backup Day before seeing an article about it in Wired today, but it sounds like a good idea, especially for those whose friends may partake in a little bit of the April Foolery tomorrow.

So, it's a good time for me to discuss backup software and strategies. I'm not going to speak specifically about how I perform backups, but here are some key packages and concepts that are good to think of when you are considering a backup strategy. And, yes, this should be a strategy, not a specific backup. Unless you feel that all of your data is easily replaceable (your photos, your business plan, your accounting data, your scanned legal documents, etc), you need to take this seriously.


Sometimes people ask me where they should store their backups. My belief is that a minimum of two physically distant locations are a must. Keeping backups at home is cheap and convenient, and results in complete loss in the case of a fire. Those of you with "fire safes" need to keep in mind that most "fire safes" are rated for documents. The general rule is that they keep things cooler than 350° which is great, except that slides, CDs, DVDs, etc. tend to become useless after any reasonable amount of time spent at 125° and above, so if you are going to keep your backup safe in a safe, then make sure you have something that is media rated, not document rated.

And then think about flooding, earthquakes, and sinkholes. Each of these can take out your media pretty easily and irreparably, and if your main copy of your data is also in your house, you're looking at a total loss.

Safe Deposit Boxes are a reasonable place to keep spare hard drives and CD/DVD copies of data. They're unlikely to fail in the same way as your home or laptop, so you have some diversity, and generally speaking they are safe. Most folks don't encrypt data which goes to a safe deposit box, and that's a two- edged sword: your data is in its easiest-to-access form, but that's true not only for you, but anyone else who rummages in your box.

I would suggest at least 2 locations. They should be far enough apart that they're unlikely to suffer the same fate in the event of a disaster.


I'm a big fan of paid-for backup software. Here are some specific packages:

CrashPlan CrashPlan is best known as a service for backup. They also provide hosted enterprise solutions, which allows you to have servers at their own location. The software also can be used to backup to any location that there is another crash plan user. This means that you and your body can provide storage space for each other's backups, guaranteeing that if one of your houses goes up in flames there is a copy of the data at the other house. That's a neat feature, although I've never used it. Generally speaking I have found the crash plan software to be reliable and those support services to be adequate. I can comfortably suggest their service to most users for off-site backup as it provides significant encryption and their systems do constant reliability checks on the stored data.

Time Machine Time Machine is Apple's built in backup software for many versions of OS X. It provides version storage as well is very simple administration, and can be used easily with an externally connected hard drive. Of course, it's not very useful for off-site backup. However, for local backup it is easy to set up and easy to restore data from.

BRU Server I use BRU Server in daily use at ClueTrust for the machines in the hosting center. It's not the prettiest software package (by a mile), but it works and works reliably. We had a serious hardware event over the first of the year, and it came through with flying colors. The software itself installs on a server and then individual agents are installed on each client machine. Agents are available for just about any operating system that you can imagine including more varieties of UNIX and I thought even existed anymore. I don't have much experience with the Windows agent, but the Mac agents work well, and the UNIX agents also function just fine.

SuperDuper! SuperDuper is a package that clones hard drives on the Mac from one device to another. This provides you with a completely bootable version of the device as of the time that you created the clone. These backups are exact duplicates, and that means that you don't get to go back and look at previous versions of the files.

Retrospect Historically (in the old days), I used Retrospect, which went down hill significantly when the Dantz was acquired by EMC. The software product was spun back out into Retrospect, Inc. in November of 2011, and the word is that it has improved markedly since then. I gave it a try again once, but have not used it in production, nor have I tried recent versions, but reliable sources say that it is getting better.


When possible, do this. It's especially important when keeping data off-site to make sure that data is encrypted using strong encryption and with keys that are only available to you. This is possible with some services like CrashPlan, which allow you to designate your own keys and is possible when you store data encrypted on your own hard drives. Any data which is intentionally taken off- site should be stored in some encrypted form. Keep in mind that if you designate your own keys, you are going to have to safely store these keys in a manner that they will not be lost by whatever event causes your data to be lost.

In Conclusion

It doesn't really matter as much how you decide to back up your data, it just matters that you do back up your data. If there's something that you care about, back it up. If you care about the data being secure, encrypted it. If for some reason you believe you care about the data and you don't care about being secure, think again.