A friend of mine recently suffered a devastating loss. His MacBook Pro hard drive died taking with it a bulk of his data. I know how it feels. It has happened to me in the past and I have seen it happen to many clients and friends. I can say from that experience that it only has to happen once for one to vow to never let it happen again. That said, I have seen more than a few people, even after suffering the loss of hours of work, years of photos, archived email, get a new machine, begin to rebuild their digital life, and still not backup. The reason…

Backup is a pain in the ass.

Let’s get real about this for a minute. Backup is not a solution to a problem — at least not one that is actively happening. I know people who have gone through several computers without ever having a problem. Why would they think about backup. Backup is insurance. It’s a solution for the “maybe” and not the “now”. The computers of today are, in general, as reliable as toasters. They just work.

Devices like the iPhone and the iPad won’t change that. In fact, the backup is “built in” — it just happens when you sync it. Increasingly one never has to “think” about backup.

All of this is true until, that one time when you go weeks without syncing or that first hard drive fails taking with it the bulk of your digital world and the maybe has become the now.

I employ what is often called the 3-2-1 backup strategy:

3 Backups (at least)
2 Onsite for failsafe immediate recovery.
1 Offsite in case of catastrophe (fire, flood, etc)

I think most experts would agree that this is the bare minimum of what one should have. That said, any one of the three is better than nothing at all.

Here is how I execute this strategy:

CrashPlan Pro — I am a big fan of CrashPlan. It just plain works. Quietly, in the background, performing incremental and recursive backups (backs up only changes after the first full backup and does file versioning and deletion protection to boot) and uses so few system resources I find I have to launch it every few weeks just to make sure it’s still working (It always is). I actually have the Pro version running on a Mac Mini, with a Drobo attached for storage, backing up not only my machines but also 20 of my client’s machines (I am providing offsite backup for them). Works around the clock, day in and day out. It even backs up to my server from anywhere, anytime I am connected to the Internet. If I go out of town to a conference, as soon as I connect to the hotel wifi it will back up any changes that occurred while on the plane. It’s pretty badass. CrashPlan does have a free version that works just as well backing up to an external drive or other machines. Furthermore, they also have a paid plan for offsite backup to their servers. Great product and a responsive company. Could not recommend it more.

SuperDuper — I also do a regular complete clone of my hard drive using SuperDuper. The advantage to to is that, should my hard drive fail, I have a complete bootable duplicate. Therefore, I can simply boot off of that clone and keep going just as if nothing happened. There is also Carbon Copy Cloner that does the same thing but I prefer SuperDuper for reasons I can’t explain (mainly the UI I think) since they do pretty much the same thing. I have Super Duper set so it just automatically updates the clone drive every time I plug it in.

Dropbox – Of course, all of my personal crucial files are in Dropbox. I keep all of my documents, several application databases, even the draft of the very post you are reading now is stored in Dropbox. If you are not familiar with this wonderful product and service, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Because Dropbox syncs between multiple machines and “the cloud” I basically have, in effect, an offsite backup. Eventually I will have a “real” offsite backup using CrashPlan Pro to backup to a server outside of my house as well as the one within but I am not quite there yet and, with the two full backups I already have, this is good enough for me now.

Now, if you are paying attention and are very keen, you may notice something about my setup – It is as ass pain free as possible. The tools I employ all work with little intervention or extra work from me. CrashPlan just works silently in the background. So does Dropbox. Even SuperDuper is set up to just work when I plug the right external drive in. I really feel that this is the special sauce that will get most people to back up regularly. Make it something you don’t have to “think” about. It was certainly true for me.

All of this is just to let you know that I get it. I know there are some of you who are paranoid and backup your backups. I know there are many more of you who will read this post, nod your heads in agreement, and still not actively backup because the work of doing something about it does not equal the maybeness of the problem. If that is you, I really do hope you will see the light and adopt something similar to my setup because hearing the post loss stories is painful and so very avoidable.