Today, we’re having a guest post from JJ Fiasson, a Director of IT Support Sydney, an Australian IT Service company that caters for residential clients as well as small to medium businesses.
The article is about various backup solutions that are available to you and I greatly encourage you to pay great attention to this article, as well to put a solid backup solution in place if you haven’t already.
Many reasons can cause you to lose your important data:
Hardware failure, BSODs, freeze/crash, power surges, power cuts, fires, natural disaster, theft. etc. etc. are just a few reasons that could cause you to lose all your precious data!
Hardware Revolution’s Server Outage: A great example of the importance of backups!
A great example of this is Hardware Revolution’s very server, which just two days ago suffered a major server outage, which knocked out the server for about 3 hours, right in the middle of the night. The server is setup with automatic daily backups, as well as automatic weekly and monthly backups.
Usually, I’d just restore the daily backup and everything would be fine. Unfortunately for me, the daily backup failed to restore, so I had to fall back on the weekly backup, from Sunday. Thankfully for me, I found ways to restore the articles that had been published since that backup had been saved.
What would have happened if I had no additional backups? Yeah…I rather not imagine what would have happened!
This goes to show you how important backups are. This server runs on Linux, on a server-class PC, in a data center. It often runs 6-12 months without a hiccup. So if HR’s server can crash, so can your computer.
In other words: Have a backup system in place before it’s too late!
That said, let’s hear what JJ Fiasson has to recommend to us as backup solutions.
As many IT consultants will tell you, while hard drives today are far more reliable than in the past, the threat of disk failure is still real.
I run an Australian IT consulting firm, IT Support Sydney, and have come across many situations where clients have had no backup system in place and suffered catastrophic drive failures. In most situations, we were able to recover data, however the process can be costly, and not everything is always retrievable.
Needless to say, they don’t make the same mistake twice. The best cure is prevention, which brings me to the point of this article – the wonderful world of backup.
We are actually spoiled for choice nowadays, with an array of different options for you to choose from including both hardware and software solutions.
Hardware Backup Solutions
Hardware-wise, the choice is between different levels of redundancy, all progressively increasing in cost. If you’re a home user, you might find that a simple external backup drive is the best way to go. A busy office might look at making use of a NAS for the added redundancy that it brings. A full roundup of hardware solutions is outlined below, but first a couple of quick definitions:
- Incremental backups: A method of backing up data which will first take a full snapshot of your drive, then followed up by updates only to the files that have changed on a regular basis.
- Versioning: The backup retains multiple versions of files that have changed over time. This allows you to roll back changes that you have made (e.g. you could grab snapshots of a file that you edited over a period of a week)
External hard drives:
- Pros: A cheap & reliable solution. Fast if you use e-SATA or USB 3.0.
- Cons: Not as fast if you use USB 2.0. Not as redundant as some other solutions. Not located off-site so does not protect you from theft, or power surges.
The most basic option is an external hard drive, of which there are many. iosafe, Western Digital, and Lacie to name but a few.
These drives usually come in two format: The more compact 2.5″ hard drive based size and the larger 3.5″ hard drive based size. The smaller 2.5″ hard drive based size is more convenient for a laptop and/or if you’re on the go, while the larger 3.5″ hard drive based size is preferable if you keep your drive hooked up to your desktop PC at home or work.
These drives connect either via USB, FireWire or e-SATA. For optimal performance, e-SATA or USB 3,0 is recommended. Note that if USB 3.0 is backward compatible with USB 2.0, so if your PC does not support USB 3.0, this is not an issue.
Now, you have two options if you go with external hard drives:
- Buy an external 2.5″ or 3.5″ enclosure along with a hard drive(s) and build it yourself. The advantage here is lower cost.
- Buy a pre-assembled, ready-to-use external hard drive. Most of these products come with their own software which allows you to run incremental backups and versioning. The advantage here is included software, inclusion of data recovery services in some case, fire/water proof drives in some cases and possibly a longer warranty.
Recommended external enclosures:
Prices for B&H as of August 13th 2011. Click on Amazon links to see prices. Note that I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. Prices and availability are subject to change.
Enclosures for 2.5″ hard drives:
- $26 – KINGWIN ATK-25U3-BK Aluminum 2.5″ Black USB 3.0 External Enclosure for a single 2.5″ laptop drive enclosure with USB 3.0 connectivity.
- $48 – BYTECC BT-M260U3 USB 3.0 Dual 2.5″ Drive Enclosure w/ RAID 0/1. This is a dual 2.5″ drive enclosure, allowing you to combine two 2.5″ drives in RAID 0 (for additional performance) or preferable in RAID 1 for redundancy if one of the two 2.5″ drives fail.
Enclosures for 3.5″ hard drives:
- $40 – Rosewill RX-358-U3B Aluminum 3.5″ Black USB 3.0 External Enclosure for a single 3.5″ hard drive enclosure with USB 3.0 connectivity.
- $170 – Mediasonic HFR2-SU3S2 RAID 0/1/3/5/10 4×3.5″ Drive Bays USB 3.0 & e-SATA – This enclosure supports up to four 3.5″ hard drives, as well as various RAID options.
Recommended hard drives to use with an external enclosure
2.5″ hard drives
- $55 – SAMSUNG Spinpoint M7E HM641JI 640GB 5400RPM 2.5″ SATA 3.0Gb/s
- $70 – SAMSUNG Spinpoint M8 HN-M750MBB 750GB 5400RPM 2.5″ SATA 3.0Gb/s
- $110 – SAMSUNG Spinpoint M8 HN-M101MBB 1TB 5400RPM 2.5″ SATA 3.0Gb/s
3.5″ hard drives
- $60 – SAMSUNG Spinpoint F4EG HD155UI 1.5TB 5400RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5″
- $80 – SAMSUNG EcoGreen F4 HD204UI 2TB SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5″
- $145 – Hitachi 3 TB 3.5″ SATA 6Gb/s
Recommended pre-assembled, ready-to-use external hard drives:
Portable 2.5″ external hard drives: Ideal if you’re often on the go, with your laptop.
- $50 – TOSHIBA 320GB USB 2.0 Black 2.5″ – 320GB and USB 2.0 for $50, or if act fast, you can get it shipped for $40: Get $10 off with promo code HARDOCPX81XC, ends 8/16.
- $90 – Western Digital 1TB USB 3.0/2.0 Black 2.5″ – $90 for a 1TB and USB 3.0
- $200 – Rugged iomega 1.5TB USB 3.0 Ruby Red – $200 for 1.5TB and USB 3.0. I personally like its rugged design: very simple yet very effective.
3.5″ External Hard Drives: Ideal if you like it in one place, like in an office to connect with your desktop or with your laptop when you’re home.
- $70 – Western Digital 1TB USB 2.0 External Hard Drive – Save $10 w/ promo code EMCKBJJ36, ends 8/17
- $110 – Western Digital 2.5TB USB 2.0 External Hard Drive
- $140 – HITACHI 3TB USB 3.0 Black External Hard Drive
- $195 – LaCie 2TB USB 2.0 RAID 0/1 External Hard Drive 301838U
- $240 – ioSafe SoloPRO 1TB USB 3.0 Fireproof/Waterproof External Hard Drive
- $335 – ioSafe SoloPRO 2TB USB 2.0 / eSATA Fireproof/Waterproof External Hard Drive
- $440 – ioSafe SoloPro 3TB USB 3.0 Fireproof/Waterproof External Hard Drive – $340 after the Mail-In Rebate!
- $376 – BUFFALO DriveStation Duo 4TB (2 x 2TB) RAID 0/1 USB 3.0 External Hard Drive
- $850 – BUFFALO DriveStation Quad 8TB USB 2.0 / eSATA External Hard Drive 4-drive RAID 0/5/10
- $1150 – BUFFALO DriveStation 12TB USB 3.0 Quad RAID 0/1/5/10 External 4 hard Drive Array
Another method of adding some redundancy to your setup is by utilizing a RAID array (Redundant Array of Independent Disks).
Essentially, it means you combine a number of hard drives to create one bigger and faster or more reliable drive. There are different types of RAID, some with no redundancy, however I strongly recommend utilizing RAID1, RAID5 or RAID6 – all of which have some fault tolerance.
To keep things simple, if you have two drives, RAID1 is the way to go, whereas RAID5 and RAID6 require a minimum of 3 and 4 drives respectively.
In addition to gaining redundancy, you can also see substantial performance increases.
- Pros: Adds redundancy, and improves everyday usage speeds.
- Cons: As the drives are in the PC, a failure in the PSU or motherboard could fry the hard drives. In most cases you will use identical hard drives, and in that scenario it’s also possible to have purchased from a faulty batch, again increasing the potential for simultaneous drive failure. No versioning. Not located off-site so does not protect you from theft, or power surges.
Networked Attached Storage devices are increasingly gaining a foothold in the home and office market as an alternative to a dedicated file server.
They also make for a more full-featured version of an external backup drive. The concept is essentially quite similar, however a NAS can actually be a combination of both of the above – it can be a RAID array in a box.
You would tend to attach a NAS to your router via a Gigabit Ethernet connection (although some do offer USB and e-SATA connectivity).
Many of the brands, such as Synology and QNAP come with their own proprietary software which allows you to create and maintain incremental backups with versioning.
As far as product offerings, keep in mind that some of them do not include hard drives (they must be purchased separately and installed by you), while some do. Most also offer a variety of file-server features such as user permissions, VPN, and the ability to run Bittorent clients.
- Pros: Redundant external solution. Can be very fast over Gigabit Ethernet. Can act as a media / file server for your home or office. Can be stored off-site.
- Cons: Speed can be limited if your other computers are connected via Wi-Fi. Expensive. Not located off-site so does not protect you from theft, or power surges.
Diskless: Choose which hard drives to use in your NAS
- $150 – LG N2R1D Diskless System Super Multi NAS with DVD ReWriter – This NAS comes with a DVD Burner, allowing you to make backups on DVDs as well.
- $200 – Synology DS211J Diskless System DiskStation 2-bay RAID 0/1 NAS Server for Small Office and Home Use – A two bay NAS, allowing you to use RAID 0 or 1. Synology are known for offering high-quality, high performance reliable NAS.
- $360 -Synology DS411J Diskless System DiskStation 4-bay NAS RAID 0/1/5/6/10 Server for Small Office and Home Use
NAS equipped with disks:
- $120 – LG 1TB NAS (White) – Save $30 w/ promo code EMCKBKA35, ends 8/15.
- $150 – Western Digital 2TB My Book Live Home Network Drive
- $180 – LG 1TB Super Multi NAS with DVD Burner – Equipped with a DVD Burner. Save $20 w/ promo code LGNAS20US, ends 8/14
- $190 – Western Digital 3TB My Book Live Home Network Drive
- $ 260 – LG N2R1DD2 1TB x 2 (RAID 0/1) Super Multi NAS with DVD Burner – Save $20 w/ promo code LGNAS20US, ends 8/14
- $370 – LG N2B1DD2 1TB x 2 (RAID 0/1) Super Multi NAS with Blu-ray Burner
- $480 – Western Digital 6TB My Book World Edition II – Dual-drive (RAID 0/1) Network Storage
- $750 – LG N4B2ND4 1TB x 4 (RAOD 0/1/5/10) Network Storage with Blu-Ray Burner
If your computer is equipped with a DVD or Blu-Ray burner, you can backup to DVD or Blu-Ray disks.
- Pros: Relatively low-cost if you already have a DVD or Blu-Ray burner.
- Cons: Not automatic, requires you to do the work. Disks are easy to damage. Low capacity per disk (DVD: 4.7GB, Blu-Ray 25GB). High cost in the long run. Slow to
We’ve all have seen them and most of us have one or two lying around collecting dust. If you don’t have that much data to backup, a USB key can be an interesting solution.
- Pros: Relatively solid. Can be stored off-site. Inexpensive for smaller capacities.
- Cons: Expensive if you want a large capacity. Easy to lose.
Software Backup Solutions
Let us also consider the software options that are available. They can be broken down into two categories:
- Complementary software
- Cloud solutions
Complementary software require the use of another piece of hardware, such as those described above. Cloud backup solutions utilize the internet and usually involve paying a monthly fee to a provider to retain your data.
Norton Ghost 14.0 has evolved from its simple disk imaging beginnings to become a fully comprehensive backup suite, which provides support for incremental backups at the disk, partition and file level.
It is not a continuous backup solution, however, and acts at set times or after set events such as Symantec raising its global virus threat level.
You would likely utilize this with an external hard drive, or potentially a NAS, however it does also offer off-site backup functionality should you choose to utilize it.
- Pros: Strong software package with plenty of features.
- Cons: Costly. Not a true continuous backup solution. External drives & NAS hardware often comes with comparable software suites.
Acronis is another comprehensive software backup solution, and offers what Acronis calls “Nonstop Backup”.
Essentially it maintains an ongoing record of all of your file edits over time, thereby giving you a great deal of flexibility. Otherwise, this offering is similar to Norton Ghost and would need to be coupled with another hard drive (external or internal) or possibly a NAS.
It also supports Acronis Online Backup, a cloud service, which provides 250GB storage for a monthly fee.
- Pros: Continuous backups give you a great deal of flexibility, potentially even useful from a productivity perspective (i.e. rolling back to earlier edits on documents / images / film footage)
- Cons: Cost (although cheaper than North Ghost). External drives & NAS hardware often comes with comparable software suites.
Backblaze is a fairly popular cloud backup solution, which aims to store all of your precious data in their large datacenter for a small monthly fee per computer.
They put no limit on how much you can store, although restrict their storage to individual files smaller than 8GB.
The software client is easy to use, offers continuous or schedule backups, lets you specify which directories and types of files to backup, and also allows you to set an encryption key to secure your data.
As with all cloud backup solutions, you are limited by your internet connection and the initial seed upload may take upwards of a month if you have a lot of data.
You may also be affected by your monthly bandwidth limits, depending on your service plan. The client does offer a bandwidth throttling capability to help mitigate these concerns.
- Pros: True offsite backup offers real redundancy. Light-weight software client. Relatively cheap.
- Cons: Limited by the speed and allowance of your internet plan. Retrieving your data in the event of a hardware failure requires downloading it, or paying them to send out a hard drive or DVD with your files.
Dropbox is another cloud backup solution, but offers a slightly different flavor to that of Backblaze.
Essentially, you create a folder on your system that is continuously synced with Dropbox, allowing you to access these files from any location that has the Dropbox client installed (or via a browser).
You get 2GB storage for free, and can share folders within the Dropbox folder to share with other users. This makes it great for any sort of collaboration work.
It also features 1 month of file history, and makes continuous incremental backups. It is nowhere near as cheap as Backblaze, however, with the monthly cost sitting at $9.99/mo for 50GB and $19.99/mo for 100GB vs Backblaze’s ~$5/mo unlimited.
- Pros: Great for collaboration, keeping your important documents accessible from any location, offers incremental backups and 1 month of file history.
- Cons: Costly. Limited by the speed and allowance of your internet plan. Retrieving your data in the event of a hardware failure requires downloading it, and they do not offer physical media copies.
The most comprehensive approach…
Would involve a combination of a hardware solution with a cloud backup solution.
This would essentially mean that not only is your data stored on a local redundant piece of hardware, but that you would also be protected from events like theft or fire.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to cost. How much is your data worth to you?
If you run a business, you might find that the combined cost of a NAS and a monthly cloud backup service like Backblaze is a relatively small price to pay as compared with your losses should your computer fail, or your office burn to the ground in your absence.