Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How to back up your data at home, Part I - How to pick a storage device

Comrade Misfit asks what I recommend for backing up data.  With the rise of Ransomware, your risk is going up, not down.

That's actually the place to start: your risk.

Everybody has a different risk profile, and you should do some thinking about yours.  Think about the types of data that you have on your computers, phones, and various devices:

  1. Each of these has an operating system, which actually takes up quite a lot of disk space.  However, as long as you can re-install (say, from a recovery partition), you probably don't have much risk here.  Quick way to check: if your device has a "factory reset" or equivalent sort of feature, you're probably good to go.  Personally, I wouldn't back this up because resetting will cause the system to download all the updates since it was installed.  Importance level: LOW.
  2. You will have some sort of documents - letters, budget spreadsheets, taxes, that sort of thing.  Recreating this will be a royal pain in the tail end, so you will want to save this.  It's also probably not much data - you won't need a lot of space for this.  IMPORTANT NOTE: if this data is for a business that you run than this is MUCH more important.  Importance level: HIGH.
  3. Photographs are often times irreplaceable.  They also take up a lot more room than other documents.  Importance level: VERY HIGH.
  4. Music (and video) files are the biggest consumer of disk space - the rule of thumb is that MP3 music requires 1 Mbyte of disk space for every minute of music.  That's 1 GB of disk for 20 albums.  If you are like me and buy music on CDs (I LOVE used CD stores) than you already have a backup for this.  If you like to buy music from iTunes, then if you burn it to CD you will also have this backup.  Otherwise, your backup needs will get much bigger.  Importance level: NONE (music on CD) or HIGH (iTunes).
So for the Borepatch household, our backup needs are modest - a fairly small size for documents and a larger one for photographs.  None at all for OS or music.  As an example, the laptop I'm writing this port on only has a couple Gigabytes of music (I haven't loaded much) but almost 8 GB of photos.

Note that your mileage absolutely can vary, perhaps by a lot.

Also, and this is important - you need to calculate this for every computer and phone you have.  You will have some homework to do before you can start even thinking about what device to get to back the data up.  I mean, how frustrating would it be to buy a shiny new storage thingy and find out that it's too small?

Remember, too, that the number of devices that you have will grow over time.  You will need more room on your backup device in the future than you need today, just because you have more devices.  You will also need more room because you will accumulate more data over time.  Since I don't want to replace my backup device very often, I like to have maybe ten times as much data as I think I need.

For Castle Borepatch, all the devices add up to probably 200 GB - almost all of this is music and photos.  This means that I need 2 Terabytes of backup space.  It sounds like a lot, but it really isn't.  Here's one that you can get for a little over $150:

It's a Western Digital WD MyCloud Personal which comes in 2TB, 3TB, and 4TB versions.  It will plug into your home router so all your computers will be able to connect to it over WiFi.  There are other choices as well, lots of them good.

So you've calculated how much backup space you need that will give you sufficient future growth room.  You've found a decent device for not too much money.  This will give you one backup location.  If your house burns down, you will lose not only the computers with their data but the backup device as well.  Part II of this series will discuss off-site backup to address this.

Part III will discuss what software you can get to make backing up your data automatic.  If you have to remember to back up, you will forget, and that's when you lose data.

UPDATE 9 January 2018 10:51: I can no longer recommend Western Digital.  However, there are a number of vendors selling similar products.


Tim Wolter said...

Good stuff and timely. Laptop old and wheezy with a replacement contemplated. Next "system" should be more systematic in backups. Tacitus

matt said...

I'd lower the importance of the iTunes vs CD ripped media. Unless something has changed you can click "Purchased" on the iTunes store tab and re-download everything not on the machine you logged in on. Far quicker and easier than ripping a couple hundred CDs a second time.

Jeffrey Smith said...

Photos: pretty much all your digitized photos can be uploaded to Flickr. Those you don't want others to see can be kept private via the settings.

For both both categories 2 and 3, the simplest back up may be hardcopy paper and ink. If they ever need to be redigitized, scan them.

lee n. field said...

"Photographs are often times irreplaceable. They also take up a lot more room than other documents. Importance level: VERY HIGH."

A frequent conversation where I work: "All my pictures!". "The hard disk is toast, and I can't get anything off it. A recovery service would cost $$$$$." "Uhh, no thanks."

Stewart Dean said...

My preference is for the smaller WD Passports. They are self-powered, USB3.0 and about the size of a package of cigarettes....and leave a lot more space in my fireproof file cabinet and credit union safety deposit box. I've been using them for years
Another thing to think about it the dependability of both the drives you back up to and the drives in your computer. Do a search on hard drive dependability. I won't buy anything but WD, HGST and Toshiba.
Finally: If your PC use entails a lot of programs and data, and you have a desktop machine with multiple drives, think about organizing your drives the next time you start anew. Years ago, I came to the place that I use the C drive for the OS, and then other virtual dives for recovery, paging, data and apps. That makes the OS easy to backup and restore...and makes rest of your storage independent of a OS crash. I have an SSD for the OS (C:) and recovery (D:) and paging (F:). Then a second SSD for apps (G:) and personal small data (H:) like Word documents and HTML source. Finally I have two big 5TB hard drives for images.
A small (1-2TB) Passport does for multiple backups of the SSD. two big passports do the hard drives.

Ratus said...

Flickr may be going away soon. Remember, "two is one" applys to online services too.

Antibubba said...

So if your backup is plugged into the router, won't it be affected if one of your other devices is /hacked or virused?