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I'm looking for the best method to store a backup of important files and 5+ years of digital photos that is safe from some type of fire/flood disaster in my home.

I'm looking for:

  • Affordable: Less than $100/yr or first-time cost.
  • Reliable: At least a smaller chance of failing than there is of fire or flood
  • Easy for initial backup and to add to, and at least semi-easy to recover.

I recently purchased a small home safe for physical vitals. It was inexpensive, solid, and is fire/water safe. If I had a physical copy of the digital files, the safe would work fine for this, but I don't know what to store in it that adequately meets the requirements above.

  • Hard drive - I read that the danger of it not spinning up makes a hard drive a bad choice for this type of storage, although it was my first thought and would definitely be the simplest choice - very easy to take out once a month and add files to.
  • DVDs - Way too much of a hassle for both backup and restore.
  • Tape - No idea on the affordability of this option
  • Online - Given that I have at least 300GB already and ever-increasing megapixels means ever-bigger files, and my ISP upload is about 2Mb at the best, this just doesn't sound like a good option for me, but I could be convinced.
  • Other - Have I missed something?

Also, I'm already covered both for sync between computers (Dropbox) and a nightly backup of these files (External HDD). The problem with the nightly backup is obviously that it's always with the computer and in a disaster would be destroyed along with it.

Is anyone else doing something similar? Is the HDD as poor of a choice as I read, or is it a feasible option? Maybe two to reduce the likelihood of failure?

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6 Answers 6

Two portable hard disks may be feasible backup solution.

One in the home for taking regular backups (nightly, weekly, or manually) and another one in bank, on friend's house, at work or in some other safe place.

Then you have to regularly switch those disks. That way you have regular backups for something minor and older one in remote place for catastrophes.

Depending on your operating system, you have multiple choices. In Windows 7 I would use built-in backup software. In Linux either Duplicity (encrypted backups) or rdiff-backup (reverse incremental) are good choices.

Obviously you wont get automatic system without using online backup. Another possible thing is to put second disk to friend's house (or somewhere else), plugged to internet, and make as many online backups as possible, and then manually move disks from time to time.

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It sounds like you're looking for a fire/flood/theft solution to supplement your existing "uh-oh" solution.

If you can find a willing friend, you could try out Crashplan (not a shill for them, just tried the product because I had requirements similar to yours) - it's pretty clever. The free version might even work fine for your purposes.

Here's a simple overview of how you might use it:

  1. You plug a USB drive into your machine and create a backup (so the 300GB backup is reasonably fast). It encrypts this.
  2. You give that drive to a friend who plugs it into their machine.
  3. You "link" your machines.
  4. You can now backup changes to that (now remote) drive on a regular basis.
  5. Because of the encryption, your friend can't find out about any of your, ahem, interesting hobbies.
  6. Because you're only uploading what's changed, your upload bandwidth should be sufficient. It should also have a pretty neglible impact on your friend's internet connection (since your upload bandwidth is almost certainly a fraction of your friend's download bandwidth)

You could, of course, also do the reverse for the friend. Win-win!

Your hard drive is always spinning in this scenario, so you'd know if it died.

They also have paid versions (including unlimited) where you can store files on their servers (and even send them a drive to avoid the initial massive upload).

You could even do a combination of the above.

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Cool, +1 for suggesting a new technique specifically for this scenario! –  NickC Feb 17 '11 at 20:43

You could use an external drive dock and a stack of drives. There are some that are like toasters - just drop the drive in and it becomes another drive letter. When you're done, just press the button and the drive pops out. They use relatively cheap internal SATA drives. You just have to wait for the drive to cool down, pop it into an anti static bag, pop that into a zip lock and store in a firesafe. $60 (about for the dock) + $60 (plus or minus for an internal SATA 300+Gig) + $0 (comes with drive) + $20 (Sentry Safe).

You could also look for one of the hardened external drives like the Iosafe types. Steel encased, resistant to fire/flood/crushing. About $250, but you only get once chance with these types since they would be constantly connected. Supposedly they've been tested and found to be pretty resistant.

Or make it yourself. Get a cheap firesafe like a Sentry, drill it, push a USB cable through, get a small portable 2.5" hard drive, attack it and then push fireblock putty around the hole you drilled. It swells with heat and shuts off the hole in the event of a fire. Maybe even use some sort of silicone caulk to seal the safe shut permanenty. You can even drill the bottoms of these cheap safes and run a bolt to anchor them to the ground for antitheft. $20 for the safe, $?? for the caulk, any bolts to bolt it down, and $whatever you want to spend for the drive.

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I deal with this issue in two ways, external backups that rotate from work to home weekly and I use Mozy online. I think I paid $55 for mozy this year but my data size is going up so it may be higher next year. They have good plans but downloading can be slow for a full retrieval so if needed I woul restore offsite back first then use mozy to finish recovering.

If you want to minimize the web based content you can tell it to only backup data newer than XXXXXX using the date of your last rotated external backup but that would take more work to maintain.

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They have 300gigs and growing, not cheap in the cloud. –  Moab Feb 17 '11 at 21:22

I'm currently using Acronis Home 2010 and I like it; I've put it through some good use the past couple of months.

  • Creates back-up tape to any media (Diskette,CD,DVD,HDD,flashdrive)
  • Validates back-up
  • auto back-up
  • Full/Partial/File specific
  • Full HDD Disk image copy (eg if you have five partitions it will copy the exact five partitions to the external/internal source)
  • Recovery disk feature (nice simple interface works for USB/CD/DVD and possibly HDD however you can make a recovery disk to boot and select the Recovery source as anything connected to the PC)

If you burn your info to cd/DVD's set user time out to infinite (in options) as this is handy if it will take hours to burn and you get busy.... had it stop in the middle of some long back-ups on me.... not fun wasted 25 DVD-R's :(

You can look at using a RAID system with this; it is important to have multiple back-ups in different locations so HDD's and DVD's or what ever you like.

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So is DVD your media of choice? I'm assuming that the backup is only recoverable using the software, not any other computer, if it is a partial image, is that correct? –  NickC Feb 17 '11 at 17:59
well I have given up DVD as it is time consuming space wasting and I have HDD's to cover enough. BUT they do have their place and I believe important. Good for the once a year store in a safe or something. You can make a BOOTABLE media [Most IMPORTANT first step] and this fits on one DVD; not sure for a USB jump drive as I have not tryed but it is possible... this loads right up from the boot menu and easy to fallow GUI –  Iceking007 Feb 17 '11 at 21:32

If you choose a hard drive scenerio use a raid 1 (mirror) (NAS if needed) enclosures, you can build them yourself and get better quality imho, that way you have 2 copies of files on 2 physical drives in both locations locations, there is no inexpensive way out when it comes to uh oh proof data backup when you are talking about 100's of gigs of data and growing. Tape drive backup is very expensive for a quality unit and tapes.

You could build your own NAS enclosure, have one at home and one at a friends house, you can use a retired or used PC and Free NAS, if it had on board raid, that is even better.



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