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I'm currently in stage 2 of 3 of building my home workstation. What this means is that my RAID-0 array of solid state disks will be backed up nightly to a RAID-5 or RAID-6 array of traditional spinning hard disks. However, it recently dawned on me that redundancy is not backup. The main reason for setting up a RAID array with redundancy was to protect myself in the event of a drive failure to serve as an effective backup solution.

Wait. What if a bolt of lightning finds a way to travel into my house, through my surge-protector, into my power supply and physically destroys all of my hard disks and SSDs? Well, in that case, I guess I'd be fine because I generally keep most important files (music, pictures, videos) stored in multiple places like on my laptop, my wife's laptop, and an encrypted USB hard drive.

Wait. What if a giant hedgehog meteor attacks my house from space traveling at mach 3 and all machines and hard disks are blown to smithereens. Well, I guess I could find a way to do ridiculously slow and cumbersome rsyncs or backups to Amazon's Glacier.

Wait. What if there's a nuclear apocalypse... and at this point I start laughing hysterically. At what point does backing up become irrelevant? I completely understand situation one (mechanical drive failure), situation two (workstation compromised or destroyed somehow), possibly even situation three (all machines and disks destroyed), but situation four?

There's no questioning the need for backups. None. However, there are three questions I'd really like addressed:

  1. To what level should one backup?

    • I definitely understand the merits of physical disk redundancy.
    • I also believe in keeping important files on multiple machines and thinning out the possibility of losing all of my files.
    • Online backups make sense, but they beg the following question.
  2. What should I be backing up remotely and how often?

    • It's no problem storage-wise to back up important files (music, pictures, videos) and even configuration and temporal data for all of the machines in my network (all Linux based)... albeit locally. Transferring to the cloud is another story.
    • Worst-case scenario, if I lost all of my configuration for my individual computers, the reality is that I probably lost the machines too.

The cloud is a long way away from here; I can run backups over CAT-6 here and see 100MB/s easily, but I'm afraid that I'm only going to see 2MB/s at best when transferring up to the cloud.

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closed as not constructive by Canadian Luke, ChrisF, TFM, 8088, BBlake Dec 14 '12 at 18:10

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2 Answers 2

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A mistake many make when it comes to backups is to try and squeeze all their needs into a single backup routine. Often, having different backup sets tailored to different requirements results in better performance and storage utilisation.

For example:

  • what I consider my critical documents (such as copies of tax returns, electronic copies of birth certificates, treasured photos, etc.) don't take up a huge amount of space, and don't change much. These items it is worthwhile backing up to the cloud (or in my case, a server on another continent) as it doesn't take long, but is the most protection I can reasonably give them.

  • general documents I back-up semi-regularly to removable media or portable hard drive, and store them off-site (for example, at a relatives and blag a free dinner while I'm there). This protects against burglars, fires, power surges etc., is simple, and chances are I don't need them that urgently that I couldn't afford to drive to get them if something happened.

  • programs and operating system I mirror onto another drive and that's it. If a hard drive fails it still works, and it can all just be re-installed in the event of a power surge or theft.

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Everybody has a different need for backup. I propose the following strategy for determining what kind of backup you need.

Classify your data according to:

  • Is it really unique (your photos), or can you accept to lose them (music that you will be able to download again ; operating system that you can reinstall from scratch),
  • How long do you accept it take to recover in case of emergency,
  • How much recent data you can afford to lose (backup frequency),
  • How large a disaster you really want to be able to recover from. Do you need a better backup for your computer data than for your important papers that will be destroyed if your home burns ?
  • What are the specific risks for you (natural risks, power availability, theft)
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