We have about four computers. What is a good strategy for making sure our data is always backed up?


12 Answers 12


I recommend a NAS drive for your home network and setting up network shares for each user to backup (manually or scheduled).

Free backup software at various levels of sophistication is available in abundance (if you buy a NAS drive, such software is usually included).

If you buy a pair of NAS drives, you can easily keep them synchronised as an additional safety layer. In addition you may archive really important data (e.g. photos, videos) on DVDs. or on Cranberry DiamonDisc (the 1000 tear DVD :)

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    NAS boxes targeted for home users are getting cheaper and drive space is cheaper by the day. If you've already got 4 computers, no reason not to add a NAS – BBlake Dec 18 '09 at 13:43

And don't forget, whatever you use, MAKE SURE THAT YOU CAN RECOVER THE DATA.

This does not mean check that a back up file is created - it means actually restoring the data to another machine and then using it.

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    For servers, you should always do a restore every so often. For home computers, what's valuable is usually the raw data. For example, I'd rather not lose my music collection, photos, stuff I've written, or business records. I can check my backup disk for all of that. – David Thornley Dec 18 '09 at 21:26
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    If you're using software that just creates a copy of the file, then it's fine to check the files are there (although it never hurts to make sure they open ok, and there's no corruption). However, if you're using anything that creates it's own files (zip, tar, bkf, etc), you should ALWAYS check you can restore from them. – Dentrasi Dec 18 '09 at 22:06

Don't keep the backup on the same machine you are backing up?


ehh, for home use, if there isn't that much, I would recommend using a service such as Dropbox or Mesh.

If however you have a lot of stuff, get an external hard drive.

Windows backup is very good and you can take an entire image of your machine and store it on the drive.

If however, you just want to do file level backups, take a look at Fbackup... a client of mine uses this and loves it - personally, I just like doing it manually.

Just remember to do it regularly.

If however you have a hell of a lot of stuff, you may want to take a look at getting a NAS and bunging in a few hard drives and then centrally backing up all computers to that.

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    Stuff? people don't have 'stuff', they have important documents, precious memories on photos and videos and valuable music & ebook libraries! ;) – Molly7244 Dec 18 '09 at 13:38

For my Macs and PCs I use Time Machine/Time Capsule, NTBackup on a schedule.

In general, I'd recommend that which involves as little thought and hassle as possible. I have an old cheap USB 2.0 hard drive that I use to copy the contents of my TimeCapsule to (the amount of data is small enough for now) and bring it to the office every Monday or so... I have offsite backups that cost (almost) nothing... I believe that for non-commercical use something like this is quite adequate.


I use SpiderOak and I recommend it. It's a bit like DropBox, but it's cheaper and has better security features. It has a nice client for Windows, Mac & Linux.

  • costs $10/month for 100GB – Epaga Jan 15 '10 at 13:14
  • Or $100/year for 100GB, which is even cheaper. – raphink Jan 15 '10 at 15:09

I assume you are thinking principally of backing up your personal files, not your operating system, etc.

A solution that has worked very well for me is to install a simple network-attached RAID. I have a NetGear NAS DUO and make sure that MyDocs for all machines points to folders there. Files that I really want to keep on local machines can be backed up by this box automatically - I do this for my Outlook mail folders.

This particular box has a lot of features, but the ones that I like best for file security are:

  • RAID 0. Duh, RAID 1 - mirrored disks. All files are automatically kept in duplicate on separate drives in the NAS
  • Backup functionality
  • Off-site backup. When I feel the need for an off-site backup, I just swap out one of the drives. The drives are hot-swappable and synchronise automatically. The drives themselves do not have to be exact-matched pairs.

Once you are up and running, you can pretty much forget about it.

This NAS has a lot of other features, but these are main ones for me for file security.

  • Raid0 does not keep copies of files. Did you mean Raid1? Using a NAS as a backup device is a good idea, keeping your documents on a RAID1 and thinking this means you don't need a backup is not so wise. There are lots of things that could damage this data still. 2 most likely are user error or raid controller failure, but you also have fire, flood and 3 year olds with drinks to worry about. – pipTheGeek Dec 18 '09 at 13:04
  • Doh - Raid1 - two disks that are mirrored. I tried to address the point about Raid not being the same as a backup by noting that I periodically swap out one drive out for a blank. That gives me as many backups as hard drives I am prepared to pay for. – Kije Dec 18 '09 at 21:10

I have a software RAID setup on my home file server, which willhas protected everything (including important documents, photos, and music) from a hard drive failure.

For the photos, I also upload them all to Flickr, and important documents are encrypted, and uploaded to Amazon S3 nightly. This way, if something catastrophic happens to my apartment (fire, breakin, etc.), the irreplaceable things will be safe. The music will be lost, but I can live with that (I hardly ever listen to it any more anyway, since Pandora is so great).

The S3 backup is performed using Duplicity, which runs from a cron job.

I would strongly recommend encrypting any important documents before sending to an offsite facility that you don't control (including S3, Dropbox, etc.). You don't want your bank statements or scanned identity documents to be accessible to even the administrators of the service.


I've used "Windows Home Server" in my home and have been very impressed by it.


If you have enough space and all the machines are yours (used by family members rather than just flat mates, for example), one approach could be to back up important data from one machine to one or two of the others:

  • Machine A holds backups from Machine B and Machine C
  • Machine B holds backups from Machine C and Machine D
  • Machine C holds backups from Machine D and Machine A
  • Machine D holds backups from Machine A and Machine B

This means you have three copies of the important data, and you're not at the mercy of your internet connection for getting the back up (and possible restore) done.

It's not ideal, for if one of the machines is moved out of the network it breaks the cycle, but it does mean you don't have to buy any additional hardware (such as NAS drives).

  • But none of these is outside your house. If you are burglarized or have a fire or major flood, you're out of luck. – Doug Harris Dec 18 '09 at 15:29
  • @Doug Harris - true - if you use an external hard drive you can take it round to your parents (or friends), but a NAS drive will always be connected too. – ChrisF Dec 18 '09 at 16:06
  • This requires that all Machines are on at the same time. I find this is rarely the case in our home office. – Clay Nichols Dec 18 '09 at 17:05
  • @Clay Nichols - they don't have to be on all the time - just when the backups are scheduled. If you stagger the times you'll also ensure that the backups don't clash. – ChrisF Dec 18 '09 at 18:52

I use JungleDisk and pay $.15 / GB for whatever I backup. As I have it set up now, it only backs up my My Pictures and My Videos folder because those tend to get large and are the only things I would be upset if I lost. With JungleDisk, you control the schedule/interval for when files are backed up.

For files and everything else, I have a free Dropbox account that gives me 2 GB of storage.

Depending on how your home network is set up, you could set up a server with the storage space for the files you want backed up on then run the JungleDisk software on the server.

I would personally love to have a full Dropbox account but don't want to fork over the money for it. I'm paying only a few dollars a month for JungleDisk.

  • While online backup is generally good, I wouldn't entirely trust backups outside my immediate control. I'd like to have my own USB drive or something like that. – David Thornley Dec 18 '09 at 21:31
  • JungleDisk gives you the option to encrypt and Dropbox encrypts by default. – rodey Dec 21 '09 at 14:40

The key with backups is to make sure they're done regularly and that you don't have to think about what's being backed up.

So we backup everything on a regular basis. (As we add more computers we'll probably start just backing up the My Documents on each computer.

This option will cost you about $250 (less if you need less than 300 GB of backup). It puts your data right at your fingertips (so you're more likely to make use of it and thus be testing your backups regularly) and gets you 2 copies of your files and protects you from casual theft and fire. It's what we use in our office.

You will need:

  • 2 External USB Hard Drives ($200 for two 300 GB)
  • Data quality fireproof safe($30 from OfficeMax)

Step-by-Step instructions

  1. Designate one PC up as the "master" (sort of like designating it as a
  2. Connect one USB drive to the "master" PC. Share that drive with all of your other PCs.
  3. Put some backup software on each of the PCs you backup. We use Acronis True Image b/c it
  4. Backup each PC to the Master's USB drive.
  5. When that drive is full, swap it with the other drive and put the now-full drive in the data safe.
  6. You could optionally put the second USB drive in your car. Less security but greater protection in case of a fire.
  • Or get three drives and shuffle one to your parents' place or your office or somewhere periodically. Off-site is good. – David Thornley Dec 18 '09 at 21:32
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    Is there meant to be something after "We use Acronis True Image b/c it"? – Andrew Grimm Jan 15 '10 at 23:58

Strategies presented by other answerers are decent.

I think it's not completely insane to consider getting a monthly or quarterly offsite. This would mean taking your backup medium and cloning it to an external HD (3.5" USB are already quite cheap for 1TB or more) and leaving it at a friend or relative's house.

I know no one's house ever burns down, but if mine did, I'd STILL want my data.

If you think this is completely obsessive, you can do this once a year.

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