Cheap backups that work!

I have decided to take a new approach to backing up my most precious, irreplaceable personal data. Things like my pictures, documents, drawings, source code, presentations, etc. If I lose this, I can’t get it back, ever, which makes backups particularly important…

The irreplaceable stuff needs to be backed up somewhere that will last for a long time, preferably in multiple locations, and ideally can survive it even if the house burns down. I used to back it up to CDs and DVDs, but the capacity is just too low and the hassle factor (including remembering to change disks) too high. Not to mention the fact that most CDs and DVDs will last for no more than 3-5 years before they start developing enough errors that they can be hard to read!

A better solution is to use offsite backups, which of course used to be expensive. Not any more: I have joined the Cloud and use Amazon S3 for this data. Combined with JungleDisk, I have a solution that allows me to keep my most valuable data safe, encrypted, and accessible from anywhere – just ideal.

Right now, I have 20GB or so of data in my Cloud store, and it costs around $3 per month to have it there (15 US cents/GB/month) – a real bargain as far as I am concerned. Even if I find I need to store 100GB, it will still only cost $15 per month… I can’t buy many secure, RAIDed NAS solutions for that kind of money!

JungleDisk is still a little basic (it doesn’t run as a service yet, for example), but does what it needs to: every day, it transfers any new or changed files to my offsite backup store. If a large file changes just a bit, it only transfers the changed part. And all of the files are available through a drive letter in Windows, or through a web browser.

The file transfer part is important and is the biggest reason why I can’t use S3 as my primary storage: transfering large files across a normal broadband connection is slow! Like most in the UK, my ISP allows me only measly 512kbit for uploading, which means that it takes 6 hours to upload 1GB of data! The initial backup clearly took a while, but I can live with that – now, the upload takes just a few minutes most days.

Amazon also charges for the bandwidth, but as long as it’s used just for backups, it’s very cheap: around 10cents per GB transfered in. Uploading my 20GB of data took a long time but costs me just $2 – not likely to break the bank 🙂

Other data such as ripped CDs, downloaded movies, installation CDs, audiobooks, etc that may be quite bulky I back up to some local mirrored disks. If I lose this, it will either be a lot of hassle or expensive to replace, but in most cases not impossible – and until I get a lot more bandwidth, I’ll keep my Cloud-based storage to just the most important.

For a long time, I thought that I really wanted a home NAS. Like the devices that Synology or Thecus sell – they have redundant disks, RAID, and such stuff after all. But they are expensive, they consume electricity, they are noisy, and they don’t provide the safety of having my most previous data offsite.

I feel enlightened. I solved a technical problem without buying any new gadgets. The world is truly on its head.

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