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My Hard Drive Crashed… And What I Learned From It

The most valuable part of a computer is also its most fragile: Data are the wealth of a digital lifestyle, a currency of which many notes are irreplaceable. At least, that’s how I felt staring at a “Confirm you want to wipe your hard disk” message, my finger poised over the mouse.

During an emergency is a bad time to plan for one. It’s the feeling one might get jumping from a plane before checking one’s parachute. That’s one experience I’d rather avoid, but it happened. Not the skydiving part. My OS was dying, and I wasn’t prepared.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

People who make websites face a triple threat: Live websites need backups; test environments need backups, especially when they double as backups for live websites. Subversion5 and Git6 provide safety nets in case of data loss. But there are also support files: Photoshop files, fonts, reusable jQuery snippets — not to mention music collections, an essential part of many creative processes.

I kept regular backups of many files using Apple’s Time Machine7. But “many” is not “all,” and just then my Mac was too erratic for me to tell which fraction I had missed. After copying vital files to a handful of spare hard drives, I took a breath, formatted the disc and reinstalled the OS.

An hour later I was dismayed to see how many files I’d failed to back up. Photoshop files, local test websites, PDFs and most text files were safe. But passwords saved in the OS, cached emails, FTP bookmarks, application preferences and serial numbers, browser history, plugins, color swatches, copies of old browsers for testing… Gone.

Anything digital is susceptible to loss. For a recovering digital packrat like myself, who lives (and now dies) by the Web, data loss is a disaster akin to a tornado, which may also destroy backups kept in the same office as the original files. Fire, theft, spilled coffee, overwritten files, disgruntled coworkers, zombie attacks — I played out nightmare scenarios in my head. Then I began to research better ways to safeguard my digital life.

Two Safeguard Services Link

Offsite backup systems help with disaster recovery by storing versions of files in secure facilities. Many services exist, but I compared the $50-per-year Backblaze8 service to $50-per-year CrashPlan9+ Unlimited package. I’d read reviews of both before and often saw them compared against each other. Which was better? I wanted to find out.

My test environment was a 2011 MacBook Air running OS X 10.8.2. I tested backups from four different locations over a period of three weeks. Important note: While the online backup services I tested should also work on Windows machines, I didn’t have access to a computer with Windows OS on which to test. Anyone with backup experience on Windows or with services other than Backblaze and CrashPlan is welcome to share their experience in the comments.

Screenshot of DaisyDisk's colorful diagram of my hard drive

After two weeks of backups, I discovered a way to prioritize data. Using DaisyDisk10, I determined that the largest folder — my music — was also the most replaceable. I instructed Backblaze and CrashPlan to avoid music for seven days, forcing them to focus on documents and Web files. Once I saw that my vital websites and support files were in both services, I felt safe enough to let them archive my music.

To expedite the backups and placate my neighbors, I also backed up overnight for two weeks, using Caffeine11 to keep my Mac awake and calibrating my battery12 after 10 days of continuous nightly charges.

Starting Backblaze Link

Backblaze customers may install an application for OS X (10.5 and up) or Windows (XP, Vista and 7). On OS X, Backblaze is accessible as a System Preferences pane. Whether Mac or PC, while a user’s computer is on and connected to the Internet, Backblaze uploads the contents of the hard drive to a custom facility in San Francisco. The app was tiny, occupying 829 KB on my hard drive and using 10 MB of RAM.

After a quick hard-drive scan, Backblaze determined I had 92.7 GB of files ready to be backed up, mostly in my User folder. As advertised, it proceeded to copy my files any time my Mac had access to Wi-Fi.

The nature of Backblaze is set and forget, which I often did. Aside from its menu bar icon and an occasional network lag, the application did not draw my attention. I could view my archive through Backblaze’s website the day after installation.

Starting CrashPlan Link

Like Backblaze, CrashPlan uploads selected sections of a hard drive to the service’s facility in seven cities around the world13. It also works in the background, avoiding notice unless summoned. To that end, CrashPlan for OS X installs two applications: one program accessible from its menu item, and a second full program that provides statistics, account information and options to store data on devices other than CrashPlan’s servers. The menu bar shows how the current backup is proceeding, the current file being uploaded and pausing options.

Upon first launching, CrashPlan informed me that 101.6 GB was ready to be uploaded. I wasn’t able to determine why it saw more files than Backblaze. Backblaze claims it does not upload podcasts, but that didn’t account for 10 GB.

Comparative Features Link

From a casual glance, Backblaze and CrashPlan are similar enough to spawn their own patent war. Both systems share the same goal: to provide peace of mind by saving customers’ data on remote servers. Both systems work the same way, copying files via the Internet while the user works. But they differ in more than options, prices and controls. The more I looked, the more their differences became apparent.

Pause Link

Both Backblaze and CrashPlan feature pause buttons, the need for which I discovered after three days.

Editing a WordPress theme on a live website, I stepped away for a cup of liquid enthusiasm while my FTP program connected to the server. When I came back, it was still connecting. Even normally fast websites took up to 40 seconds to load. This was the kind of slow usually reserved for Murphy’s Law14. (True to form, it was an emergency PHP error on deadline.) The culprit was running both backup services.

Backblaze's drop-down menu controls

Users may set Backblaze to run once per day or manually, but the application defaults to “continuous.” Continuous backups may be paused until told to resume. It also resumes upon log-in — say, after a reboot.

Whereas Backblaze stays paused until told otherwise, CrashPlan users may pause with a timer for 1, 2, 4, 8, 12 or 24 hours. CrashPlan’s “resume later” mentality was handy when, focused on my work, I would forget to reenable it. That cut both ways. More than once, I noticed a sudden Internet slowdown as CrashPlan reactivated. Backblaze gave me no such surprises.

CrashPlan's drop-down menu controls

Both services stopped running when I put my Mac to sleep, switched users or otherwise logged out of my user account. However, both services can back up the entire contents of a computer’s hard drive — including user accounts not set to run the services. If someone else uses your Mac and you need access to their account, Backblaze and CrashPlan are happy to oblige.

Bandwidth Link

Although both applications stay out of the way, the fact that I was moving about 200 GB across the Internet did not go unnoticed. Neither backup service caused my Mac to slow down, but both I and people on the local network saw Internet speeds take a hit any time I had one or both running.

Slowdown was especially apparent as I was editing live websites. Websites at Rackspace15, Dreamhost16 and Pair17 became tedious with either service running. Even the act of refreshing directories with Transmit18 disrupted my train of thought. But were the problems consistent? And which service caused more lag?

To measure their impact on Internet access, I uploaded the same files, totaling 1.5 MB, to a remote Web server via FTP from different locations and different times of day.

One result was obvious. Locations with more than 10 laptops, smartphones and iPads jostling for bandwidth saw varied results. Especially because each test took between 5 and 15 minutes, demand for local Wi-Fi changed as people came and went. But running either Backblaze or CrashPlan always slowed my FTP upload and download time, regardless of the crowd.

Infographic of which service reduced my FTP speeds

The graph above shows the time it took to upload files to a website while either CrashPlan or Backblaze was running. Seven times, uploads were faster while CrashPlan was running than when Backblaze was. Four times, the opposite was true. Three times were too close to call. One time, uploading to FTP while Backblaze was running was faster than uploading with Backblaze off, a testament to erratic bandwidth usage at coffee shops.

Anecdotally, I learned to stop both services while working on live websites (transferring WordPress from local to live servers) or while otherwise performing network-intensive tasks. The blue shows upload times with neither Backblaze nor CrashPlan running. Not only was it faster in 13 of 14 tests, but turning off both services doubled my FTP speed.

At least, it felt like a speed boost. By chance, during one test I also updated software on my iPad via Wi-Fi. I thought the updates had stalled until I disabled the backup services.

Recovery Link

Backup is half the story. Getting files back is the other. Hopefully, few people will be parted from their data. But if the worst happens, customers of both Backblaze and CrashPlan can recover files via the Web. Customers can also use CrashPlan’s application and iPhone app to recover files — at least, on paper.

Backblaze’s Straightforward Process Link

Backblaze’s secure website lets users browse their files as they would their computer’s file structure. After I selected random HTML, CSS, JPG and PNG files from different folders for recovery, an email notified me that my files were ready on the “My restores” page. The selected files downloaded as a single ZIP file. Customers may also request their files to be sent on a USB jump drive for $99 or on a hard disk for $189.

Recovering files on Backblaze's website

CrashPlan’s Many Options Link

The full CrashPlan application allowed me to select backed-up files to download to a destination folder on my Mac. Although CrashPlan warned me that it was “unable to restore until we have synchronized with the destination,” my files downloaded with no fuss. But I made the mistake of choosing my already-crowded desktop to receive a dozen recovered files. This differed from Backblaze, which downloaded one ZIP file that contained one folder.

Recovering files in CrashPlan's application

Users may also restore files from CrashPlan’s Web application, although my experience indicated otherwise. While I had no trouble accessing my online account, five times over one week the website informed me it was “unable to log into server” to recover files. CrashPlan’s tech support said recovery via the Web was a known issue but had no estimate of when the problem would be fixed.

I never had problems recovering files from CrashPlan’s app for OS X. The iPhone app was a different story.

Backup to iPhone Link

CrashPlan’s iOS app19 (v1.3.2) allows users to browse and download their saved files to their iPhones. As with the OS X application, I navigated a copy of my Mac’s file structure by tapping the appropriate folders.

Tapping a single JavaScript, CSS, TXT or HTML document downloaded a copy of that file to my phone, after which I could read it as a text file in the CrashPlan app. The app let me copy text, email the file or open in other text-savvy apps, such as Evernote.

Rather than show source code, the app displayed HTML files as Web pages, including CSS styling, right down to clickable email links that opened my iPhone’s Mail app. Thus, I couldn’t tell, for example, whether a given HTML file had Google Analytics installed. PHP, JavaScript and CSS were legible as unformatted source code.

Recovering files in CrashPlan's iPhone app

For JPG and PNG images, the CrashPlan app offered to email, open in image-savvy apps or save to my photo roll. Files that it could not read — such as Pixelmator’s PXM files — were displayed as an icon, along with the file size and a “Send by email” option.

The app had two significant limitations. First, I could recover only one file at a time. Granted, an iPhone is not the ideal destination to recover hundreds of files. But if you want to restore whole websites, be prepared for a lot of tapping.

Secondly, a week after I recovered a few files with the iPhone app, some of those files did not appear on my phone. Although I downloaded a WordPress plugin, for example, according to the app, my “Downloads” folder was empty.

Backblaze has no iOS app — yet. At the time of writing, the company has only hinted that it is developing an app20.

Options Abound Link

The services covered here aren’t the only two that sell peace of mind. Services such as Mozy21 and Carbonite22 follow the same approach: back up all of a customer’s data to a remote, secure location. But design agencies and Web developers with dedicated computers might find advantages in selectively saving.

Mozy's product page

LayerVault Link

Aimed at creative users, LayerVault23 targets Adobe CS files, with an appropriately visual user interface. Its service includes full-sized previews of changes over time, collaborative change tracking and simple editing tools.

LayerVault's tour page

Dropbox Link

Dropbox keeps more than the files that people entrust to it; it keeps versions and deleted files24 for 30 days as well.

Dropbox's versions page

Evernote Link

This free note-taking software25 captures any type of information users throw at it. While Evernote won’t back up files on one’s hard drive, it is a good repository for HTML, CSS and JavaScript snippets and commonly used JPG and PNG files. Evernote notebooks can be shared, enabling a Web design team to collaborate on the same library.

Evernote's application

Backupify Link

While Google Drive (née Google Docs) resides in a secure facility, Google states26 that deleted files are gone forever. Backupify27 protects Google Drive and Gmail from users’ accidental deletions.

Backupify screenshot

Backup Buddy for WordPress Link

Designers who use WordPress have many options to save their websites, both local and remote. Starting at $75, Backup Buddy28 preserves and restores both the files and database of a WordPress website. If you have the files or don’t have the budget, try a database-only solution29, such as WP DB Manager30.

Backup and Migrate for Drupal Link

Designers on Drupal can use the Backup and Migrate module31, which does what it says. Drupal also recommends other backup strategies32 to save a website.

Choosing a Service Link

No one strategy applies to every user’s needs. But there’s enough overlap between Backblaze and CrashPlan to give would-be customers pause.

Ostensibly less developed, Backblaze offers fewer options, making for a streamlined service. One pricing plan and one application means that new customers can begin saving their data minutes after reading the sales pitch. Its business package33 follows the same prices but combines billing and data management for many computers into one account. The price per month34 decreases as customers buy more time: $95 for two years, $50 for one year and $5 per month.

CrashPlan plays to different digital needs with the following:

Both services worked well in my tests. While Backblaze delivers what it promises and no more, CrashPlan struck me as a business that targets specific markets. After using both for several weeks, I found Backblaze sufficient for my work. Your experience will vary, of course, and at the time of writing I have another 49 weeks with both. Which will I prefer this time next year? Time will tell.

Either service works better than doing nothing, as I discovered when I wiped my hard drive back to factory settings. Backblaze’s motto could speak for every service: “Back up, before you wish you had.”


Footnotes Link

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Ben Gremillion is a Writer at ZURB. He started his career in newspaper and magazine design, saw a digital future, and learned HTML in short order. He writes tutorials and facilitates the ZURB University training courses.

  1. 1

    What a mess. I just use dropbox. Beats all backup software IMHO. Files are on pc, laptop and online. Unilimited file version history. Not to mention browser access and easy sharing of my files. Currently testing Sparkleshare, an open source, self hosted alternative to Dropbox.

    • 2


      December 28, 2012 1:26 pm

      Data is always a mess. Backing up the mess is even more, despite planning for it. Files, photos, contacts, mail .. stuff like that’s fine and easy to backup. But like Ben mentions, how do you backup older versions of browsers, plugins installed in apps, data within apps that’s hard or cumbersome to export?

      Like someone said, we really need to re-think our computers.

    • 7

      You’re missing a big point here:
      The article isnt talking about backing up selective items, but making full backups of ALL your files, or at least all your professional data. Where Dropbox easily costs 100-500$ a year to be able to store large amounts of data (even the 500gb plan wouldnt be enough for a graphics designer over the years), Crashplan comes with unlimited space starting 3$/month

      So it’s not about usability and file accessibility, it’s about a cost-effective way to provide a failsafe for hard drive crashes…

  2. 8

    while reading this post, i was just remembered my friend, actually i too recommend to use only the Dropbox

  3. 9

    Generally I just work inside my Dropbox folder and run regular Time Machine + manual backups. That seems to do it most of the time, especially with Dropbox’s handy revert to previous version function if (and when) accidents occur otherwise.

    • 10

      Yes, I rely on my time machine as well. it works quite well and is reliable. Dropbox for sharing files and storing what I deem most important, as well as sharing across different devices like my iphone or iPad. It works great.

      However I believe that maybe absorbing the cost of a remote backup like mentioned here (aside from dropbox) would be a great idea incase for some reason your time machine blows up or whatever might happen to it. Think of all the lost files and such.

      I know my hard drive, i have files I move from my computer to the drive to save space.. It’d suck if it blew up on me. I’m going to look into getting a remote backup :)

  4. 11

    DropBox can only do so much. CrashPlan+ is the way to go (especially with a free year – just search for it). Best of all you can use CrashPlan+ with a buddy for free and back up your files (encrypted) to each other’s computers. With HD prices so low this is a very easy and cheap way to keep offsite backups.

  5. 12

    Some good info on these services, thanks. Using services like these is a good idea.

    However, it’s not the only option. I think that a good backup strategy should consist of two parts:
    – An archive backup, making it possible to go back in time and search for old(er) files or versions of files. Time Machine on Mac does this. Buy a very big harddisk and let TM make daily backups (or hourly if you want).
    – A bootable clone backup, making it possible to resume work immediately on an exact replica of your system complete with ALL files, settings, mail, etc. in case your system crashes. On Mac, programs like SuperDuper or CarbonCopyCloner do this.

    Then there’s (in my opinion) the necessity of having multiple copies of each backup. And at least one full copy of a backup in a remote place. I have one in a safe in a bank.

    I prefer working with external harddisks for this strategy. They are cheap, flexible, replaceble and using TM and Clone programs you’re sure everything is backed up, not only some folders you let a service like Dropbox backup.

  6. 13

    Why are you so adverse to the idea of creating a full backup of your whole hard drive. Whenever I format, I make a simple list of all the software that I need to move, along with all the settings and what not. Over the next months I will find that certain things were missed and I will just go back to the full backup and pull them over.

    Once I have been running the new hd for a few months I am usually confident enough to get rid of the backup as I know that I won’t miss any of the data it holds. Couple that with good organisation of certain config files (stored on dropbox) which are either symlinked or the software supports dropbox integration.

    1password then takes care of storing all my useful info. Gmail holds my email. I understand the need for multiple backups to avoid the loss of the computer and backup drive but I fear that you simply don’t have a very well organised mac if you were missing vital pieces when you formatted.

    • 14

      Precisely what advantage do you gain by selectively backing things up? None. You save a bit of drive space, but drives are dirt cheap. Instead, you add barriers to doing a backup (maybe not for yourself, but many people will balk at doing the “what do I need and not need” work). Back it ALL up. It’s irresponsible and unprofessional for any person who uses their computer for work to not do this and it’s ridiculous if the reason is monetary. Our apps and data are our work tools and product. For the price of a couple of lunches per month we can easily and completely protect every bit we have. To not do that is insane.

  7. 15

    Thanks Ben for a great write-up! Been looking at this same issue since my ‘then’ current server backups weren’t actually grabbing all I needed! [read: check settings closely!] Will go have another gander at them now that we’ve got your observations to bolster a decision!
    Happy hols!

  8. 16

    Carlo Rizzante

    December 28, 2012 2:43 pm

    Thanks for sharing this, Ben.

    Personally I backup everything related to my work across an iMac and a MacBookPro with Dropbox (including websites in local and MAMP files). It’s light fast, reliable and in short damn good. So, I’ve all my working flow and archive stored in two computers and in the cloud as well.

    I then backup the entire hard drive of the notebook with Time Machine.

    Dropbox has one limitation, though. It sync only the content of its own folder.

    I would add that both iCloud (if one use Apple’s devices) and Google Drive help in keeping in sync address books and documents.

    In my opinion we’re moving fast from the concept of backup to a new one, that I would describe as keeping our whole data synchronized across different devices (including a virtual one so far called “cloud”).

  9. 17

    Seems a major feature of CrashPlan is missing in the review above.

    With Crashplan the deleted files are archived forever while Backblaze will remove your deleted files in 30 days. So CP can double up as an archival tool or when you wish to free up your machine’s hard disk.
    (This comes from my personal exp with both the services. I am not affiliated to CrashPlan in any way. Am Just a regular blogger at )

    • 18

      We choose Crash Plan backup service too because of this important option. This is truly a backup service, and not a “sync”… My opinion

  10. 19

    While this article mentions Apple products so many times that it would be easy for someone to make the mistake of thinking that these services are platform specific, in reality there is a lot of good info here…except, slightly ironically imo, what platforms they all work on. My wife was using Carbonite on an old laptop. When it became too slow to use running the OS it came with, I formatted it and loaded Linux, which is what I typically do to extend the life of old hardware. That old Windows dog suddenly was one of the fastest computers in the house, not counting my phone. The problem was that Carbonite does not support Linux. So, with a tear in my eye, I “fixed” her computer and she was able to load her backups and we were off to buy her a brand new laptop that was slower than her old one running Linux.

    So, the moral of the story is to check carefully what platforms are supported when choosing any sort of service. You may be in love with your current OS, you may have bought into a whole ecosystem based around it, it may be all that you ever need for the rest of your life, but I wouldn’t bet on it. How many iOS users began as Windows users? How many Linux people started on one of the other OS’s? A friend and co-worker of mine was completely in the tank for Apple products, so much so that despite having a very good job, he worked weekend at the Apple store just for the discount. He was particularly in love with the iPhone. After 2 years of watching Android users being able to do so much more than he could with each release, he finally made the switch. The phone made him very happy, converting and transferring things that were done when he assumed he was forever Apple did not.

    At home I have 3 PC’s, multiple Linux boxes, and a Mac. At work we have those three and some UNIX servers. Your current situation might be totally different than mine, but your future one could be very similar some day. Using an OS-specific “solution” is a good way to find new problems.

    • 20

      Chris Scheufele

      December 28, 2012 7:37 pm

      @joepower, Crashplan supports Linux boxes, as well as, Mac, PC, and Solaris. They also have phone apps for iPhone, Android and WinPhone. Been a happy customer.

  11. 22

    Dropbox/skydrive or something of the like for your everyday files. As far as app data and such you can just ghost your machine once a month onto a disc (ew) or saved to one of our cloud storage places, a NAS, or external. With then you can restore everything exactly as it was with app data and the like.

    That all said. Moving to app stores and cloud storage, much of this is already taken care of. If you buy stuff from the app store the settings/data can be stored in the cloud instead of locally. So for many apps it is as simple as logging in with for example your live ID on a win box and your stuff is just magically there. We aren’t there quite yet but it isn’t far off.

  12. 23

    Before wiping OSX, one should always buy a new blank external drive the same size or bigger than your original and use Carbon Copy Cloner to create a bootable clone. Then reboot holding the Option key and boot from the external. It should look and act just like the original only a little slower. Now you can wipe the original without fear.

  13. 24

    It astounds me how many people write articles talking about the many variations of “backups” to save them when their hard drive fails – but fail to include even the slightest mention of RAID. It’s hard to take anything you’ve written seriously with such a glaring omission. Unlike the many internet backup services you’ve promoted, RAID is as fast as your system bus and drive speed, and is *truly* set it and forget it, without any performance impact after initial setup. And getting it up and running again after a drive failure can literally be done in seconds.

    • 25

      RAID all nice and well, except that so many of us are now working with laptops, tablets, smart phones, etc. [I believe Lenovo and Dell were once offering really expensive chunky professional laptops with raid drives.]

      • 26

        RAID is the best method. Period. I can agree that for whatever reason alot of design work is being on laptops and tablets (which boggles my mind as no tablet or laptop can ever provide the same serious performance, power, or multi-tasking capabilities of a desktop) and RAID is not a viable option for those devices. A happy medium for those users is a NAS with RAID in it – one time expense, no ongoing fees, larger capacities for less money, and scaleable as your needs change.

    • 27

      I prefer UNRAID to RAID myself. If one of the drives fails, I can just go about my business until I get the replacement drive. With RAID, I’d be SOL until I replaced the drive and wait days for the volume to be rebuilt.

      • 28

        Karl Kaufmann

        January 11, 2013 8:42 pm

        If you have a good RAID setup, a drive failure shouldn’t be an issue. This is what the system is designed to deal with–to keep you up and running in the event of a drive failure. Larger systems can even handle multiple concurrent drive failures.

    • 29

      RAID is all fine and dandy until your home office or business office experiences a catastrophe (flood, fire, etc). I think the article was focusing on off-site backup which is imperative to safe guarding data. If your business doesn’t have an off-site copy of your data then you are doing your business a great disservice. RAID is great for local backups but doesn’t solve the off-site part of the equation.

    • 30

      Karl Kaufmann

      January 11, 2013 8:39 pm

      This cannot be overstated…

      Especially now, where options such as Synology are available, where once setup is done, the backup is pretty much an appliance-type setup.

      To add to this, there are other services such as Amazon S3, which may need some more initial setup, but is a viable alternative for offsite backup.

  14. 31

    My (original) Hard Drive just crashed few days ago (on 21st) on my MacBook Pro, and when I opened Smashing Magazine today… Voilà!

    Great article, by the way, with a lot of usefull thoughts and information.
    Thank you!

  15. 32

    Its a good read Ben,
    In my opinion, putting all your eggs in a single basket is not a good idea.
    Imagine your password gets hacked or stolen and your files get deleted (or hacker deletes them), in the mean time you get a need to restore files. What you would do?

    I use two backup services to backup different files and backup most important files on both of the services, this way I always get at least two locations where my backup is saved.

  16. 33

    Simon Vangelder

    December 29, 2012 12:44 am

    Don’t forget to consider a home theft, fire at home, etc.

    Personally, I keep an 3.5″ external drive hooked up to my computer which makes two Time Machine backups of everything on my computer twice per day (using the free Time Machine Editor). It’s best to have a TM drive that is at least twice the capacity of your computer’s drive.

    Additionally, I make a monthly full backup (using CarbonCopyCloner) to a different 2.5″ hard drive which is kept at a friend’s or relative’s home. That way, if I lose everything in my home, at least there’s a backup somewhere else.

    It’s a cheap way to keep yourself covered.

  17. 34

    I believe that a good back-up strategy is starting with your local file structure!

    All my data is on a second harddisk partition (away from the operating system), and on this partition I have one directory called 00work (so it sits rather high up in the tree), where every client gets a subdirectory for ALL files related to this client.

    On top of each client’s files is another directory, called 00info, in which I keep all client related info like server log-ins, correspondance and copies of Skype conversations with the client, back ups of the robots-file (if needed) and other small tidbits like short memos, the source files for this client’s graphics, and even a copy of the client’s contact details, and so on… I usually create a new client directory as soon as I have the second communication with somebody – long before I start any real work!

    I also keep under 00work a directory called 00resources, where I store CD/DVD images and serial numbers of all my important software, template files, downloaded software and resources, icon collections, etc, all sorted into distinct sub directories.

    All this then gets backed up onto 2 different external harddisks and into a password protected directory on my own web server (I still don’t trust clouds). After a serious crash, or when changing computers, it’s a lot easier to re-install if you have everything as image files on your disk.

  18. 35

    The backup strategies outlined here sound complex. My setup is very easy to maintain. I keep all my important files in Dropbox, and synchronize that between my home and work computer. I then backup both of them with Time Machine. That is a total of 4 copies, in addition to the cloud.

    Perhaps one day I will pay for relying on Dropbox so heavily, but until then it is the best backup strategy I’ve had.

    • 36

      How much does 2TB of space cost on Dropbox? Yeah. $5/month for unlimited space on BackBlaze is a heck of a deal.

  19. 37

    I use CrashPlan on my PC and I set it up to backup at night with the schedule settings.
    I use Dropbox to store project files that I share with clients.
    I use Evernote to manage anything I need to be able to find quickly, as well as code snippets.
    I use Google Drive for creating and storing documents.
    And my code is hosted with Beanstalk / Assembla / Gitthub depending if it needs to be public or private

  20. 38

    I personally use skydrive, wich is set to backup a “work” folder on 2 computers at home and one at work. That means 3 local copies + 1 in the cloud.

  21. 39

    “Smashing Magazine – Our aim is to inform our readers about the latest trends and techniques in Web development. ”


  22. 40

    Great article! I really need to invest in a way to backup my files, even though they aren’t work files. I try to work mostly with files in the cloud, so that helps a bit. For me, personally, a hard drive would be my best bet, so I can back up my media.

    One thing I’d like to mention is that the beginning of the article has a typo. You wrote DaisyDisc when I’m pretty sure it’s DaisyDisk. Just wanted point that out. :)

  23. 42

    I have too much data and prefer not to trust nor pay for an online service. So, simply using a portable hard drive inside a fireproof box designed for it works just fine.

    • 43

      That’s essentially my feeling as well regarding online services. I use two separate portable hard drives, alternating between them every other week, where I do a complete backup of my documents (work, photos, music) as well as an export of my Outlook Mail, FTP and browser bookmarks. Everything stored in a fireproof safe.

      Each EOD, I backup my current project on a thumb drive. It’s likely on my FTP server anyway.

      For me, at least, this backup process is simple, easy to remember, and device/OS agnostic.

  24. 44

    Here’s my more local strategy:

    All of my work files are synced to a Firewire HD every day that I travel back and forth between the office and home, this puts them on three different drives in at least two locations at all times. I use ChronoSync for this and it has served me well for all of my backup needs beyond Time Machine.

    Additional backups:

    Office Mac Pro:
    – Hourly backups of entire machine with Time Machine
    – Twice weekly scheduled complete backups of the Boot Drive via ChronoSync

    Home / Travel MacBook Pro
    – The Firewire HD has two partitions, the other partition is an entire cloned backup of the Macbook Pro HD, prior to any travel, I sync the bootable backup so I have as recent as possible point to get to immediately if my drive fails on the road
    – I also have an entire cloned copy of the MBP drive in a fireproof safe at home and on an additional drive at my office.

    Ultimately, my work files are stored on 6 drives in 2-3 locations.

    While I don’t discount the cloud for being more impervious to a catastrophic natural disaster backups, this allows me to keep everything I need close at hand for quick recovery when the time comes. This is especially relevant when traveling and bandwidth may come at a premium.

    • 45

      How do prevent data redundancy, if you have more that 3-4 backups in different location there can be a case where you latest updates will be missing right.

  25. 46

    I’m currently using a RAID-1 external server-class HDD for regular backups and a single HDD for backing up the backup. But what if a fire occurs? Water damage? Or housebreaking? I then thought that uploading my data to a super-save data center would be the right step.

    The problem with Dropbox & Co. is, they’re all very slow. Most servers are located in the US and I only can upload to Dropbox with 420 KB/s at maximum, although I’m using a 50 MBit connection with 10 MBit upload. But when I look at your screenshot, you’re also uploading with only 530 KB/s. Man, 17 day for 100 GB is out of the question! It would take two months to upload 500 GB data – without changing any file.

    As long as Dropbox & Co. aren’t updating their servers/connection speed and I can upload at full speed (500 GB in ~2 hours; or make it one day), cloud storage for all my data is no option. I have to stick to my HDDs, store one at my parent’s or friend’s house, and only use Dropbox & Co. for file exchange between devices and friends.

    And for that case, Dropbox beats all because they are integrated into most apps. What’s the point if Skydrive, Google Drive or SugarSync are better/cheaper/faster but I can’t get my data up there easily or anybody uses them for file sharing? It’s like Camera+, Whatsapp or Skype. Sure, there’re (better) alternatives. But these’re most integrated or are used by everyone.

    • 47

      True, 500 KB/s or less is glacial when dealing with multi-gig uploads. In my tests, complete backups took about one month for CrashPlan and two for Backblaze. (It didn’t help that I was running both at once, sometimes pausing one to test the other.) But after completing both, bandwidth became less of an issue.

      At first I was eager for results. Now I see online backups as long-term investments. Comparing BB & CP I learned something about my personal backup-and-recovery process: Patience is a system requirement.

  26. 48

    Kenneth Jensen

    December 31, 2012 1:21 am

    Using Gdrive and Dropbox for collaboration files and timemachine for local stuff. My Timemachinedrive is connected to my Cinema Display anyway, so any time I connect to the display at my office, I am backing up everything.

    Works like a charm!

  27. 49

    But backing up a machine hourly is going to add so many extra read/write requests to both host and destination drive that you are likely increasing the odds of both drives failing quicker than a weekly backup would?

  28. 50

    Stephan Schmidt

    December 31, 2012 8:43 am

    I use Arq for years to directly backup to Amazon S3.

  29. 51

    I use windows home server with file duplication enabled. I have a 14TB storage pool and my 2TBs of photos and videos and user files are all duplicated across other drives. I also have a 3TB external drive which is formatted once a month which stores copies of photos and videos copied to that. I then do a swap with my mum who is not tech savvy, but I keep her photos and videos and she has mine, then after another month, I format the drive I have and she does the same, we backup all our stuff and swap again. I also use DropBox for syncing critical stuff i.e. my websites folders so i always have an up to date copy stored elsewhere instead of a 1 month old version.

    In regards to user preferences and things, all of my user files and libraries are stored on the server, that includes settings files for my user account, profiles, ftp sites, etc etc. Mail is IMAP’d so its stored on my ISP’s server, although this is one of the things that is backed up each month just in case. My home network is built using CAT6 cable with gigabit hardware and transfers between the server and client are in the region of 90MBps so apart from the latency its almost as fast as having a second drive in the machine itself. If my drive dies or I need to do a reinstall its a simple procedure to get everything back up and running, just remap my libraries back to the homeserver and reinstall the software. It then carries on as before. There might be a couple of tweaks here and there but its generally in the region of 60 mins to do a complete “back to where I was” clean install of the OS ( that is on a OCZ Vertex 3 SSD ). 15mins to install OS, 45 minutes to install everything else.

    I could just use the homeservers backup feature which basically creates a clone of the client computer’s HDD, but I always prefer a clean install but a lot of people love this feature.

  30. 52

    Doug Hardester

    January 2, 2013 1:04 am

    Nice article.

    According to the battery calibration article you linked, you don’t need to do any calibrations, at first purchase or afterward, with any Mac that has a built-in battery.

  31. 53

    This is all good – I might even look into this in the future when I have really silly quantities of data and backup takes over a day. For now I simply go for a backup of everything. I use the somewhat outdated (and free) LaCie Silverkeeper software, to run backups. It’s pretty easy to set up and it only copies “changed files” instead of everything. The one advantage I found over several other backup apps, is it’s speed at indexing/comparing the source and destination for changes. Also, I can schedule backups of different folders or drives to happen every hour, daily, weekly or monthly. It also supports exclusion of certain files or folders (like my Lightroom thumbnail previews or Bridge cache). This is how I’m prioritizing. It also mounts remote drives when needed and ejects them again, no matter if they’re on the network or internet.

    I recently purchased a “LaCie 5Big Network 2” diskless NAS drive. I’ve stuffed 2 x 3 TB drives in it and it’s running RAID. I back up EVERYTHING on this and I currently have 1 TB to spare. As time progresses, I expect 3 TB drives will get even cheaper and I’ll just keep adding them as my needs increase – it’ll hold up to 15 TB (2 X 7.5 TB in RAID mode.) by the time I’ve exhausted all that backup space (sometime in 5-6 years or so) I expect some new, smarter, bigger, cheaper hardware will be available.

  32. 54

    Spilled coffee all over my notebook just 30min ago. I’m typing this from my iPad since my notebook is now behaving very erratic. Wish I’d read this 31 min ago :)

  33. 55

    I can’t help but notice that your article started by talking about how you were missing loads of data and then just detailed more backup services. It sounds like you didn’t fail at having a backup, you failed at backing up everything you needed. Would that not have been a much better focus for your article instead of adding yet another comparison of online backup tools?

    Personally I keep local backups on my machine (extra drives). I keep further backups on my NAS (RAID-5) and I keep offsite backups encrypted with friends. I backup both my data and related application settings (think Firefox profile). I keep my e-mails both online and locally and only ever access them via IMAP and I image my machine into a VHD which I can boot up in a virtual machine so if my system drive ever dies I either boot from the VHD, reinstall from scratch and boot it as a reference point or image it to a new disk.

  34. 56

    I personally have a partition on my laptop. Even if the HD crashes so hard that it has to be formatted, there is software to even then get the data back. I had a need for this a time ago and that is how i discovered it would be better to use a partition. The recover software recovers everything, so when your files are on C: and your data is as well it will take a long time. I now have L: for all my professional data. mail etc, i backup very periodically.

    • 57

      Depends on how/what crashed. A partition is still the same drive as the one that crashes. You could lose the backup too in a single crash, couldn’t you?

      • 58

        correct. but the software can get it back quicker from a partition instead of having to get back all the windows files aswel. hers the software.

  35. 59

    I use DropBox and some other cloud services for file-sharing, but I would never use them for true backup. To me there are only two options for backing up: incremental (like Apple’s Time Machine and similar apps), or a full drive clone using comparative data (like SuperDuper or similar apps). I do this because I want 100% bootable drives if my primary drive fails. Incremental apps do it on a more frequent basis, but it’s a bit harder to deal with in a full recover, while a true clone is just that… ready to boot to the exact same state since my last backup, so long as you back up every few days it’s just a little data lost. So, for me moving a few key files using online services is fine, but for the hundreds of gigs of data I have such things aren’t practical. Anyone who’s lost years of data tends to be a bit paranoid about backing up. Drives are cheap. Data isn’t.

  36. 60

    Charles Waters

    January 3, 2013 10:21 am

    Even acknowledging that these online services are useful, I personally find much much more important to thoroughly plan in advance your own personal backup strategy, that is, the one that fits your needs.

    In my case, being a happy Windows 7 user, I found the following tips useful over time:
    – I completely separate software from data in different partitions: I only keep SW in the C: partition and data in the D: partition. I keep no personal data (beyond app data required by applications by default) on the C:Users folder.
    – I periodically use Acronis TrueImage Home 11.0 (later versions are too bloated and add no real additional value). Creating a SW and a data backup at least once a month is enough for me.
    – I create Acronis backups during times in which the computer does nothing else (usually night time). I use the maximum compression level, backup process priority and split backups in 250 MB chunks (the best file size I found in terms of later “recoverability” if any chunk gets damaged).
    – Of course I password protect each backup, calculate and save MD5 checksums for all 250 MB backup chunks and save the backups into 2 different external hard drives, just for the sake of physical redundancy (it’s even good to keep each external hard drive in different geographical locations).
    – I always prioritize depending on the type of data: A 40 GB music library can be recovered with some patience (so it’s “less important”), but personal, highly customized documents and files are extremely valuable, so they definitely need to always be in each and every data backup.
    – I also keep track of each and every SW updates I install on the computer and save that info in the Acronis backup description. It helps in case you have to fallback to older SW backups if needed.

  37. 61

    I lost data a many a times and saving data online is always a good idea for me at least. Lets hope we have better services in future as well and fast internet to recover full hard drive with no fear.

  38. 62

    After days investigating on the matter, I think the best backup scenario must be:
    – Off site
    – Redundant: many same backups at once
    – Automatic & daily (even better: real time)
    – On the cloud
    – Secure: allows file encryption
    – Accessible 24/7
    and to allow all these I use
    – a cloud storage solution like Amazon S3
    – a realtime backup software: Cloudberry Backup in PC and Arq on Mac.
    This software also allows me to get any of my files from any place in the world connected to Internet. Besides, all this is tremendously cost effective (< 70$/year). I hope this helps

  39. 63

    Rutger de Jong

    January 6, 2013 10:56 am

    Since Mountain Lion I have had several crashes with SSD disks. At first I thought my SSD was at fault, but buying a new one from another brand gave me the same results: OS X would not boot after some time especially if the computer was used to download lots of things before the crash. Apparently there is something wrong with the way data is handled by the OS in combination with a SSD.
    The last time it happened and Disk Utility told me once again the disk could not be fixed, I stumbled upon another solution: DiskWarrior. After using the rebuild directories, my disk was ready to run once again. Pretty amazing and I am curious how long it will last. The program is quite expensive, but may be of much use for anyone suffering the same problems.
    Another nice programme is SuperDuper. It let’s you create a 1:1 backup of the disk. Either on another (usb) drive or as a disk image. This carbon copy has all the temp files. And you can use it to boot if you made the copy before the whole file system crashed. From this boot-copy you can then run DiskWarrior. And make another back-up with SuperDuper.

  40. 64

    I just added a couple hardrives to my box. One for manual updates the other uses time machine.

  41. 65

    A lot of people seem to be over complicating matters big time here. If you work for a company they should already have a back up plan.

    If you’re a one man band freelancing from home you really don’t need to make it complicated and expensive.

    Simply store ALL your data related to your work under a master folder on your hard disk. This makes it easy to manage. Then simply duplicate that folder to another hard drive or, better yet, to a drive on a different machine. Or get an external drive and a small fire proof safe. Total one-time outlay will be about $200 for the safe and hard disk inside it.

    Everything is duplicated, it’s distinct from your main PC (so if it crashes you don’t lose anything) and unless someone steals your safe from inside your house you’ll be sweet. The only thing you need to do is remember to save the changes each day.

  42. 66

    Wow! Complicated.
    What the author did not “learn” (title of post) is that the Time Machine drive he had should have been attached at ALL times or at least daily when you get back to home/office if you work offsite. He also doesn’t mention in this learning process that ALL hard drives will fail at some point.

    I use dropbox for my projects and email is IMAP through google. The two web services are relatively instantaneous and Time Machine is hourly and you don’t have to tell it “what” to back up.

    I’ve had many system drives fail and I’ve never lost a thing with Time Machine, dropbox and IMAP email. A system restore with Time Machine is going to take hours – it would take days through a cloud service.

    Simple recipe for backup plan (MAC):

    1. Time Machine for Local Backup (it’s uncomplicated and you can’t screw it up)

    2. Utilize cloud services (files and email) for instant access from secondary devices AND safe place for protection against a complete local disaster – theft, flood, fire.

    Hard drives will eventually fail and this is what you can do to keep things running seamlessly (MAC/PC):

    1. Buy drives for your system with 5 year factory warranty and 3 year warranty drives (cheaper/slower) for your local backup (Time Machine for Mac users).

    2. Replace your system drive every 2-3 years before it breaks (using Time Machine on a Friday night to clone your system to the new drive). Leave this used-working drive lying around for as backup hardware for the 3 year warranty drive you use for your local backup (Time Machine for Mac users).

  43. 67

    I was (or maybe I still am) in the same situation. I run Timemachine and SuperDuper for backups, but I’m looking for some offsite solution. I also read all the reviews that pointed in the direction of Crashplan, so I signed up for a trial and started backing up.
    I’m a photographer, and have a massive library. Currently that means 4tb of data to be moved over the internet, one thing is that with the upload speed I could reach to Crashplan, that would take a couple of months – not really a problem, as long as my data was safe. But then it kind of hit me that it would probably take a good few months to retrieve all my data again, should all else fail, my house burn to the ground and all data get lost…

    If you live in the US there is a great ‘ship-your-drive’ service where large amounts of data can either be send for backup or restore for an extra fee – great idea! But not available in Europe…

    So am I prepared to wait for months to get my data back? Or can I find another (better) solution?
    So far I haven’t found one. If you do – or if someone can prove me wrong, I’m all ears!


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