Having recently simplified my Macintosh backup system, this article explains the how’s and why’s.
I have three Macintosh computers with data that needs backing up:
Home iMac—This computer has two user accounts—one for my wife, and one for myself. My account is used only for the purpose of acting as a server to other computers on the network (and the Apple TV) for things like iTunes and Daylite.
Kids’ mini—This computer has parental control managed accounts for each of my two kids.
My MacBook—This is my primary computer, which I transport back and forth each day between the office and home.
The Home iMac has two external storage devices attached:
2TB FireWire Drive—This fast drive holds our family’s master iTunes library, and archives of data such as videos, photos, software installers, etc.
12TB Drobo—The USB-connected Drobo is a very slow device, but it offers huge capacity and is easy to maintain. (When any of its internal four 3TB drives die, I just replace it with a new one.) I use this for local backup.
Each Mac maintains a bootable clone of its startup drive via SuperDuper. In addition, each Mac has a Time Machine attached. Furthermore, the Home iMac and my MacBook Air has certain data backed up to Dropbox.
You’d think that’d be enough backup, and it probably is, but I wanted even more.
Off-site backup—I’d like important data to be backed up off-site, in case the house burnt down (hopefully with us not in it.)
2TB backup—I need a backup of the Home iMac’s external 2TB drive, in case it dies (and it will, at some point).
Extended versioning—Although Time Machine does versioning, it’s known to become corrupt. I’d like to address that risk, as well as maintain a bit longer version history than can be maintained on those drives.
To achieve these extended backup objectives, my old system looked like this:
ChronoSync—running on the Home iMac, along with ChronoSync Agent running on each of the Macs, was used to achieve the 2TB backup and extended versioning objectives.
BackBlaze—running on each Mac was used, in part, to keep certain data backed up off-site (in the cloud).
Arq—running on the Home iMac and my MacBook Air, was used to keep other data (data which can’t be included in BackBlaze backups) backed up off-site (in the cloud, to Amazon S3).
Although it worked, this system had some negatives:
Complexity—I had to configure and maintain three pieces of software on each machine.
High costs—Monthly costs for off-site backup totaled about $35 — i.e. $5 each for each of the three BackBlaze installations and about $20 in Amazon S3 costs with Arq.
Saturated network—At night, when we wanted to rent a movie on the Apple TV, I’d have to go around to each machine and manually pause BackBlaze and Arq, as running concurrently they’d saturate my ADSL bandwidth.
Mobile data consumption—Often when working in a cafe with my MacBook Air connected to the internet via “Personal Hotspot” on the iPhone, I’d discover Arq doing its thing and chewing up my very expensive Vodafone data plan. There wasn’t an automatic way to avoid that. (BackBlaze indirectly avoids this with a setting not to backup when on battery power.)
My new backup system uses only one piece of software, CrashPlan. CrashPlan supports backup of multiple data sets (known as “Backup Sets”) to multiple destinations—including folders, other Macs running CrashPlan, and their cloud backup service, “CrashPlan Central”.
Here’s what the new system looks like:
Running on the Home iMac, CrashPlan backs up the entire Mac and the 2TB drive to the Drobo, with long-term versioning.
Running on the Kids’ mini and my MacBook Air, CrashPlan backs up the whole computer to CrashPlan running on the Home iMac, which stores those “incoming backups” on the Drobo, with versioning.
Running on each of the three Macs, CrashPlan backs up all the data that I want off-site (i.e. a second “Backup Set”) to CrashPlan Central.
The new system has a number of benefits:
Simplicity—I only have one piece of software to maintain on each of the three computers.
Lower costs—My monthly cost is about $12. I chose the CrashPlan+ Family plan, paid on one-year installments, that allows 10 Macs to backup unlimited data to CrashPlan Central for $149 per year.
ADSL bandwidth management—I’ve scheduled CrashPlan on all the machines to not backup between the hours of 8PM and 11PM, which keeps our ADSL free and fast for our evening movie rentals. (In addition, CrashPlan on each machine is configured to use less bandwidth when there’s a user on the machine, who likely would like some internet bandwidth available.)
No mobile data consumption—On the MacBook Air, I’ve configured CrashPlan to exclude the iPhone 5 as a network interface through which it’s allowed to back up. This way, when I’m tethered to the Air via Personal Hotspot, CrashPlan will not backup to CrashPlan Central. (That is great, great, great!)
And there’s one final benefit I’ve discovered to using CrashPlan, the periodic, unified backup report it sends to you by email:
I’ve yet to have to recover backed-up data, but will be testing that soon. In the meantime, I couldn’t be happier with CrashPlan and my new backup system!