one man’s realistic backup strategy

Those of you who know me know that I’m a bit obsessive about backups, and have multiple strategies.

My MacPro is currently configured with what seems to be two drives:

  • a boot drive containing my 10.6 system, which has all my installed Applications and Developer tools.
  • Another drive with all my /Users/ accounts.

These two logical volumes hide the complexity of the six drives that comprise it.

The boot drive is really  SATA RAID 0 boot drive pair (gets 500MB/sec) that I’ve stuffed in the media bay below my DVD drive. It’s two 100GB drives using this mounting hardware.

The /Users/ partition is really a 4 disk, hardware RAID 1+0 – it’s striped (150MB/sec )and mirrored (so up to two drives of the four can fail). This is just 4 7200RPM drives plugged into the internal SATA ports, along with the Apple hardware RAID card.

I also have a Drobo that does Time Machine backups nightly.

So my baseline system has a fair amount of redundancy in it. This is all fine and good, but that really doesn’t address the issue of your machine getting stolen (can you tell my house recently got broken into?).

So I’ve recently refined an approach that I think will be interesting to folks because of how (relatively) cheap it is.  I have an eSATA “toaster” that I can drop bare eSATA drives in.  There are lots of sources for these:



and the toasters are all less than $100 (some are as cheap as $20).

Anyway, I’ve recently found that you can get 2TB SATA drives for less than $100:


I’ve been buying the Western Digital “green” drives, which right now are $85 each.

so anyway, for $85*3 + $30, i.e. less than $300, you can have a pretty fool proof backup scheme for all but the craziest home setup. I have, I like to think, one of the crazier home Mac setups, and so I thought I’d share my current specifics.

I have a 10.6 boot drive that has Adobe Master Collection, Final Cut Studio, etc. installed, and even with all that, it’s 155GB.

My user partition, which has my 40K RAW pics, my ripped music and video collection, etc. is about 1.6TB.

So each 2TB drive gets partitioned into 2 partitions: 200GB + 1.7xTB

I then use SuperDuper! (great app, you can use it for free, but you should buy it) to clone both my startup disk and my user partition on to the single physical 2TB drive that I’ve plugged into my “toaster” drive.  I don’t really care how long it takes, so it can be USB (although I do care, so I have it connected via eSATA, but that’s just me).

So I buy 3 drives, and this is what I do:

  1. I back up the whole machine, and mail that physical drive to my parents in Chicago.
  2. I then backup to my two other drives, and bring one into work and put it in a drawer, and leave the other in the toaster at home.

Then every few days, after backing up to the toaster, I pop that drive out, bring it in to work, and swap it with the one in my office.  I pop it into the toaster at home, and run the backup.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

This gives me an off-site snapshot thousands of miles away, as well as a pair of backups that are only as out of sync as I want them to be. If our house gets ransacked, I’m only a day/days off from the most recent backup.

Sprinkle with encryption as necessary.


3 Responses to “one man’s realistic backup strategy”

  1. December 6, 2010 at 3:39 am

    Great post w backup advice. I learned my lesson the hard way years ago — and in addition to nightly Time Machine backups; I also run two SuperDuper scripts every Friday evening to essentially clone my laptop, and create a mirror image of all my media – video, photos and music. I need to get on that remote backup issue though – in case of theft/fire etc. .. so your advice is very timely.

  2. 2 drwave
    December 6, 2010 at 3:48 am

    Yea, my thing is all about having several orthogonal strategies. Build in RAID w/redundancy in the base machine if you can, then use TimeMachine, then have a local snapshot that gets aggressively updated, then a less aggressively updated one that you swap in, and finally something that will survive serious bad things happening locally.

    The big lesson for me has also been to layer these; have a few SATA drives at work, have a few SATA drives far off-site, etc.

    Multiple orthogonal strategies can be wiped out if you only have a single data point for each. Mail a disk today! 🙂

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December 2010


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