I’ve had an idea for a book in my head for a few years now. Since there is a challenge afoot, I started, November 2, 2010, to write that book. This blog will contain the very rough draft and I hope I’ll get a chunk of it out this month. No guarantee I’ll write everyday, but I hope this won’t be the last entry.
Archive, backup, save copies
For most of your work, you’ll want to make copies (backups) for the future. So few people backup their work that if they make one copy, they feel good. They might not be safe, though.
Two media types
Let’s look at a couple of situations your backup strategy needs to take into account. You make a backup and have two copies. The original is on your hard drive. The backup is on an external hard drive next to it. You think you’re safe. Your 7 year-old son comes into your office to look for something with his treasured magnet collection. While he’s looking for tape, he sets the jar of magnets on the external HD next to the laptop. Delighted to find a roll of scotch tape, he runs off for taping adventures, leaving the magnets in place on your hard drive and next to the laptop’s internal hard drive. Monday, you return to the office to find your data corrupt in both places.
In this situation, you’ve got two problems. First is proximity and the second is that all the media is the same. If you’d either moved the backup drive to another room or backed up to another media type (optical disc or flash drive for example), your backup would be safe.
This isn’t a fully reliable solution, though. What if the house burns down, is flooded, or someone breaks in and steals the electronics? Proximity causes a problem here. Different media and different locations are essential. You could take that hd with you and put it in your car or another location, but what happens when you lose it or forget to backup using it?
If you have to remember to do your backups from time to time, it’s possible that you’ll forget. If you faithfully back up every Friday, but lose your data on Thursday, you’ve lost 6 days worth of work. If the project was started and completed in those 6 days, you’ve lost the whole thing. A better solution is for the system to backup automatically every time that something changed. Small increment backups should be quick and keep you safe.
When you’re podcasting, the putting a file on the server is itself a way to backup that’s prevents some of the locational issues. Your server online also needs to be backed up from time to time following the rules above.
Depending on how your website is configured, whether it’s static or dynamic, whether you’re using a cms like Drupal, how much control you have of the server, etc. This might be as simple as checking a checkbox or as involved as getting your geek on with cron. Either way, make sure you can get a backup that can be restored to a new server should something happen to your server, the company that owns it, or your account. I once lost my blog while it was on a free server for no reason that the company would give me. I was really lucky that I’d recently upgraded WordPress and the upgrade process included a backup.
Software and services
Beginning with OS X Leopard (10.5), Apple delivered an included backup utility called “Time Machine”. The advantage of Time Machine was that it automatically backed up a Mac connected to an external HD. The down side was that the computer had to be connected directly to the drive. Network drives weren’t supported (unless you used Apple’s Time Capsule) and neither was online backup. The ease of use and graphics in Time Machine made it fun, but it was limited. This was an Apple-only solution so if you used Linux or Windows, you had to go elsewhere.
DropBox, Box.net, SugarSync, and WindowsLive all share one thing in common. You add something to a folder and it syncs between computers on the account and also to the cloud (online). This means that when you save a project to your folder it saves it online and also to other computers either in the same location or others. This is really helpful if where you save your files is the shared folder. Make sure that you choose one of these or other similar services, but always keep a local backup (like on another computer that you’ll always have access to. Even the Microsoft service could end and if your only backup is online, you might have a problem.
Another area of concern is space limitation. As I write this, SugarSync and Box.net each have a limit of 5 gb for the free accounts. Dropbox (which I currently prefer) limits their free account to 2-2.25gb. Live Sync is much more generous at 25gb. Audio files could easily stay below these levels, but video files are much larger, even compressed. An hour of video can easily take 5-10gb. If each episode is a mere ten minutes, six episodes can hit the full amount of some of these services. Even Live Sync at 25 gb would fill up with 5 or less hours. Thirty weekly ten minute episodes would fill this up in less than a year.
Carbonite and Mozy are designed to back up your complete computer in way similar to how Time Machine works, but online. These services typically charge by the computer, not by the gigabyte. The advantage of this is that as long as you can fit it on your internal hard drive, you can stay backed up. That’s also the disadvantage. Video files get big fast, so even a 500 gb internal drive on your computer might not be enough for permanent storage.
Rolling your own old school
I’ve been trying to do this on and off for a month and have come close. I’ll tell you what I’m thinking. Rsync is a unix (also Linux and OS X) utility that can be used to keep folders in sync. You can either copy files from one source, only adding new ones or you can update, deleting files that have been deleted by the source, too.
The advantage is that rsync is powerful. It just works. If you type in the right syntax, you have no problems. If you don’t, either the wrong thing or nothing will happen. Next, the automatic piece is difficult. On OSX, there are folder actions that can trigger events when something changes. That something can be a shell script like rsync. Limitations in space aren’t that big of a deal. I’d get this to work by having two computers at church and one at home (or vice versa) that stored to external discs. Really the biggest problem is that this takes major geek work to make it happen.
What’s your plan?
The solution that I’ve happened upon that I use with work and personal computers is called CrashPlan. They have an online component that can backup to their servers like Mozy or Carbonite, but for free you can backup between computers, drives or folders. This means that I can be the cloud storage backup solution for my friend Eric that lives in Tennessee. It also means that I can back up church computers to each other and also to a computer at home. This is a solution that’s only limited by the amount of HD space you have available.
It’s the best of both worlds
Ideally, you could combine several of these options, like having the most recent files on Dropbox and a full backup across systems with Crashplan. If you’re a Mac user, why not cover your bases with a local Time Machine back up, knowing you have Mozy if you need it? Make sure all the files stay on your remote server and on some local media.