Backups, backups….how do you trust them when you need them?
Since starting my current job around seven years ago, I’ve become a tithing member of the Church of Backups. I helped build backup systems for my office, transitioned from different backup systems to others, and am in the process of transitioning from one system of backing up desktops to another. I also have set up backups for my home and other members of the family. Along the way, I’ve learned a few lessons, so I’ll list them in order of importance to me:
1. Make your backup system as automated as possible – if you’re having to start something manually for your backup to run, you’ll forget to do it on a regular basis. We’re all busy and have a lot of things competing for our attention. Make running your backup be something that’s handled by something that Just Works.
2. Test your backup – if you can’t restore, you don’t have a backup and have spent money, time and energy on something that will be a failure when you need it most. With that in mind, isn’t a little testing worth the time? The only way to find that out how good your backup really is, is to do a restore and see what you have. Testing and finding failures is not a bad thing, it just means you have a chance to fix what’s wrong before you need that backup for real.
3. Check that the backup is actually running properly – Along with the backup that Just Works, have another automated process that’s notifying you regularly that It’s Working. If that’s not possible, add checking your backups to your weekly to-do list.
4. If possible, get a block-level backup solution – At the heart of it, there’s two different kinds of backups. The first is a file-level backup, which tracks and backs up entire files. (On the Mac side, both Retrospect and Time Machine do file-level backups.) The second is a block-level backup, which tracks and backs up files based on how their blocks have changed on the drive level. (on the Mac side, Mozy, CrashPlan and many other Internet backup services work this way.)
Why I prefer a block level solution is that it allows better efficiency in how your backup storage is used and also allows you to back up large files without having to repeatedly recopy the whole large file into your backups. Also, block-level backups are generally better at backing up large files while they’re in use.