My Backup Routine 2019

Modern life produces a lot of electronic data, especially when you are involved in digital photography and software development. A lot of that data is irreplaceable, so backups are something that I take fairly seriously. Recently the main hard drive in my iMac had a bit of a wobble, indicating a failure is likely. This shouldn’t really surprise me as the iMac is eight years old, however it was a good reminder to review my backup routine. As I have enjoyed reading similar posts, I thought I would share my routine, hopefully to inspire and/or help people to backup their data.

My theory with backups is that they should be as simple and automated as possible, that one back up is not enough and one should be kept in a physically separate location to the main data. When there is a large amount of data to backup the first and last requirements contradict each other. A few years ago I tried an automated online backup service, but it would take days to backup a memory cards worth of photos. So now I tend to split my backups into two – one to save me from my own stupidity (deleting the wrong file etc) or a simple hardware failure, these can be automated and a second to protect from flood/fire/theft etc, which is kept offsite, but is a manual process.

I have four main sets of data to back up:

  1. The data on my iMac, this is all of my photography and software development work and is stored on the internal 500GB hard drive. There are bits in the cloud, for example iCloud or GitHub, but I do not really consider this a backup.
  2. My archive data, things that have ben deleted from my iMac, such as photos that did not quite make the grade, or back ups of my Lightroom catalogs.
  3. The data on my MacBook. Day to day my MacBook is used for general browsing/email etc, so anything I lost would be in the cloud. However, when I am travelling it is my main machine.
  4. My iPhone, aside from work, everything is on the small device in my pocket!

iMac Backups

My main backup for the iMac uses Apple’s Time Machine software to save my data to a G-Technology hard drive, which is permanently attached to my iMac. Data is copied hourly and automatically managed to keep a balance between frequency of data saved and how long you are able to rewind. It is ideal for when you delete the wrong file etc. However being permanently attached to my iMac means I need a second backup. After much deliberation and experimentation I settled on using another external hard drive, this time a LaCie Rugged, which is kept away from my house – I only bring it back to connect to the iMac to run backups. I use the CCCloner software, which makes a clone of the internal hard drive, rather than the versioned backup from Time Machine. An added bonus is that if my iMac were to get stolen I could plug the backup drive into another Mac and have my own system ready to use. As I need to physically carry the hard drive to my office, this backup is not automated, so I have set CCCloner to nag me that it has not seen the external hard drive in a week.

Archive Backups

I also use CCCloner and another LaCie Rugged drive to back up my archive data. Once the backup hard drive is plugged into the iMac CCCloner takes over and copies the data, ejecting the drive when it is finished. Whilst reviewing my backup strategy I decided that I should look at options for a secondary backup, previously I had not deemed this data important enough, however storage has become cheaper. I will blog about my findings soon.

MacBook/Travel Backups

For fifty weeks of the year I could probably get away without backing up the data on my MacBook, everything is in the cloud. However, the MacBook is the computer I take if I am travelling, which is probably the most likely time for equipment get lost, damaged or stolen.  When I am travelling the key data for me to backup is photographs. At the earliest opportunity I download my memory cards to Lightroom on my MacBook – keeping the files on the memory card. As soon as the download has finished I connecter yet another LaCie Rugged drive to the MacBook and let Time Machine copy the files over. That gives me three copies of the data. Whilst Time Machine is running, I look over the photos in Lightroom, process some and if I have wifi available save any important photos to the cloud, giving me a fourth copy. I always try to keep the laptop and external drive in separate bags, for example laptop in hand luggage and external drive in checked luggage when flying. There is no point having multiple copies of data if they are in the same bag that gets stolen!

iPhone Backups

There are two main ways to back up an iPhone – I use both! Whenever my iPhone is connected to a wifi network and charging it backs up to iCloud. As I have a lot of data on my phone I have had to pay for extra iCloud storage, but at 79p per month is cheap for seamless backups. Whenever I sit at my iMac I always plug my iPhone in, so that it performs a sync with iTunes. I have chosen “Encrypt iPhone backup” option to ensure that passwords and my health data is saved. Of course, this iTunes backup on my iMac then goes in to the iMac backup above.

This system works well for me, although there is some room for improvement, especially in automating off site backups. The key thing is that if my iMac died or was stolen I am confident that I could be up and running again with all my data intact.