Who's Got Your Back

Overview

I get a lot of questions about how I handle backups on my Mac(s) as an illustrator. I'm going to explain the best I can how I've come to trust my current system. I will say that I've lost a lot of files over the years and pulled a lot of hairs out. Maybe that's why I'm bald? I've crafted a backup plan that works for me and doesn't cost me much money.

Concerns

Quick Recovery Schedule

I classify my backups in order of quickness to recover. If my drive dies, what do I need to get back FAST and what can I live with as far as a time consuming processes?

  1. Client projects have to be immediate
  2. System preferences have to be immediate
  3. Media Libraries for music and photos can wait

System Preferences and Client Projects

My most used apps (Corel Painter, Photoshop, TextExpander, etc) have system preferences that I really don't want to lose if my drives go awry and I need to get back up and running fast. In addition to system preferences, I have to get my client projects back up and running in an instant.

Media

The Family music library and videos (over 100gb) need a bullet proof backup system. It's not something I'm concerned about getting back immediately if something goes awry, but I do need to get them back. I've lost my iTunes library more times than I care to public admit. Luckily, Apple let me get access to what I had purchased but our burned discs were a different story; we lost all of those.

Tools and How I Use Them

First, we'll discuss the tools I use for immediate recovery and how I have them setup, then offsite backups and local storage.

Dropbox

I think everyone has heard of Dropbox by now. It's had it's ups and downs but I still use it and pay the small fee for a lot of storage space. Why? Because I can house all my client projects in Dropbox, store my system preferences and still have space to share files with friends and clients. In addition to backups for my Mac(s), I also use Dropbox to sync my import files between macs and serve my images for this blog from it as well.

Symlinking

I copy my system preferences to Dropbox's Private directory and use symlinks to link them back to their original location on my hard drive.

After I copy the directories to the Private folder, I delete (or rename) the original directory. I then open a Terminal window and type the following command:

ln -s ~/Dropbox/private/path/to/folder ~/Library/path/to/original/folder

What this does is makes the operating system think the directory exists in the Library directory when it really lives in Dropbox. Any changes I make or the software makes to my preferences now lives in Dropbox. An added plus to this is if you run multiple macs with the same applications, you can do the same on all your computers. One change shows up on all Macs.

Blog Image Repository

Dropbox gives you a public folder. From this directory I have a blog folder that I store images for web use. Right clicking on an image (that has already been uploaded to Dropbox) allows you to choose Dropbox > Copy Public Link to serve this to the web.

dropbox images

Reversioning

This is a nice feature that I tell a lot of artists about. Some have really utilized the feature. When you save a file that's stored on Dropbox, it will keep a new version of that file on the server. I know we always try to do incremental saves but sometimes it's not a perfect world.

Dropbox More Link

From within the Dropbox website, if you click the row that a file is listed on, options show up at the top of the page. Click the "more" link at the top right and you can select "previous versions".

Dropbox Versions

Dropbox allows you to restore one of the prior dated file reversions. However there is a DANGER. Copy the original file on your hard drive FIRST. Restoring a file from Dropbox will overwrite your current file with the older version and you cannot undo this change.

Backblaze

Backblaze is a nice externally hosted backup service that I've been using for years. I think it was Von Glitschka who originally turned me onto it. I know there are other services and probably better, but I have had no problems with Backblaze to date (knock on virtual wood). It takes a few minutes to install. After which, It takes a few days to a week to get your initial backup finished depending on your upload speeds with your ISP.

Backblaze Preference Pane

Backblaze runs as a preference pane on Mac and constantly monitors your drive for file changes and keeps the backup up to date behind the scenes. If your drive fails, you can simply download a zip file or request a drive be sent to you with your data on it. Backblaze does NOT back up operating system files, applications and temporary files. For those I use Time Machine and/or Dropbox.

Backblaze Preferences

From the preferences within the preference pane, you can choose to exclude files from backup as well as change the scheduled time of backups. I do mine late at night so it doesn't intefere with my connection during working hours.

Time Machine

The only thing I really use Time Machine for is for backing up whatever Backblaze does not. Namely whatever is in my applications directory and important operating system files, even if I have them symlinked to Dropbox.

Final Thoughts

With the above tools, if my hard drive takes a crap, I can be back up and running in a very short period and able to service clients by reinstalling Dropbox. After which, I would get anything else I needed from Time Machine and Backblaze. I can't remember the last time I backed up to CD or DVD. Space is cheap now and my backup system costs me about $15 a month between the small fees from Dropbox and Backblaze. To me, that's a small price to pay for piece of mind.

UPDATE: I've had a few people ask me if this will work for PC users and the answer is yes, except for symlinks which are a bit different on a PC. I haven't used a PC in many years so I don't feel comfortable instructing anyone on how to make them. I believe the PC equivalent is mklink and there are some tutorials on google to show you how to make them. If you're a PC user and want to leave a comment instructing others how it's done, feel free.

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