Dear Author

How Do I Backup? Let me Count the Ways

Backups. You have them, right? Like, if it became necessary for you to restore your computer to the exact state it was in on August 1 at 10:19:04:154 AM you could, right?

If you don’t have any backups from ever, or from last Tuesday, or from 10 minutes ago, you, my friend, are screwed.

Backup Strategies

A good backup strategy includes on-site and off-site backups. That is, you need to be able to restore files to your computer, or a new computer, whether you are at home or not. At some point in the backup strategy, you will ensure you have a backup of the backup. I will admit that the normal user probably does not have a backup of the backup of EVERYTHING. Though you could.

In these days of almost reasonably priced external drives of 4TB, you COULD buy three of those puppies, backup your entire computer and take that somewhere that is not your house and then attach a second 4TB drive and have that as your local backup all while using a backup service to the cloud. Then at some point, you’d do another backup with Drive #3 and swap that with Drive #1, and keep swapping them.

Which is kind of dumb, but you could. You could make sure you pick a cloud storage service that guarantees that they backup your backup AND that they can restore your backup to their servers if the primary went offline or was corrupted.

The point is this:

  • If you only have onsite backups, if your house burns down, you’re screwed.
  • If you only have offsite backups and you cannot get to the offsite location, you’re screwed.
  • If you only have backups to the cloud, and that cloud service goes out of business or is otherwise inaccessible to you, you’re screwed. (This happened to me once. It was not fun.)

You need redundancy. You need onsite and offsite storage, and you should probably have cloud storage too.

9 Nightmare Scenarios To Keep You Up At Night!

  1. You’re doing your taxes and a cute kitten jumps on your keyboard and hits delete and you hadn’t clicked “save” yet.
  2. Everything is fine until your cursor is a spinning beachball that won’t stop spinning. Ever.
  3. You boot up your computer and instead of your My Little Ponies In The NFL wallpaper you see this:
    Boot Drive Not Found
  4. Zombies, dude.
  5. You are working on a long and important document that’s taking you weeks to write and you realize the 10 pages you deleted last Tuesday are actually the most important 10 pages EVER in the history of important documents.
  6. Do you have a Blog? If so, do you have a backup of it? Yeah, lots of people say, why? And they say that right up until they say “oops” or “What do you mean 404 Not Found?” Or “What do you mean Google deleted my blog without evidence?”
  7. Do you have a website? Same thing as above.
  8. The IRS decides to audit you.
  9. Have you tested whether you can restore files from any of your backups?

What to do?

If you have a Mac, get yourself the biggest external hard drive you can afford. Hook it up and turn on Time Machine. If you’re on Windows, there are similar set ups. Do it. Right now. This post will still be here when you come back from that.

Pro Tip: Do not do what a friend of mine did, which was to direct Time Machine to his internal hard drive. Yes, absolutely he had a backup. Until his hard drive crashed. Then he did not have any backup.

If you have the bandwidth, subscribe to an offsite cloud backup service. At the JSON Ranch, we do not have that kind of bandwidth. Our internet is slow, expensive, and comes with Draconian data caps. (This is why you should be writing your congresspersons about Net Neutrality because if we don’t have it, welcome to my world, suckers. It’s no fun here.)

Identify the files you absolutely cannot afford to lose. Tax documents maybe. Photos of your family. Your book database. Your Calibre library. Back them up to a thumb drive AND, if you have more than one computer, to another computer.


People’s minds work in different ways. Some of us are natural born organizers and some are … not. If I were to say, “Send me a copy of your gramma’s digitized recipe for ravioli” how long would it take you to find the recipe?

No. I’m not telling you where I fall on the organization spectrum.

If the answer is “longer than 1 minute” you are probably not the most structured person. This means you’ll need to rely on services like Time Machine to save you, rather than knowing which directories and folders contain the crucial documents. If this is you, set up Time Machine or one of the Windows equivalents right now. Along with cloud based backup. Both of them. Not one. Both.

If you are a structured sort and your files of like groups of things are in the same folder structure, you can also zip up the folders (daily, if they change) transfer them to a thumb drive AND an offsite storage system like Dropbox or any of its many excellent competitors. (Comparing them is a whole other post, which I can do for you. Interested?)

To the extent you can get files grouped in ways that are logical to you such that you can find them quickly, you should try. It can’t hurt. Much.

What are your backup strategies?