My backup strategy

Poor Mat

There’s a good bit of buzz about backing up on the Internet right now in the wake of Mat Honan’s being hacked and losing his data. I’m looking forward to hearing what Steve Gibson has to say about the whole affair on the latest episode of Security Now!

Backing up is something I’ve cared about for a long time. I thought all geeks did. I guess in Mat’s case, I was wrong. Ouch! Mat. Or, as the say in Scotland: aya!

My solution comprises four things:

  • SpiderOak
  • SuperDuper!
  • DropBox
  • Drobo

Steve Gibson did a great review of various cloud storage solutions in episode 349. I’ve tried a few, including Carbonite, Jungle Disk and the ones mentioned above.


There are two features that make SpiderOak stand out:

  1. They don’t store your password
  2. Folder syncing across computers

I’m using SpiderOak for syncing my photos now. They go from my Windows PC to my Drobo, to my wife’s iMac, to an external drive at work and to my mum’s laptop. My mum has MS and is paralysed from the neck down. I’ve set her laptop up to display my photos as a screensaver, so, whenever I upload new photos, they sync to her laptop and she sees them on her screensaver, which makes her life just a little bit better as well as giving me some good backups in a different location. Everybody wins!

I use Lightroom on my MacBook Pro, desktop PC and my wife’s iMac. So, to add new photos to my Lightroom libraries—including their sidecar metadata files—it’s a simple case of right-clicking the folder in Lightroom and selecting Synchronize Folder… Updates are automatically applied, new pictures imported and deleted pictures removed. This for me is a killer feature!


Well, it just makes sense! And I’ve had to use it. When I first got my 2011 MacBook Pro, it had a faulty SSD, but the fault was intermittent and I couldn’t pin it down to the SSD. Whenever Apple put out a firmware update, or a major OS point update, my machine would go into a never-ending boot loop. I could format and reinstall and it would work fine again until the next update. It took a lot of troubleshooting to figure out what it was! This is where SuperDuper! was indispensable. I could boot from my clone and carry on working, then, when I had some time, I would clone back and—boom!—I’m working again.

I also do a monthly SuperDuper! clone of my wife’s iMac. And she too uses DropBox.


I keep my critical work files in DropBox. This has saved me on lots of occasions and it and the Mac App Store take away a lot of pain when doing a fresh OS reinstall. And not only is it good for keeping working files; it also keeps my 1Password file, my AccountEdge Plus sync file, DayOne, TextExpander snippets, and so on. In short, you really can’t get by without DropBox these days!


I have a Drobo FS that I keep in the attic. Its main purpose is to store music, movies and TV shows. I ripped my entire DVD collection with a combo of Handbrake and iFlicks and share it with iTunes across the house. Movie files are just too big for duplicating to external storage or the cloud, so the Drobo gives me at least some form of redundancy. And if the movies were to disappear, well, they’re not entirely irreplaceable.

I also keep my iTunes music library on there and share it to my Squeezebox players (one in the living room and one in the kitchen). About 70 percent of my music is lossless so, as with the movies, my iTunes library is just too big for the cloud, although I do use iTunes Match which works pretty well for me. I have a duplicate of my music files on an external drive at work, mainly because it was so much work to rip and tag it all and I’d hate to have to do it again!

The latest edition to my automated backup strategy is Hazel.


My wife uses a Flipcam to take video of the kids. For importing she likes to use Clipstart. So I’ve set up a Hazel rule to copy new files from the Clipstart library folder to the Drobo. I can then import into Lightroom on the PC by ‘adding’ so they stay on the Drobo. So I’ve got two copies of our unedited home movies, although none in the cloud.

Don’t get caught out!

There really is no reason NOT to sign up for a cloud storage solution these days: DropBox, Google Drive, Sky Drive etc. They all offer a decent amount of storage for no cost.

Almost nobody has just one device any more, so I’m guessing that sharing data between devices is making backup more attractive as there’s an obvious upfront benefit. That’s a good thing. But I fear that normal people are the ones that are going to lose their stuff. It’s up to us geeks to educate them!