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The Need for (Backup) Speed

Joe Kissell is a Senior Editor of TidBITS, a Senior Contributor to Macworld, and the author of numerous books about technology, including Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac and Take Control of CrashPlan Backups. He lives in San Diego with his wife, their son, and their cat. 

CrashPlan speedI’ve had people tell me that they couldn’t possibly use an online backup service because they have hundreds of gigabytes of data (or more), and given the upload speed of their Internet service, it would take weeks or even months to upload it all. Although online backup certainly isn’t a good fit for every backup situation, I think that in many cases, the “time to back up online” problem looks worse than it truly is.

Let’s start by assuming that the cost of backups isn’t an issue. Of course, sometimes it is, but with a personal or family CrashPlan+ Unlimited plan, you’re not paying by the gigabyte. The biggest barrier is speed. But often, that problem is an illusion.

Where are you trying to go? I personally have about a terabyte of data, from several different computers, backed up to CrashPlan Central (Code 42 Software’s cloud service) right now. I didn’t back this up all at once; the amount of data has grown over a few years. Even so, at the beginning, despite having a broadband connection with lots of upstream bandwidth, my first full backup took a couple of weeks. My personal feeling about this is: “So what?”

I already had good local backups, so it wasn’t as though my data wouldn’t be protected at all until everything was copied to CrashPlan Central. The likelihood of a catastrophic data loss that would also wipe out my local backups during that time  was incredibly small. Besides, I knew that CrashPlan copied my most recently used (and therefore, probably my most important) files first. And, unlike some online backup services, CrashPlan never throttles my upload speed, so I wasn’t worried about backups slowing to a crawl partway through my first upload even though I had plenty of bandwidth. In other words, waiting was a non-issue for me. And once that full backup completed, ongoing backups were zippy as all get out.

The rule here is: before you back up to the cloud, create a local backup. CrashPlan lets you back up to an external hard drive for free. If you set up CrashPlan to use both local and cloud destinations, cloud backup will begin right after your much-faster local backup is complete. Alternatively, you can be selective and back up fewer of your files online than you do to local media.

In a hurry for all the benefits of cloud storage? Or maybe you’re concerned that the size of your backup may exceed your ISP’s data transfer cap? Code 42 offers a seed service that avoids the bandwidth issue—they send you a special hard drive for your initial backup. Then it’s a matter of days instead of weeks.

Higher Math. Of course, I’m not a professional photographer, musician, video editor, or someone else whose work generates new, multi-gigabyte files on a daily basis. When you get to that volume of data, the equation changes. What if the amount of new data you generate every day would take much more than a day to upload? In that case, even with seeding, you’d be perpetually behind in your backups, with no hope of ever getting caught up.

If more bandwidth is too pricey or simply unavailable, your best bet may be to store redundant backups locally but separately. For example, perhaps your main backup is on a hard drive attached to the computer in your home office, but your secondary backup is done over the local network and stored on equipment in the far corner of the house. For even greater safety, make sure one or both of your local backups is stored on a fireproof, waterproof drive, such as those made by ioSafe. Although such drives are expensive, and not a great alternative to cloud backups for smaller amounts of data, they may be the best hope for people with more data than today’s Internet architecture can quickly handle.

Want to learn more from Joe Kissell on backup strategies and theories? Read his latest post on the dangers of data backup procrastination.

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