Family IT Support - Backups for Christmas

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Having just returned from holiday, the need to provide Family IT support over the Christmas period is top of my mind. What I found is something I think all IT literate people should be able to quickly solve for their friends and family.

Hard Drives fail (some fairly frequently it appears according to Backblaze). Computer's fail (rarely) or get stolen (much easier with modern machines).  Your computer might get damaged or otherwise incapacitated due to some other form of disaster.

In this modern age our lives revolve around our computers, probably much more than we realise.  Your music? On your computer. Your photographs? On your computer. Your videos? On your computer. Last year's tax return? You get the idea.

Now I can image that most of us couldn't care less if we lose our tax return (though most tax authorities might take a dim view if they ever audit you), and we can probably rebuild our music collection (or maybe it's already "in the cloud").  Personal photographs and videos are an entirely different issue though.

Luckily the solution is not a hard one.

To The Cloud!

Let me start by saying that cloud backup services (and I'm a cloud type of guy) sound great in theory.  In practice, unless you're living somewhere with fat, unlimited internet it's probably not going to help you much.  Most consumer internet services remain asynchronous with the outbound channel being substantially smaller than inbound which severely limits the possibilities of using cloud backup for any substantially large backup.

Rich media such as photographs are increasing in size (high resolution on many mid range consumer cameras now produce 5 - 10 MB files per photograph) which means you've most likely got Gigabytes of stuff to be backed up.  The initial backup run with either take so long as to be a real bottleneck for your process OR you'll bust your bandwidth allowance in the space of a few hours.

Hard Drive and Sneakernet

The alternative arrangement to using cloud backup services is to go local and utilise an external hard drive (buy two of the same).  All modern Operating Systems will give you access to built-in software:

If you're on Linux, chances are you're not reading, so good luck :).

Backup software and schedules are all good but there's no point in just backing the content up to a local disk because that's not guaranteeing you anything in the event of a massive local problem (house fire or burglary).  As I mentioned above we should be using an external hard drive - these can be picked up cheaply these days at your friendly tech website or physical storefront.  You should buy two identical drives.

Once you've setup your backup you should run it once with one of your hard drives.  You should then take this hard drive and physically store it away from your PC - ideally in another location away from your house or office.  Then take the second drive and do the exact same thing and leave it connected to your PC.  You should then regularly swap the two drives. Depending on your Operating System you may also be able to encrypt the drive's contents.

So there we go, you know what I spent my Christmas holiday's doing (and what you should be doing for your family)!