Letter: Computer Backup Software

Hello SurvivalBlog Readers

I would like to ask what system you would recommend for backing up computers? The reason I ask is that recently I had a hard drive crash in which I almost lost all of my data on my computer- including a couple of novels I had been working on. The crash had happened while backing up the computer to an external hard drive.

Luckily it looks like my external hard drive did not die and as I’m writing writing this message it is retrieving the files. In addition to an external hard drive what other things would you recommend? A network attached storage device (NAS), one of the various cloud storage companies or continually use various USB sticks? – I.W.

HJL’s Response:

After dealing with a number of crashes myself, I use a relatively easy system. Because I work with computers so much, I have a server and a workstation that are on most of the time. I keep my files organized in a single directory and that directory is automatically copied every night to my own server. Once a week, I copy that directory to a hard drive which I take to a friend’s house when I visit him the next day. At that time, I retrieve the disk that I dropped off last week for next weeks copy. This way, I always have an off site backup that is never more than a week old. It is a rather simplistic backup scheme involving two external hard drives and a secondary computer, but it works for me and is quite reliable.

I tend not to back up software that would end up just getting replaced if I re-installed the computer operating system. I’d be interested in what our readers use also.




28 Comments

  1. I only use my computer to read this website and to backup pictures off our phones. I backup to the computer, then copy the folders to 2 external hard drives, one of which goes into a faraday cage. If i worked with a computer more, moving more files around then i would probably do something very similar to HJL.

  2. For something very important, such as a book or family photos, or whatever it may be, I use an exsternal hard drive like My Passport, which is available in multiple TB if needed (mine is just 1 TB, and is sudfficient).

    I also have a PC that I use off line. It NEVER goes online. I can transfer files from my laptop to the PC via thumb drive. It duplicates all the programs that my laptop has (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, plus photo and video editors), so I can work on the files using the PC. All my important files are in triplicate – laptop, PC, and external hard drive.

  3. There are so many solutions, but I chose to use a NAS device with RAID 1. (I try to keep as much information off the cloud as possible). This is basic disk mirroring. The NAS needs a minimum of 2 drives and everything written to one drive is automatically written to the other. When a disk fails, you replace it and then resync the new disk with the mirrored disk.

    This works great. But there is a downside compared to the cloud: If your entire NAS is destroyed in a fire or some other disaster, you don’t have a backup. But if you need to bug out out in 30seconds, you can just rip and go.

  4. I too have been bit by data loss so a few years ago I put a stake in the ground and said “Never again”. I have an external 8TB Western Digital drive that stays connected at all times. I created an encrypted volume on it using Veracrypt, which mounts at boot time and just becomes another drive letter. I user SmartSync software to backup EVERYTHING to the drive every night. I also back my drive up regularly using Acronis, and those backups have come in handy too, and they also get backed up by SmartSync. I keep a spare power support and USB cable in my GOOD bag so I can just grab the drive and go without having to worry about untangling the power cord that stays attached to it.

    I also have 3 4TB drives that I use to make rotating backups using this device:

    https://www.amazon.com/Tripp-Lite-SuperSpeed-External-U339-000/dp/B00AK5JRO0

    or something like it. These 3 drives rotate between:

    1) My office
    2) My car
    3) Safe deposit box

  5. My approach to backups is nearly identical to HJL’s, and it works well. It’s a little pricey to set up, but its simplicity and transparency means it seldom fails and I know when it does.

  6. I have a Mac. I backup via their built in application (Time Machine) to an external raid array. Then I also back up to the cloud via Backblaze (encrypted storage only I have keys to). Yes it will be expensive to get a full recovery sent to me from them, but if I do loose the primary and secondary then it is probably worth it. I have a few TBs of data, so this is an efficient and economical way to keep it backed up for me.

  7. I was a PC guy up until 2008. Been on a Mac ever since. Time Machine backups are amazing and have saved my hide multiple times. They happen automatically via wireless every hour, hourly incrementals for a day, daily backups for a week, then weekly as far back as your backup drive space permits.

  8. This is probably not very helpful, but I have pretty much taken that technology, especially anything with modern computers, will fail, and so I have organized my life to not depend on it. I obviously have Internet access and so I have it in my life, but I plan that it will fail. Actually, I’ve pretty much organized my life to be just fine if the electrical grid fails entirely and I have zero electricity. I dream of the day, because then most of the people in our society that are turning this country toward socialism/communism, would die, since they can’t function without electricity. Perhaps our society would be saved and turned back toward freedom and the constitution. A girl can dream. Ain’t that I want anyone to die, but I am to the point that bloodshed will be the only way that we will get our freedom back.

  9. I use a Seagate external hard drive (3 TB) that backs up the C Drive every time the system boots up. The external drive is less than an inch wide, about six inches tall and four inches deep, and can be unplugged in about a second. A nice feature is we can save my wife’s photographs on the external drive and not clutter up the computer hard drive. My wife takes hundreds to a thousand photos a week when we are travelling.

  10. 1. Windows has its own backup – also create a system recovery disk to go with it. Backup to an external drive
    2. the rotate offsite (hopefully in at least an attempt at a faraday cage there) is the best idea – you don’t want to have everything locally, e.g. if your house burns down you lose all backups there.
    3. Clonezilla is available on a bootable CD and can make an IMAGE of the hard drive. The reason this is better is if the hard drive dies, you can restore an exact replacement image – but you can’t do it while running from the disk you are imaging. It creates clone files.
    4. There are utilities that can image one disk to another so I often use those as a ready to swap backup.
    5. EaseUS also has a good backup for Windows that can copy and create a (maybe) bootable image so there would be almost no downtime.
    (There is also Parted magic and EaseUS utilities that can change the partitions so you can have a data partition for the documents to backup separately)
    6. For active writing, you can write a letter to yourself on proton mail or some other encrypted service so it won’t matter if your computer goes down as it will be in the cloud. I also use (free) Zoho Docs which is a Google Docs clone without Google.
    7. There is also “Portable Apps” for windows that runs from a USB stick or micro SD card, which you can use something like Win Disk Imager or simply just copy all the files and run it on almost any windows machine. They have 300 programs including audio, video, and document editing, as well as PDF, browsers, etc. You can keep all your work on a micro SD card – the 128Gb U3 fast Samsung is $37 or so on Amazon, so rotate between them and they are about the size of a fingernail so you can have backups in many places including hidden places. You can also simply put the documents on the uSD card.

  11. The backup software is easy to use until it isn’t. By that I mean try getting your backup off that drive or where ever if the software isn’t working. For that reason I prefer mirror image backups. That is if I have 10,000 files and 500 gigs of data on my laptop (which I do) my hard drive will have 10,000 files and 500 gigs and everything has the same name and format as on my computer.

    The cloud. One day you will hear that the cloud was never secure and in fact people went to jail for what they had on their computer (think about the computer geeks searching people’s computers for possible criminal acts). Yes, I know, they tell you it’s safe and secure and they never lied to you before, right?

  12. You might look into RAID solutions for your hardware. Most of the newer motherboards support RAID through BIOS and for the cost of another hard drive you can have a real time mirror on a separate drive in your system.

  13. Macrium Reflect is the solution I use.
    It is not OS dependent and is easy to use.
    On Windows it uses VSS to create images that can be stored on external hard drives.
    It works on Linux as well.
    Do an image once per week and rotate them…keeping two images always.
    An image takes about 15-20 minutes depending on the amount of data.
    More data, more time to create image.
    It is most useful for hard drive failures.
    If drive fails, replace it with a same size or larger drive, boot with Rescue CD you create.
    Then it is just a matter of selecting latest image and resotring to new drive.
    A reboot gets you right back in business.
    And best of all, it’s FREE.

    Now, daily backups using normal backup software daily will get you up to the minute restores after a re-image.

  14. I recommend you have a plan that assumes the next time you turn your computer on, it will not boot. I recently had this happen at my business. I’m a believe in the suite of products from Acronis. YMMV

  15. Step 1. Jettison Windows. Switch to Linux. Buy a used computer for $100 and have the shop put Ubuntu on it. Then you can back up the whole system drive by simply copying it. You can virtualize your Windoze OS and run it as a virtual machine if you must.
    Step 2. Buy a few USB flash drives. Copy any changed files for each day to one of the flash drives. I have USB drives for even and odd days for additional safety. NEVER turn the computer off without backing up your work!! There is NO EXCUSE for losing computer files!
    Step 3. Buy a large external USB drive, either a large flash drive, or SSD. Backup all changed directories weekly or monthly and store off site. List and save the directories to a text file so you have an index of what’s on the backups.

    Never use the WD or Seagate or other brands of NAS storage devices. These are complete linux systems with a large hard drive, and if they crash, or the permissions get screwed up on the drives, your data is gone. Alternatively, I use an external SATA dock (USB3) and purchase large mechanical hard drives for monthly backup, and they are inexpensive these days. Very easy to use.

  16. I have used all manner of backups and most are tedious to me. I have now simplified my backups. I use two 256g Thumb drives. The first I keep in my Go-bag and update it once a month along with a Tablet. The second I keep a back up of my files that I update once a week. My daily disarray gets cleaned up once a week during a time when I am watching a YouTube video or something that doesn’t require my full attention.

    I have a third backup that i make sure gets done once a month at the same time I update the Go Bag thumb drive. I keep a 400g Micro SD card in my Tablet. The Tablet is slated to stuff in my Go Bag on a moments notice. Encryption is used in all.

    Thumb drives and a Tablet allow me mobility and accessibility. I will soon dump the Tablet for a smaller notebook computer of the same tablet size I think.

    It should be noted that I also have a backpackable 3 panel solar array and several cords and adapters that would allow me to interface many different forms of power and computers. I also have a Power Pack that would charge my Tablet, Computer and AA batteries on one charge. The AA’s I keep in my go bag to power the small Shortwave Reciever.

    Simplicity and mobility.

  17. Simple is better. Trust but verify. The more complicated setups tend to fail. I have experienced that 3 times in 10 years and paid quite a lot of money for each. The first involved a crash and a data scramble. Had data here or there on retired media but the actual back up failed. The other two were revealed by testing. You can trust but you must verify. Unfortunately, not many people know how to actually implement these complicated systems.

  18. Beyond portable apps, for an advanced user, you can create a virtual machine, and that is easily backed up by simply copying the container folder for the virtual machine (and you may want to add the VM host program’s configs)

  19. In a desktop, it’s fairly easy to setup a raid array.

    Laptops, a raid server on your network works great.

    For backups — you want mirror images of your hard drives, in addition to all files. I like acronis for this purpose.

    For physical backups — have you computer, one add’l on site, and then a hard drive you take to safety deposit box and/or friends home that’s sufficient distance away so as as to not be at risk if you’re in a wildfire zone for instance.

    For irreplaceable stuff like family photos and videos, cloud services from amazon, microsoft, etc, are great.

  20. My biggest problem with RAID, is that if the RAID controller fails, all data on whatever array you have is lost. Unless you can replace the controller with the exact same version and firmware, you can loose everything. One, of the 3 times, I’ve experienced this, I was able to take one of the mirrors and get the data off. The 2nd mirrored drive was a complete loss. I don’t like RAID anymore.

  21. I use Carbonite on all my computers. I’ve lost 4 hard drives over the years and Carbonite fully restores my files. I would not be without it

  22. 1) I have a USB 4 Bay enclosure housing four 4TB NAS disks, in raid 5 config, which gives me 12TB of storage. I can lose any 1 of the 4 disks and not lose data. When I replace the bad disk, the array immediately begins restoring the data to the new disk, restoring the array back to healthy state.

    2) I backup select directories from this array to the cloud using Backblaze. If my house goes up in flames, an off-site backup is the only thing that will save your data. Plus at $50 a year, it’s cheap and reliable insurance. Also available from them, is the option the have a large drive with your data overnighted to you for a quick retrieval of data – at an extra cost, of course.

    3) Even though I have 12TB of storage at my disposal, I currently only have about 2.5TB of data that needs backing up. As such, backing up to a 4TB WD USB drive is feasible, at this time. This allows me to quickly restore large volumes of data, rather than waiting days for a cloud restore to complete.

  23. For advanced users: set up a FreeNAS server. The ZFS filesystem it uses is super paranoid and, so long as you have sufficient drive redundancy, it’s very difficult to lose your data. Snapshotting lets you go back in time to recover deleted or corrupted files, such as after being hit by Cryptolocker malware. FreeNAS servers can be synced to various cloud backup providers and starting in version 11.2 your data can be automatically encrypted before sending it to the cloud. iX Systems, the lead developer of the open source FreeNAS software, sells premade FreeNAS Mini and FreeNAS Mini XL servers for home and small businesses as well as enterprise-grade TrueNAS servers. Or roll your own, such as if you have an old PC you can reuse. If you distrust the cloud you can have one FreeNAS server replicate to another one. It even offers Time Machine backups for Macs. If you’re willing to invest the required time and money visit freenas.org.

  24. Most of these suggestions are for computer savvy or rich users. I can’t afford and wouldn’t know how to use “a USB 4 Bay enclosure housing four 4TB NAS disks, in raid 5 config, which gives me 12TB of storage”. The second problem with the suggestions is that they either require special software and/or some version of storing your data under someone else’s control (the cloud, carbonite, etc.).

    Almost every form of commercial backup does not store mirror images. That is they store bits and pieces in separate places that must be brought back together by the software to actually recover the data. if the software or hardware doesn’t work for whatever reason what you have is a 1000 piece puzzle with no way to put it together.

    My suggestion is organize all of your data under 4-6 folders, such as “photos”, “documents” “video”, etc. Then of course within each of these folders create separate folders for the logical groups of data. If any of the high level folders become too large (let’s say larger than 64 gig) break it up into two or more folders while maintaining the logical integrity of the lower level folders. Then back up each high level folder as mirror images to your device (HD, SD card, thumb drive, etc.) Label each backup with the full date in “yyyymmdd” format. These backups can be restored to any computer without the need of commercial software. Problem solved.

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