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Time to backup my Life*

When Apple named their multimedia software as iLife, I find it very appropriate. Our life is more or less being digitized. In the past when you broke up with your partner, the first thing you do is tear and throw away all the photos. Nowadays it’s far more easy. Hit the delete button and empty trash.

Having heard a friend, a renown part time photographer having lost all his portfolio accumulated for years just because of a single hard disk failure, by single I mean he did not backup his data, I decided not to take the risk of losing my life*.

I have consider few options. First, the ever popular cloud service Dropbox, Sugarsync. They backup user data onto their server and user can access them anywhere as long as there is internet access. The only problem is I have 500GB of data. That would take a week for initial backup, the reason being our tortoise speed Streamyx. Recovery time length will be the same in case of hard disk failure. Unfortunately UniFi hasn’t arrive at my area. It’s another indefinite wait for the TorMoise (TM) to crawl over my house. Not least, 500GB cloud storage ain’t cheap.

Apple solution is Time Machine. User can either use Time Capsule or any external HDD. However Time Machine is not completely safe. Once the hard disk breaks down, the backup is gone. User will not be able to step back in time to rescue any accidentally deleted files.

RAID is the de facto in data backup. RAID cost has fallen significantly over the years. These days RM600 can get you a handsome 2TB external RAID HDD. For desktop users that’s more easy since most mid range and above motherboard comes with RAID build in. But there’s a problem. Say you are running RAID 1 and one of the HDD has bad sector. Data on the bad sector are lost and the lost are mirror onto the redundancy. Another scenario, you accidentally deleted a folder and empty trash only to find out days later. A RAID won’t save you from that.

Thus the best backup is a combination of RAID plus Time Machine. Here’s my setup.

I am using MacBook Pro 13″. There’s only two USB without FireWire. One is taken by iPhone/iPad sync cable. The other is connected to 7-port USB hub which is then connected to 6 USB devices, i.e. external HDD, scanner, laptop cooler, wireless keyboard/mice, monitor calibrator and card reader. Thank god I have Airport Express to run wireless printing. If I connect a USB external RAID HDD onto the same hub, that will significantly reduce the speed of my external HDD. Strangely the sync cable has to connect directly to MacBook, else iTunes can’t sync successfully.

The option is to use a NAS RAID HDD. I choose Western Digital My Book World Edition II – 2TB for it’s cost effectiveness, RM600. This little thing fits onto my bookshelf, connected to MacBook Gigabit Ethernet port. Just a word of reminder, even though on paper Gigabit LAN is twice the speed of USB (125MB/s vs 60MB/s), for software that utilize library files, such as iPhoto, iDocument and Aperture, putting the library on NAS will make it almost inaccessible. Slow…

Instead I setup WD to run Time Machine. Here’s the guide from WD. The initial backup took half a day to complete, both my life in USB external HDD and the entire Mac OS X in MacBook. After the initial run, subsequent backup is a breeze with Time Machine running hourly in the background. My life is now in safe hands

*PS: If you still have no idea what life means, that’s all your photos, musics, videos, books, magazines, etc.

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