Can the Cloud Be Your Only Backup?

Uncategorized Aug 23, 2017

With the news today that CrashPlan is exiting the consumer market, many folks are beginning to scramble looking for the next best backup solution. I can tell you right away that’s BackBlaze. It’s simple to setup, costs only $5/month/computer, and has the best-behaved-Mac-like software of any of the major backup providers. Download it, install it, you’re done.

So, why wasn’t I using BackBlaze all this time to begin with?

Well, I’m the IT person for my family (as I’m sure many of you are as well). After one of my family members lost data for the umpteenth time, I decided to take on handling their backups as well. Initially, as a very happy user of BackBlaze myself, that’s what I installed on everyone’s machine. The only problem was that $50/year/machine cost, which I was footing the bill for myself. I quickly found myself spending over $500 a year. That’s not a deal breaker, but it was definitely more than I wanted to spend.

CrashPlan offered a family plan for $15/month that included as many machines as you needed. At $180/year, that was very attractive, but I never fully trusted their shitty Java-backed software to work correctly on my Mac. However, after learning that Apple uses CrashPlan internally to handle some of their employee backups, I felt safe in switching.

I’m happy to say that for two years CrashPlan has worked great. But now that it’s going away, just switch to BackBlaze. It’s really the only sane option.

All that said, the point of this blog post isn’t to recommend BackBlaze. It’s to question whether full-disk cloud backups are even necessary any longer? Here’s what I mean…

For years I’ve kept meticulous backups. Every night my Mac would clone itself using SuperDuper! to one of two external drives – which were rotated every few weeks between my house and an offsite location. This let me boot up to exactly where I left off the day before should my Mac’s internal drive fail. In addition to that, I had Time Machine running to a networked drive for versioned backups. And BackBlaze backing up to their cloud for serious disaster recovery.

But is all of that really needed today?

I stopped using SuperDuper once Apple dropped FireWire 800 from their machines. Booting up an external disk over the remaining USB ports was just too slow and not worth the trouble. Time Machine over the network has become increasingly unreliable over the years, but it’s still a decent option. But as storage and bandwidth costs have decreased rapidly, I’ve begun to demand more granularity in my backups than Time Machine’s hourly schedule will provide. I want access to every revision of each file – not just whatever happened to be on disk when Time Machine did its thing.

All of my documents – and I do mean all of them – are saved in Dropbox. I pay an extra $40/year for their Packrat feature, which keeps a year’s worth of revisions of all my files rather than the default thirty day limit.

All of my work files (code) are versioned in git and backed up on GitHub in addition to being on my Mac at work.

So, Dropbox and git take care of keeping all of my files backed up and recoverable to any previous version. Everything else on my Mac can be recreated in a manner of hours after a fresh system install. Everything but one exception – my photo library.

If I were to lose a photograph of my kid, I’d be sad. If I were to lose all of my photos, I’d be devastated. All of these photos and home videos, some dating back to the early 1980’s, are the most precious data on my Mac. It’s an absolute must that they be protected.

For years I kept them perfectly organized in folders grouped by year-month inside Dropbox and backed up to CrashPlan and SuperDuper!. I even wrote an iOS app designed specifically to browse my Dropbox powered photo library. But as my library grew and hard drives decreased in size (due to the switch to flash drives, which haven’t yet caught back up with spinning disk capacities), I found myself running out of room on my laptop to store my complete collection. I was forced to move infrequently accessed albums to cold storage on an external drive and also to S3. My Dropbox solution was exactly what I wanted – it just didn’t scale.

Then along came Google Photos and iCloud Photo Library. The promise of each service sounded great. All of your photos and videos safely stored in the cloud and available on all your devices. But I was hesitant to move away from my on-disk Dropbox solution for fear of one day being trapped into one system or another. But without any real sane alternative, and with the geeky alure of Google’s image recognition technology paring your library, I gave in. I’m now paying both Apple and Google $10/month for their extra-storage plans so I can keep my entire library in both of their clouds.

And so far it’s working great. I’m still a bit nervous about not being in control of my own backups, but I’m willing to wager I won’t lose access to both services at the same time, so two copies of all my files in the cloud should be enough redundancy for now. (I hope.)

That was a long digression about backing up my photos, but back to my main point – with all of my data siloed into different services based on data type, is there longer any need for full system backups? I’ve asked myself this question a lot over the last few days as I’ve I migrated machines off of CrashPlan and back onto BackBlaze. For my parents and other relatives, I think the answer is still “yes”. The simplicity of BackBlaze makes keeping your family safe a one step process. But for me, a geek, I think I’m finally ready to wholly embrace the cloud as my primary backup solution.