Hard drives will crash, houses catch on fire, previously unknown volcanoes erupt turning your entire town into a magma flow.  No matter what the issue I want to keep my data.  Personal writings, e-mails, programming projects, and family photos are very important to me.  I am very paranoid about losing data so I have developed what I think is a very robust backup strategy.

Before even thinking about backing up my data I had to organize my data.  On my PC I have installed two HD (well really three but I'll get into that later) .  The first (primary) drive holds the OS, program files, and the temp directories.  The second HD stores only data.   I've moved the "My Documents", "Desktop", etc to the second drive.   The rational behind this is that the OS and program files are replaceable.  I can reinstall them from the source any time.  My data on the other had is irreplaceable.  This is the stuff I really don't want to lose... ever. With all the data files on the second drive I can focus on backing up that drive alone.  Of course having two having two drives may double my chances of a failure but hopeful each drive will see a little less ware an tear than a single drive would see.  I don't really know if it works this way but I'll go with it.

So now that I have one HD that I need to backup where do I back it up?  Well, with several gigs of data backing up to DVD could be a pain and completely impossible on CDs.  For a while I was backing up all my data to a large (but slow) third internal drive.  This was fine but I wanted something a little more robust and potentiality portable.  So I purchased a Maxtor 300 GB USB 2.0 External Hard Drive.  I was tempted to buy Maxtor 1 TB RAID External Hard Drive.  The 1TB RAID drive is actually two hard drives that can act like a single 500GB drive with redundancy but I got a really good deal on the 320 GB version so I went with that.  The Maxtor dive plugs into my USB 2.0 port and is very fast, portable, and somewhat ruggedized.  This way I can backup all the computers in my house by moving the HD around.  This is much faster than backing up over the LAN.  And in case of an emergency I can grab the drive itself.

The Maxtor drive comes with a simple backup tool.  This software provides for incremental backups (only copies new and changed files) of the directories you specify on your PC.  Even though I already had a backup/sycronization tool (more below) I tries out teh Maxtor software.  I asked the software to backup my "My Documents" folder and all sub-directories.  At first it seams to be working really well.  I was surprised at how fast it was scanning and coping my files.  Then after a closer look I saw that it was not coping some subfolders in the "My Documents" directory including my projects directory.  My projects directory is probably the most vital directory I have and is very large.  No wonder the backup was so fast, it was skipping all the large stuff (damn procrastinating software).  I don't know why teh software was doing this but I instantly lost all confidence in that software.  Backup software needs to work flawlessly.

So I fell back to the software I was using before I got the Maxtor drive:  SyncBackSE.  SyncBackSE is the best backup/synchronization software I can find and I have tried quite a few.  With this software you have full control (I like control) of the backup/synchronization process.  Unlike the Maxtor software you can specify your own backup file structure.  You can backup from a network drive or an FTP server.  You can even compress the files to password protected zips.  You can also tell the software to ignore certain files or directories based on filters.  Probably my favorite feature is the confirmation of effects before action is taken.  In other words after scanning the directories SyncBackSE can give you a summary of what files you are coping or deleting giving you a chance to cancel or change an individual action.  Never again will I accidentally "backup" my backup data over my source data (it happens).  With SyncBackSE you can perform your backups manually, on a schedule, or from the command line.  I have even setup my Maxtor drive to run SyncBackSE when the backup button on the Maxtor is pressed.  There really is too many great features in SyncBackSE so you should check it out yourself. 

So far I'm protected against a single HD crashes.  But what if my data drive and back drive crash at the same time, or my computer and backup drive are stolen.  At one time I was backing up my data to a few DVD-RWs.  But DVD backup is slow, manually intensive, and doesn't protect against fire (or volcano).  I need something completely off-site.  I had considered using my massive 490 GB DreamHost space as an offsite backup but after the recent security breach I decided that wasn't a good idea.

Last year I came across Mozy online storage.  I signed up for the 2GB of free online storage.  Mozy is a dead simple application that works very similar to the most basic backup tools.  You select the files you need to backup and while your computer is idle it compresses, encrypts, and transmits your new or changed files to the Mozy servers.  Your data can be restored though the Mozy software or accessed online.  Not only that but Mozy keeps previous versions of your files for up to 30 days.  With only 2 GB of storage you need to be selective about what you backup.  For example with only 2 GB I didn't backup any of my family photos.  However, recently Mozy changed their pricing to be only $4.95 per month for unlimited data.  That really is a price that can't be beat (it actually can't... I've checked).

Ok, so now I have all my data on my secondary drive, periodically backed up to my backup drive.  I then setup Mozy to backup my backup.  Why not backup directly from the data drive?  In this setup I know that the backup drive is always the latest.  Restoring over the Internet is slow.  I only need to restore from Mozy in an extreme emergency (think volcano).  Second, since Mozy runs somewhat continuously it can be a waist to backup files that change daily or several times a day.  By backing up from the backup drive the schedule I choose for SyncBackSE regulates the backup schedule for Mozy.

How well does this work?  I really don't know.  Since creating this backup strategy I've not had a HD crash, computer fire, or volcano eruption.  If and when it happens I'll let you know how it works... if I have a computer from which to blog.