The physical storage drive I used for backing up data died. It served as a backup drive for 5 years. This made me revise the strategy for backing up our family’s digital data (photos, music, documents, etc.). I applied the SADIMET design method for driving the process.
Backup solution currently used:
- OneDrive (free tier, 30GB) for automatic photo backup from phone (me only, partner no)
- Dropbox (free tier, 3GB) for commonly accessed files from phone and computer
- single physical drive (WD My Passport, 1TB) for occasional backup of computer data
Our data sources:
- Photos taken on phones
- Files downloaded to computers
- Files copied over to computers from external drives
- Email messages
- WhatsApp/Signal messages
- backup data from phones and computers
- access to backup data without internet connection
- access to backup data even if I become poor
- a shared backup space with my partner and me
- easy enough to use backup process for my partner
- use ethical services and products
- no need to keep WhatsApp/Signal message history
I interviewed three friends working in software engineering to learn about their digital backup practices:
Adam doesn’t have an automated system in place. He has an external drive and manually creates a backup of the content of his computer. He uses Dropbox too as an extra storage to keep various files.
Attila manually backs up files from phone to computer and from computer to external disk. Doesn’t use cloud solutions.
Arno has a sophisticated system. He set up a system that automatically collects data from various devices in the family and stores them on a physical backup drive. Then he manually triggers the backup process once in a while. He doesn’t use cloud providers, he prefers to follow the permaculture design principle of using small and slow solutions.
I used the PNI (positive–negative–interesting) analysis tool to compare physical and cloud drives as backup solutions.
- offline access
- ownership of data
- one-time purchase
- more storage for the same money
- less redundant (fire, flood, children)
- no automatic backup process out-of-box
- physical proximity required to access data
- device warranty
- potentially lower ecological footprint
- hard to assess ethical production
- easy maintanance
- automatic backup process out-of-box
- access data from everywhere
- good redundance in theory
- subscription based plans
- smallest plan for single user only
- big cloud providers have records of unethical practices
- hard to assess security
- cheapest 1-year plan costs the same as two phyisical drives of the same storage space
Design and implementation
I designed the following backup strategy as an iteration over our current backup practices.
- Keep using Dropbox for frequently accessed files from various devices
- Stop using OneDrive for automatic backup of photos from phone to eliminate the dependency on an unethical vendor (Microsoft)
- Purchase two physical drives (different brands, same capacity) for having data redundancy (Seagate Basic 2TB for 70 EUR, WD My Passport 2TB for 60 EUR). Keep them in two different locations to mitigate risk of natural catastrophes.
- Every month copy over data from all computers and phones to both physical drives using an automated script. Data on phones and computers not backed up yet in the one month window can be lost. Emails are fetched via IMAP and stored on the computer. Therefore they are handled along with other computer data.
Monitoring and evaluation
The strategy is to be evaluated later.