As always, I am obsessed with backups. Because, we all procrastinate and so many people have horror stories of times they lost important data, like family photos. Just a quick recap:

  • Backup your mobile devices automatically (if you’re on iOS just turn on iCloud backups).
  • Backup your laptops automatically to your NAS (Network Attached Storage) when you are at home.
  • Also, get your photos off your cameras and phones regularly and put them on your NAS. I also use Flickr for storing and sharing my favorite photos.
  • Finally, make sure your NAS is being backed up regularly to an offsite location. Fire, theft, and floods are far more likely than you realize.

It’s that last point that has caused me so much trouble. The easiest solution before now was to send all the data to Amazon Glacier using the Glacier Backup app from Synology Package Center. Unfortunately the pricing on Glacier storage is still a little too high for me. It ended up being around $10 per month for my 1.2 terabytes of data.

But when comparing pricing on various other cloud storage solutions I saw that Amazon is offering something that no-one else can compete with right now… unlimited storage in Amazon Cloud Drive for $60 a year! Microsoft, Google, Apple and Dropbox are all quite a bit more expensive than that now. As far as I can tell in their help documentation, they really do mean “unlimited”.

Unlimited Data

I have successfully switched my Synology DS213+ to use Amazon Drive in their Hyper Backup application. I am using the latest version of DSM, I installed Hyper Backup and configured a backup job by following the wizard.

setup

I choose to turn on encryption and enter a long password that I can definately remember, because it may be a long time before I have to use that password.

Choose the applications and file directories to back up. I leave my collection of ripped DVDs out of the backup to save size.

Set the backup job to run automatically on a schedule, at least once a week. I chose to run mine every Sunday morning at 1am. And when it’s complete you get a directory of inscrutable files and folders containing encrypted data inside your Amazon Cloud Drive interface.

files

Here’s the hard part, letting it run that first backup. I have a very slow internet upload connection (about 5 megabit upload according to speedtest.net), meaning the first upload took 12 days to complete. And sadly the first few times I tried to run it I included the huge video files, and the backup job completely failed after a few days. Hyperbackup was not able to continue the failed backup job, it re-started each time. And, to add insult to injury, last month XFINITY instituted an internet usage cap of 1000 Gigabytes. Which I promptly breezed through with my several aborted backups. Thankfully, XFINITY will give you 2 “grace” months before they start hitting you with their usurious fees. So, now that I’ve done the initial backup I shouldn’t come close to using it up again. (Unless I need to download and restore a complete backup in the case of total data loss.)

  •  → Written by: Tim

  • Updated 2014-11-13 with a link to Gabe Weatherhead’s article at MacDrifter about backing up a Synology.
  • Updated on 2014-11-05 with more information about Crashplan on the Synology and some formatting changes, originally posted on 2014-10-09.

The Problem

Moving everything onto an external USB drive is not a backup. You need a backup, but you probably are leaving yourself open to disastrous data loss. I don’t mean to be a fear monger, but this is a real problem. If all of your data is on a laptop or phone or a single external hard drive on your desk, someone could break in and steal all your data in one fell swoop. A fire or flood could just as easily destroy all that data. Believe me.

Backups are complicated. Until someone comes along to make it super simple we need to figure a few things out. Lets start with what and where. What data do you have and where is it? OK, a bunch of photos and home videos. How many places are they? What would happen if that one place you put them suddenly broke or was stolen or burned? You don’t have to just worry you can actually do something about it.

We are going to plan ahead and make a system that does all the thinking for us. We don't want to have to think it through every day or week. There should be a local backup of the important data from each device in your home. As well as a remote backup of all that important data. Remote means somewhere other than your home. It doesn't have to be a cloud service, but a cloud service requires the least brain power to keep running.

The Options

There are ways that are more perfect than others, but it's going to be different for each person. The way big businesses protect their data is very complicated. But at the scale most people have to worry about 10 GB – 10 TB we shouldn't have a problem figuring something out that is safe and relatively affordable.

You can try to just buy two USB drives and carry them back and forth to work and home each week. Phones can be backed up to your computer, which is backed up to an external drive. You  should be rotating which backup is plugged into your PC or Mac every week or month. The other drive should be kept somewhere other than your home. But eventually you'll probably forget and stop carrying them around. Or one drive will suddenly become corrupted from all the banging around in your bag, and you won't realize it.

My favorite solution right now is the Synology DiskStation (a machine called a NAS (for Network Attached Storage)) and TimeMachine. Apple’s TimeMachine is great backup software if you have Mac. A Synology DiskStation like the DS214 has two hard drives in it, meaning all the data can be mirrored on both drives, protecting your from 1 drive failure. Now, that's not quite enough, you should also have one more backup locally, and one more remote.

I recommend putting that extra copy of your data into a cloud backup service. Backblaze and Crashplan seem to be the best options for most users, but I chose Amazon Glacier. This service is enabled by a backup client available on the Synology. And, the pricing is very affordable, though slightly more expensive than either Backblaze or CrashPlan for my backup size. My last monthly bill was around $7 for over 540GB. Backblaze and Crashplan are cheaper at larger sizes, but your NAS won't send data to them easily, without going through a running computer.

Backblaze won’t upload data from network drives without considerable trickery. According to Marco, Crashplan is a viable option for uploading data directly from you Synology NAS. Scott Hanselman has a guide to setting it up here. If you just want automated simple backups from your PC, use Backblaze or Crashplan directly from the computer. If you are already using Crashplan, and want to add your NAS data to it, or if you have a lot of data on a NAS and want to get the Crashplan price breaks, follow that guide. But, I can’t vouch for it personally, I just used the Glacier Backup App that comes in the Synology App Store.

I don't want my laptop or desktop to have to be always on backups to happen for the whole household. That's one of the strengths of a NAS, it's an efficient computer that's always running. Your local computers push data to the NAS and the NAS pushes it’s data to the cloud. It’s a two step process that offers a lot of flexibility, and redundancy but at a cost of setup time and financial investment on the NAS hardware.

NAS devices can also be backup up locally on to external USB hard drives. You could carry that drive off to a second location to protect from a local disaster. This could be cost effective with a fixed cost up front of around $130, but I don't like having to do any part of my backups manually. Backups need to be as automated as possible, so my forgetful nature won't leave me unprotected. If it’s not automated, it’s probably not happening. If you want more information on doing local backups from a Synology, check out the guide on MacDrifter. Gabe also recommends using Amazon Glacier for his “slow” backups. Meaning items that he doesn’t need to restore immediately after a data loss, but could wait a few weeks to download or have them ship out a hard-drive. He keeps business documents and immediate needed files on a physical hard drives at a separate location.

Personal Recommendation

Buy a Synology DiskStation with at least 2 drives in a mirrored array. I’ll write a how-to article for this soon. Sign up for an Amazon developer account. Configure the Glacier backup application on the DiskStation. Configure your laptops to backup to the network location on the DiskStation. Configre your phones to auto-upload all photos and videos to the DiskStation also. If I had my house burn down (again) I wouldn't lose any important data. Everything on our laptops and phones is saved to the Synology DiskStation NAS, and the Synology is backed up to Glacier every week. Everything is pretty much automated, and cost effective for me.

Conclusion

My overall approach is this: I like to combine some local infrastructure with some monthly services. I don't mind using free services sometimes, but you need to be ready to switch away from them without losing anything, and you need to be able to say that the data that is important to you is safe, not wonder when the last time was you remembered to plug in that drive and copy all those folders.

Before applying a new iOS update you need two things. Enough storage space on your mobile device for the installer and a good backup. Here are a few details about making sure your iPhone (or iPad) is backed up correctly.

On iCloud

Apple has gotten a lot better about backups for your device. They understand that everything on our phones is super-important and very personal. So, they offer iCloud backups directly from the device. You don't need to plug your iPhone or iPad into a computer to backup. It will usually complete a backup to the cloud any time it's plugged into power and on WiFi.

If you aren't sure that your phone is set to back itself up to iCloud every night, look in Settings > iCloud > Storage & Backup > Check to see if iCloud Backup is turned on, and when the last backup was completed. If you are out of storage space in iCloud, tap on Manage Storage in that screen and start removing apps and data that's less important. If you are a family all using the same Apple ID and iCloud account, you will probably need to upgrade the storage plan. The newest prices (October 2014) are more reasonable at only $1 per month for 20GB. I recommend the larger iCloud plans because of how incredibly useful iOS automatic backups are. For me 20GB barely covers the backup requirements of 4 devices.

On your local PC or Mac

If you don't want to use the iCloud backup, just plug your phone into any computer running iTunes. You can configure backups in iTunes when the phone is connected, and you can trigger manual backups in that interface. You should turn on encrypted backups in iTunes because this option will store a lot more useful information (like email accounts and wifi password) than the unencrypted backups store.