How I backup my computers without an expensive enterprise solution

Introduction

I do most of my work on MacOS, while using Linux for servers and Windows for testing and client automation, because of this I don't have a backup solution for Linux as it often depends on the server application it self. When I need a Windows solution, I tend to search for "TimeMachine alternative for Windows" and there's plethora of software to fit the ease of use depending on the need.

As of working at a smaller company, the expenses is important to have  control over and the worth of going from user, professional to  enterprise is sometimes too expensive compared to the hardware itself.  By using this type of workflow, I found it to be the cheapest but also  most reliable setup compare to having a single centralized pool of drives in example FreeNAS solution where one  hardware failure could affect whole company instead of a single  computer user.

Time Machine

TimeMachine finally automated a lot of things in terms of a backup solution at the time. Most people may use an external drive or a thumb-drive to store all their files as a backup if the computer crashed, but it's not a backup at all because it's just files moved of from a single device.

With a ease-to-use a backup solution like TimeMachine it made more people actually use automated backups, something that was very rare at the time by any other than enterprise users. Now you just bought an external drive for your laptop and it ask you if you want to use the drive as a time machine or storage drive and shortly after you're set up.

This means the only expense is a one time fee of your drives. Then after some years, you could upgrade them to a larger capacity and at the same time you get new cycle of lifespan on your drives.

This push from Apple also opened a lot of doors for software developers to come up with a better solutions, easier solutions, cross-platform solutions. One of the thing that's still bad with TimeMachine is that sometimes 'prepare to backup' can take forever before it actually starts to back up data, especially on encrypted drives.

You can also setup TimeMachine to be used wirelessly if you're a laptop user that doesn't have a habit to plug the drive in. Example my ASUS-router supports connecting drives trough USB and use it as a Network share or TimeMachine backup. I do not use that method because it's slower.

Lifespan of media

An important note is that no backup medium will last forever. No matter if it's Tape, Floppy, DVD, HDD, SSD, Flash etc. they all is likely and do have the possibility to break. When you're lucky it can last 20+ years without any issue, but others doesn't even last a couple of years. So it's your responsibility to check that it's in good health and migrate data to a new medium when needed.

I use regular hard-drives to store my  archives and backup data. If you can, don't go for the cheapest option  you can find. Find something that is known to be used for storage. I went with NAS drives from WesternDigital (WD RED) and been using it for some years now and even tho they aren't  fast like a SSD, they came with a longer warranty and is widely used for  storing data.

When it comes to external drives and you can't find any specifications on what drive is used,  search and see if you can find a couple of teardown images or videos to  see what kind of drives the manufacturer use on the inside.

In general when it comes to the lifespan from personal experience over the years I use this grade in my head:

Years Condition Notice
1-3 Good state OK, Within warranty
3-5 Causion Could fail at any time
5-8 Warning Time to replace
8-10 Critical Why haven't this drive died yet?

Cloud services and RAID is not backups

A big misconception by a lot of users is that using cloud services such as Dropbox or Google Drive is a backup solution. In it self, it is not; however companies like Dropbox has started to have a built-in backup solution for shorter time in form of version history which they can charge money for.

Even if you have data on a cloud service, it doesn't mean it's more secure towards you, as now you also have to account more variables in terms of account protection, privacy protection, payment renewal, remote destruction of data etc.

The reason a cloud service is not a backup solution is that anything can overridden by someone else, at anytime, from anywhere.

Having a RAID setup is more common within enterprise and enthusiasts.  The issue with using RAID such as mirroring the drive is that if one  drive gets a file corruption, the other drive now also have the same  file corruption. RAID is however hardware redundancy, such as if one drive fail, you can switch over to the other drive as if nothing happened and continue on without major interruption. RAID does can not  cover the case where revert to an earlier state if you suffer from data  loss and therefore, not a backup.

Type of backup

There's different types of backups and the type of backup TimeMachine does is what's called an Incremental  Backup". What this means is that the first time it takes a Full backup  and every time afterwards it take small backups only on the changes made  since last backup. This way we can save a lot of money on storage  because we are not duplicating same content.

Cloning

A clone is when you make a complete copy "mirror" of a drive in a  working state. You can make a clone of your drive using software such as  Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper and it will be a complete bootable backup. I always do this on an external or spare drive before a major system upgrade so I know if anything goes wrong I have a fallback backup to use.

My backup system at work

Depending on your needs, size vary a lot, but use at least twice. For my needs I usually calculate; if I have a primary drive of 500Gb, then I need a 2TB backup drive, if I have a 2TB drive, then I need 4-6TB drive to give me enough version history.

Work laptop configuration

Drive Type Use Location Capacity
Drive 1 Flash Primary OS drive Built-in 512GB
Drive 2 HDD TimeMachine @ Work 2TB
Drive 3 HDD TimeMachine @ Home 2TB

With this setup this cover the uses of having a primary backup and a secondary backup and my second backup is also working as my remote location backup in the case of building fire, theft etc. and even if they did, the device and all drives is encrypted as well the computer it self can be remote locked and wiped.

When you setup TimeMachine, it's smart in the case where you setup multiple backup drives, it can do disk rotation if you have two drives connected where it will backup every other time to the other drive.

Restore from backup

One of the biggest convinience with using a Mac and TimeMachine together at work is that when you get a new Mac for whatever reason, you can restore from TimeMachine. Similar to how Apple nowadays use iCloud backups for iOS, where you restore from backup to your new iPad or iPhone. This means that if you're working on a project, and for whatever reason your Mac gets e.g. a hardware failure, you can get a new computer and be up and running within hours.

For more info about TimeMachine, visit:
https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201250

Final notes

I've used this exact setup for my work MacbookPro since 2013 and it has worked flawlessly. And as a final thing is that you can browse the TimeMachine drives like a regular drive in Finder when it's plugged in if you don't want to use Apple's own TimeMachine interface this means it's not required by any software to view and modify your files as it's a normal file structure.