Backup Software Reviews and Best Practice

Backup Software Reviews and Best Practice

Backup Software Reviews Introduction

This article is an introduction to a series on computer backups for your home or small business PC. We discuss the background of backups, backup best practices, and related articles review specific backup tools. The recommendations apply to both Windows and MacOS computers, but all testing was done on a Windows 10 PC.

Contents

Quick Recommendations

This is the section to read if you just want to be told what to do, and aren’t too concerned about the why. These recommendations aren’t right for everyone, but they’re a reasonable starting point. In this section we assume you want minimum effort, whereas in the rest of the article we assume you want the best protection.

  • Keep at least three copies of your data, on at least two different disks, one of which must be offsite.
  • Online backups are a great precaution and are worth doing, but you should keep your data on a disk that’s stored away from your primary location. A friends or family members house is fine. Yes the initial backup might take a long time, but this is not your only backup so that’s not a problem.With most systems you can configure it to back up the data you consider most important first.
  • Your online backups don’t have to back up your entire system. I back up everything to two external disks, but only my most important and newest data goes into Cloud backup.
  • We recommend BackBlaze, with CrashPlan our next best option. We consider BackBlaze the most comprehensive protection against viruses and ransomware. One advantage of CrashPlan is it can back up encrypted files to friends computers, internal disks, and external disks for free, but backing up to externals disks can take a long time for large backups. See our cloud backup review for more information.
  • We recommend CloudBerry Backup for backups to local or external disks. For more advanced users you can back up to AWS S3, AWS Glacier, BackBlaze B2 (10GB free) or just about any other online service using CloudBerry. As I consider myself fairly expert my online backups to go AWS S3 and AWS Glacier, which I consider more reliable than CrashPlan, but only if  they’re set up correctly.
  • Your online backups should run at least daily. You should backup to your external disk at regular intervals, determined by how much data you’re prepared to lose. For photographers this might be after every event, but if your online backups complete quickly you may do it monthly.

Background

In the wake of the recent and ever increasing ransomware attacks, where files on computers are encrypted and a fee charged for access to your own files, backups are increasing in importance. Any computer connected to the internet, or using removable media, is vulnerable.

An effective backup ensures the information that’s valuable to you, personal or professional, can be recovered if it’s lost through human error, corruption, a virus, ransomware, fire, theft, or any other incident. Backups need to be frequent enough that you can tolerate the information loss between the last backup and the time of data loss – this could be anything from minutes to weeks, depending on your needs.

 

Backup Best Practices

As a general principle I recommend that people keep multiple copies of their data in multiple locations. The classic “3 2 1” backup rule says you should:

  • 3: Keep at least three copies of your data
  • 2: Keep data on at least two different media (two hard drives, hard drive and DVD, hard drive and cloud). Don’t trust all your backups to one piece of software.
  • 1: Keep at least one copy offsite

I’ll add a few more guidelines:

  • Disconnected backups: None of these backups should be connected to your computer, other than for the period backups are being made.
  • Incremental backups not copies: Make sure at least one and ideally most of your backups are incremental rather than a copy. This ensure you can recover from file corruption, viruses, and ransomware. It’s easy for a virus or ransomware to encrypt your files without you noticing, and if a backup runs during this time you lose access to your backups as well.
  • Plain copy: Despite the guideline above, one of your backups should be a plain copy of your data, rather than an incremental backup that has to be processed to be accessible. This guards against software bugs and unexpected events. This can be on the same hard disk or media as your incremental backups, if your drive is large enough. Using different software for this plain copy avoids putting all your trust in one tool.
  • RAID is not a backup: The primary purpose of RAID is to ensure your data is accessible if one or more of your hard drives fail. This is not in any way a backup, as a virus can wipe out all your data at one time.

 

Here’s how my backups are set up:

  • I have a RAID array inside my computer, so if one drive fails I don’t lose my data. Note that this doesn’t protect against viruses and is not a backup.
  • An incremental backup of my most important data on another disk inside my computer. This protects against drive failure and provides a first line backup.
  • An incremental backup of all my data on an external disk I keep in my house, but not connected to my computer. This is where I would restore my data from if my computer failed or data became inaccessible.
  • An incremental backup of all my data on an external disk I keep at work. This protects me against fire and theft at my primary location.
  • An incremental backup of frequently changing and important data stored on both Amazon S3 and BackBlaze B2. This protects my newest data until I do a monthly backup to disks, as it runs daily. It also means I can access my recent data from other locations reasonably easily. I only use BackBlaze B2 as well as S3 because it’s free up to 10GB.
  • A point in time snapshot / archive of documents, medium resolution photos, and videos, on AWS Glacier. This is my “last resort” backup. I never change these backups, but I add to them occasionally.
  • I still run CrashPlan for a third online backup, but I plan to stop using this once I’m happy with my new backup strategy and software

Instead of 3-2-1 this is 8-4-3, which would be excessive for most people. The primary reason I have this level of backups is because I store commercial data, business financial records, and backups for family members that I would really not want to lose.


What I Look For In Backup Software

Here are the major things I look for in backup software:

  • One tool to rule them all: I want primary one tool that is capable of meeting almost all of my backup needs. Simplicity is a good thing. Note that I said capable of meeting all my backup needs, I do recommend having at least one backup done with a different tool, to spread your risk.
  • Range of destinations:  That includes cloud backups, connected disk backups, and backups to external disks.
  • Technical features: The features must include incremental backups or block based backups with a version history, encryption, compression, scheduled backups. Ideally it should include de-duplication and a range of options to purge old versions.
  • Flexibility: Having sufficient options for a range of backup jobs. This could include include/exclude masks, the option not to back up subfolders, flexibility on when to purge old versions, etc.
  • Documentation: The tool should be well documented. Ideally there should be blog posts and / or a user community to help with issues.
  • Performance: the tool should be reasonably quick to run backups. I don’t sit there watching them run, and many backups are scheduled.
  • Support: If something goes wrong I want there to be help available, either paid or community.
  • Ease of use: The tool should be reasonably easy to use, with a sensible interface. For example backups should be able to be either queued or run in parallel.

Backup Software Reviews

Over the next few weeks we’re going to write up the results of our reviews. You can read the reviews here:

Backup Software Overall Recommendation

Considering Cloudberry Backup vs Arq Backup vs Duplicati Backup vs CrashPlan backup, CloudBerry is the clear winner for me.

Arq Backup is slower than average, has a quirky UI, is slower than average, is poorly documented, and is developed by a single developer.

Duplicati Backup has a lot of potential, but restores are unreliable.

CrashPlan is by far the easiest to use, because it includes both software and storage. It’s so simple your Grandfather could use it. However it’s vulnerable to some theoretical attacks which could completely remove your backups, so it’s difficult for me to recommend.

CloudBerry Backup is fast, flexible, easy to use, well documented, and support is quite good. That easily beats the competition.

 

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