My (New and Improved) Killer Home Backup and Storage Solution

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As I shared the other day I was getting in another order from Apple which has been a long-time coming and that’s my home server and backup solution.

I’ve been struggling with keeping up with so many different backup solutions that it’s been one of the most aggravating part of my home technology ecosystem but no solution (or combination of solutions) seemed to be presenting themselves very well.

Surprise surprise that I had all that I needed in front of me to give one implementation a serious look (and hopefully a successful shot).

To start, I have to paint the picture of what I currently had implemented which will then showcase the much more simple solution that I’m working on right now.

My home backup solution consisted of the following resources and technologies:

  • 1 Cisco Wireless Router, about a year old or so that was top of the line when I bought it. I can’t remember the model number but it’s been great.
  • 4 Macbooks (Airs/Pros) that each had an external harddrive for Time Machine (from 500GB to 1.5TB).
  • 3 additional external harddrives for large project files, legacy data, and media backup (from 500GB to 1TB).
  • 100GB Dropbox sync for on-demand media and more important files that needed to be accessed by the family.
  • CrashPlan Family Unlimited plan for cloud-base backup for all files globally.
  • 200GB Google Drive for shared files, images/media (via Picasa).
  • 50GB iCloud storage for about 9 iDevices, including 3 iPads, 2 iPhones, 4 iPods (multiple generations).
  • Assorted 15GB to 80GB ultra-mobile backups and USB sticks for short-term projects.

As you can see, it has been a fairly heterogeneous environment and one that has been constantly plagued by the addition of newer systems, hardware, and solutions that should have sunset previous solutions but never did.

As you also might imagine the monthly cost for such an implementation as well as the transactional cost for hardware over the years has been massive. I’m somewhat ashamed to share the actual figures but those that are half-way decent at math might come pretty close with a little recon.

The New Solution

The new solution that was the culmination of a lot of thought and advice from my partners at 8BIT (we had a epic thread in our internal communications system) and I’m happy to say that I’m thrilled to see it working.

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What was a monstrous ecosystem has been radically simplified with a small bit of ingenuity (not much at all really) and a whole lot of compromise and sacrifice.

Here’s what the new environment looks like:

  • 1 3TB Time Capsule via Apple
  • 537GB Dropbox solution (+37GB via bonuses)
  • Google Drive and iCloud have been reduced. Instead of iCloud backup I saved it locally and mapped it to Dropbox. Brilliant. Google Drive excess moved to Time Capsule + Dropbox.
  • Crashplan is now no longer needed. This solution, on a sidenote, did not deliver as expected. A bit disappointed honestly.
  • All external harddrives are now empty and looking for buyers (will list locally on Craigslist or perhaps someone wants to buy a few off of me).
  • Assorted USB and ultra-mobile have been wiped or moved to Time Capsule. Some I just threw away.

The biggest win out of this new solution is how Time Capsule acts as a wireless router and basestation, wireless and local data backup, and active Time Machine for all my notebooks. I have saved an incredible amount of deskspace and the solution is infinitely more attractive (why do external harddrives and routers look so ugly?!?). I was able to spend a little time paring down the existing backups and all of it on the Time Capsule itself.

Essentially I went from a hoard of hardware to one elegant white box that sits nicely on a cabinet in the central area of my home.

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How pretty.

Yes, we call it “SuperBear”:

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dropbox-upload

Patience is a…

A few concerns and additional thoughts on this massive transition:

  • Many of you who are half-way decent with math will instantly notice that the combined drive space on the Time Capsule could not possibly be enough, especially with nearly 800GB being dedicated to Time Machine backups. You’d be right. I made some significant “deletes” with legacy data that I’m sure I won’t ever miss. Some of these project files dated back more than a decade!
  • Also, many of you might be wondering how I could go from an unlimited cloud-based solution with Crashplan to a 500GB Dropbox solution. What I did here was make a critical and necessary judgement call on what I cared about backing up on the cloud and the data that I’d be comfortable being on a physical drive (Time Capsule). Yes, Time Capsule can and may fail at which time I will figure out how to recover those files if I need them, but mission critical backups was successfully reduced to less than half a terabyte.
  • I was concerned a bit with how much I’d be asking of the Time Capsule system and if it could sustain that much work. I’d be piping gigs of data daily through multiple technologies including all my needs for business and software development through the wireless router piece. The first couple days was a significant stress test – I asked Time Capsule to do four simultaneous Time Machine backups, pass 2 Terabytes of data to it’s local storage, and over 400GB to Dropbox’s cloud-based solution. At one point I thought I could cook an egg on top of it, but it survived. The concentrated data push will never be replicated so now we’ll see if it can transition from the 100 meter dash to a lifetime of marathoning in my ecosystem…
  • If I do pass 500GB (I plan on continuing to pare things down and keep things slim) I have experimented nicely with Google Drive which financially scales better than Dropbox (and doesn’t have as small a ceiling as Dropbox) so I’ll go there. Google Drive has a native app that allows similar capabilities to Dropbox and is works like a charm. Not to mention it’s obvious features of Google Apps Suite. I like Dropbox a lot. Like, really a lot and all of my businesses use it as a foundational solution. It would be hard to leave but I will if I scale beyond the 500GB.
  • I was also concerned with how difficult it would be to setup Time Capsule with my various needs. Let me be the first to tell you that “it just worked” literally right out of the box. Unbelievably simple to setup. Thank goodness!

Ultimately I’ve saved tons of hardware real estate, reduced my overall financial burden significantly, and streamlined my backup process to be nearly hands-off. I couldn’t be happier at this moment with my decision but it was most certainly a tough one to make.

You’ll be the first to hear about it when the darn thing fails or blows up my home but I hope that’s a blog post I’ll never have to write.

  • Adam Shields

    I love Dropbox. But when they upgraded the storage and I moved to an all apple ecosystem I dropped from 200 to 100 on Dropbox and bought apple’s match. The $25 a year match saved me $100 a year on Dropbox. I still have a physical USB time machine drive. I just don’t back up my wife’s computer. She really doesn’t use it except for photos. She used here work computer for most. And I have stated below the free iCloud limit but the will probably change when my wife gets an iPhone as well.

    Backup is a pain but I have been very happy with Dropbox and love their forever trash that I can undelete something from. Year ago.

  • http://twitter.com/Bendre Sameer Bendre (@Bendre)

    Awesome. Something like this is on my personal backlog for a long time.

    I could use some help to get started. We are not a pure apple family. Have videos, music and then “dread the digital dump” pile.
    Would this work with PC? What kind of Internet do you have. We are forced to have “Clear” and it simply sucks.

    -Sameer

  • http://dustn.tv Dustin W. Stout

    Wow John! Sounds intense! Great job on simplifying though. I might be interested in taking one of those external hard drives off your hands!

    I asked you on Twitter, but never heard back– what do you find wrong with BitCasa? I’ve got Google Drive and BitCasa running on my system and it seems to work pretty well. I’m curious what your thoughts are.

  • Sean

    That’s pretty awesome! I may have to steal your new setup, but only if it works with PC’s as well. There’s probably a hack for that somewhere.

  • http://gravatar.com/joeybergeron Joey Bergeron

    John, Great work in changing your backup plan from before. Now things are more at your fingers and available without all the extra costs and data all over the place.The Time Capsule is a great addition and has multiple abilities that come in handy like being a router and a drive. Nice setup FO SHO!

    My little two cents is when you go down this road again, look into Drobo.

  • http://bioselement.com/ William Chambers

    Just one thing worth noting. If your house burns down, You’re screwed. Or if you’re robbed, flooded, blown up, etc.

    For non-critical files that sounds fine, but it’s just a little note. :)

  • http://tripgods.com Daniel

    Awesome John! Love how the capsule looks so sleek and how it sits so pretty on your furniture.

    Hope this works out in the long run! Still loving the stuff you write though. Despite your many detractors! Way to go! :D

    //Daniel

  • Dave ©

    Time Machine is OK but you should really check out the inexpensive ($30?) software called Carbon Copy Cloner. It is WAY more powerful than Time Machine, as it gives you nearly endless abilities to pick and choose the drives and folders you backup, where to backup them up, when to schedule the backups and whether or not to mount/dismount a drive when done. It takes about 5-10 minutes to learn how to use it, then you’re off to the races!! Super simple!

    For full disclosure, I am not in any way, shape or form associated with CCC nor will I receive anything from this recommendation other than the satisfaction of helping others.

  • http://twitter.com/rubeneavila Ruben Avila (@rubeneavila)

    Are all of your iDevices necessary? lol

  • http://JonathanHasson.com Jonathan

    John, what did you find disappointing about CrashPlan? It’s been good so far for me after dumping Mozy and Carbonite.

    • http://john.do John Saddington

      it honestly wasn’t syncing well and had a heck of a time identifying drives. really weird.

      • http://www.facebook.com/austinklee Austin Lee

        I had the same issue with CrashPlan when using external drives. Once I dropped them in favor of one GIANT internal drive. Problem was solved.

        • http://JonathanHasson.com Jonathan

          Ah, that may be the difference. I’m backing up from internal drives only.

  • Sebastian

    John – So you’re 6 months into your system: how’s it working? Any 2nd thoughts? Any additional tweaks you’d make to it? Any further advice?

    I’ve been trying to get off SugarSync for a year and I’ve been obsessing about the best solution. I’m thinking Time Capsule + Google Drive (vs. Dropbox). Thoughts?

    • http://john.do/ John

      i have had zero issues so far. and…… i’m loving it.

  • http://www.defythenorm.com defythenorm

    What about connecting remotely?

    • http://john.do/ John

      dropbox for the necessary files.