Keep your Documents Safe and Portable with Offsite Backups

You know you need to backup. Time Machine makes it easy and you have a nice external hard drive to use with it. What happens if you lose your laptop while on a trip and it’s been a few days since the last backup? Let’s say you brought your backup drive but it was in your laptop bag and both were stolen. What if something happens at your home and your backup drive is ruined?

Not to worry, you can plan for this with an “off-site” solution.

What is an off-site backup?

Off-site backups are kept somewhere other than your home or workplace. It can be as simple as a stack of DVDs at your neighbors / parents / best friend’s house or as elaborate as a large data center with redundant off site backups of it’s backups. The point is to keep a current backup in a different place than your computer.

Why you need an off-site backup:

Having an off-site backup solution isn’t just for businesses. With all your photos, music, videos, personal documents, and more digitized, you’re storing your life on your computer. Think of it as insurance for your documents if something were to happen.

There’s a few different offsite solutions. Basically they can be split into two methods – online and offline.

Online backup services:

Online backup solutions work through a software agent. This agent runs in the background and uploads new files as it sees. You can set which directories to backup / ignore. Most run without interfering with OS X, however you can pause them when you need the CPU’s full attention. Each has free trials Some recommended services include:


Offline backup solutions:

First and foremost, save yourself the hassle of burning large amounts of DVDs (don’t even think about CDs..) and get a good size portable external Hard Drive. I’d recommend a small, USB portable model because a larger sized drive may not fit into certain offline solutions.

Safety Deposit Box – A bank safety deposit box is a great place to store your offline backup. Prices vary depending on which branch / bank you choose and are only available at certain locations. Check with your local bank for rates and locations. The downsides of Safety Deposit Boxes are limited access hours (you can’t get your data at 3am) and location (may not be down the street from you). Plan on updating data for your backup once a month at the most.

Fireproof Container – A fireproof container such as this is another great solution. You can visit it and update data whenever you like and keep paper records inside of it as well. It’s much cheaper over time than a safety deposit box and you won’t have to drive somewhere to open it. The downside is the upfront expense but a larger, more expensive data rated safe will store DVDs, CDs, and documents as well. Also, its very important to be sure you get one that’s rated for hard drives / data as paper can withstand much higher temperatures. You don’t want to find out your drive survived but all the data is corrupted if something terrible happened.

Trusted Relative – You can leave your portable drive at a trusted friend / relative’s house. This is the cheapest way to go. The downsides is that you are relying on another person to ensure the safety of your data. I recommend one of the other two solutions.

The best of both:

I recommend using a mixture of the two. Why both? Once you begin researching online solutions, you’ll notice they have limits on your storage space vs how much you’ll pay each month. If you’re looking to store music, movies and photos, that can easily add up. Documents on the other hand are small, especially when compressed. Even if it’s a cheap service that promises “unlimited” storage, there’s always a catch – you get what you pay for. You do not want to risk losing files because a company went out of business. While the recommended solutions look stable and popular, the other side of a gigantic online backup is the large amount of time to transfer your data back and forth.

Note: If you have a large amount of data and online backup, you may run afoul of your ISP when transferring data to (uploading) your backup. Make sure your ISP won’t throttle you for sending a large amount of data over a sustained period.

Also, online solutions offer portability which is incredible if something happens while you are away. However, in a pinch, you’re not going to need your entire iTunes library. Upload / Download times can make restoring and backup time consuming so keep the large non-essentials offline.

For the offline part, I strongly recommend using a portable external hard drive instead of a large amount of blank DVDs. They take up more space, 4.7GB isn’t the large amount it used to be and take a large amount of time to manage.

Note: If you’re only backing up less than one DVD (4GB), then don’t even bother with the offline part.

Other thoughts:

Since this is a long-term solution, what happens if the online site goes out of business? With an additional offsite backup for music, movies and other large files, I’d recommend putting really important documents in there as well.

Next, what about prying eyes? Encrypt everything that’s personal. Online solutions encrypt for you but I’d recommend encrypting on your own and then uploading. Creating a small encrypted volume with either Disk Utility or TrueCrypt ensures that even the backup service can’t peek into your documents.

Another solution:

Small encrypted volumes containing documents can be stored online in an email account such as Gmail. This blended with a good offsite backup solution gives you portability and piece of mind. The downside is that you have to manually replace this volume when you add new files into it. Also, you must keep this volume up to date on your own, whereas an online backup solution takes care of this for you.

Whichever you decide, make sure it’s a solution that works for you and is reliable over the long term.

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