Home Backup to the Cloud

Four years ago, long before Time Machine and the wide availability of cloud storage, I purchased a RAID/NAS for home backups. It’s done its job admirably, and has given us the confidence to back up the whole family without fear of drive failure. Even went as far as drilling holes in the floor and threading CAT-5 under the house so I could keep the Infrant in the closet, where it would make less noise.

It’s worked well, but the big problem it didn’t solve is the fire/flood/theft scenario. One good earthquake and all those images and videos of our child’s early years would be Gone Daddy Gone. Plus, my backup system was based on rsync. That worked fine, but was a bit too manual, and I had had occasional problems getting backups to complete to the non-Mac filesystem on the Infrant.

This problem had been hovering in the back of my mind for quite a while, when a dad at the local park mentioned that he had had  success with Backblaze. For $5/month, you get hands-off unlimited backup of your entire system to their data center. Drive space is dirt cheap these days, so it’s tempting to rely on purchased drives, but let’s do the math. Let’s say you spend $100 for a 500GB drive.  That’s the equivalent of  20 months of Backblaze service. If you go for the one-year commitment, you get the service for $4/month, so let’s say two years for the drive you just bought “cheap” to pay for itself. And you still haven’t got fire/flood/theft insurance. Seemed like a no-brainer to me, so I went for it.

My starter data set was 300 GBs – a healthy pile of bytes. Backblaze noted that the initial backup could take a couple of weeks, but in my case, the initial backup took more than three weeks, even over a fast broadband connection. After the initial backup  is complete, incrementals happen quickly, with no  interaction required.

Installation and backup management takes place through a preference pane on the Mac. It’s elegant, but I did have some problems along the way. At a certain point, halfway through the initial backup period, the pref pane informed me that the backup was complete, even though it wasn’t. It continued to report this for the next 10 days, even though I could see the bztransmit process chugging away in the background. The pref pane  provides a count of the number of files and their total size; to get this to update, I’d have to unmount and remount my external data drive, then wait 3-4 hours for the process to rescan volumes and report new information.

At this point,  I’ve made it through the initial backup and have added 150MBs of new data  to the external drive. The preference pane does not report any change to the totals, even though I have confirmed that the newly added files are available on Backblaze servers. I also had a number of instances where the bztransmit process would swell to consume very large (> 2GBs) amounts of memory. In some cases, the process memory would eventually come back down on its own. In others I had to manually kill all bz* processes and restart the backup process. It’s as if the backup process is running fine, but the preference pane is  unaware of what those processes are actually doing. Annoying, but not a deal-breaker.

I corresponded with Backblaze tech support during the process, and found them super-responsive, and not afraid to share detailed technical analysis of the process. They weren’t able to answer all of my questions about why the pref pane didn’t seem to know what the backup process was actually doing, but they were super detailed and quick, and I appreciate that.

Despite these glitches, my test restores have all gone well.

There is one little financial  hitch in my plan: That $4/month is only for one machine. I’ll have to spend more to be able to back up other computers in the house. I’m still mulling that one. In any case, it feels great to know that my backups are complete, even if disaster hits the home some day. And now that the glitches of the initial backup period have passed, it should be pretty smooth sailing ahead.

There are other cloud backup systems for the home out there, like CrashPlan and Amazon S3 with S3Hub. I haven’t tried them. If you have, what have your experiences been like?

iTunes and Network Attached Storage

Deets on recent iTunes weirdness and attempted solutions, mostly for people asking about it on Twitter.

I’ve been storing my music collection on an Infrant ReadyNAS RAID system for more than a year. Aside from slow write speeds over a lame 10 megabit connection, it’s worked really well, and it’s comforting to know that, even though I’m not backing up the collection, at least I’m reasonably well-protected from disk failure.

But over the past month or so, I’ve been noticing more and more of those little exclamation marks in iTunes indicating that a track could not be found. Ah… turned out I had accidentally run iTunes for a while with the NAS unmounted, and iTunes had re-set the base dir to my home (thank you, how nice!), so now the collection was partially split across volumes.

I could re-navigate to find missing tracks individually, but there were too many to catch them all, and because the files weren’t on a local volume, the process per-file was agonizingly slow. Tried the Advanced | Consolidate menu option to try and force iTunes to put everything back on the NAS, but no dice – still a sea of exclamation points.
Continue reading “iTunes and Network Attached Storage”

Time Capsule

18 months ago, I bought an Infrant ReadyNAS to store MP3s and our home backups. It’s been all peaches, and we’ve been using SuperDuper for backup against it with no issues.

When Leopard came out, thought we’d switch to Time Machine for backup… only to discover that Time Machine doesn’t support backups to network shares — unless those shares are on Mac (HFS+) volumes. The ReadyNAS does do AFP, but the ReadyNAS itself is Linux-based, and its internal filesystem is ext-something.

This sucks. Without simple, any-OS network backups, you’re forced to attach a physical disk to each machine you want to back up — unless you’ve got OS X Server running somewhere in the house (and thus have some networked HFS+ volumes to back up to).

Found a hack on the Infrant forums to force Time Machine to see a ReadyNAS share as a supported volume:

sudo defaults write com.apple.systempreferences \
TMShowUnsupportedNetworkVolumes 1

Timecapsule It works! Time Machine has been backing up to a partition on the ReadyNAS for a few weeks now. But I haven’t had occassion to try and restore from it yet, and don’t completely trust it. Apple’s introduction of Time Capsule seems like the perfect answer, and is dirt cheap for what you get (remember it doubles as an AirPort base station and print server).

But I resent that it’s required. Daring Fireball has essentially the same gripe. I already have an excellent networked storage unit. I shouldn’t have to buy Apple hardware to accomplish this. Apple needs to step forward and support TM backups to any network volume. Time Machine shouldn’t be a gateway drug sucking you into the Apple Store.

Of course, no law prevents me from continuing to use SuperDuper. But TM feels so good…

Music: Alton and the Flames :: Tuff