My Home Backup (2021 Edition)

Monsur Hossain
The Startup
Published in
4 min readJan 30, 2021

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This post is an overview of my home backup system and my motivations behind it. It replaces an old system that relied on an External NAS (RAID 1), Time Machine, Google Drive, iCloud, Backblaze, Glacier… Frankly things were getting complicated!

This an overview of the system, 2021 Edition:

Here are the details:

  • Mobile devices (iPhones) backup via iCloud.
  • The photos/videos from each mobile device are copied to a laptop.
  • The photos/videos folder from one laptop is mirrored to a second laptop.
  • The data from each laptop is copied to an external hard drive via rsync.
  • Each laptop backs up to Backblaze.

The scripts related to this system are on GitHub.

This backup system is more complicated than automated backup tools, so I wanted to share my thinking behind it.

Recovery & Longevity

The primary motivation for having a backup system is recovery. If your computer fails, you can recover your data on a new computer.

There is a slightly different but related dimension, which is longevity. Longevity means I want my data accessible for decades and even centuries. I want my children and my children’s children to have access to photos/videos of our family.

Current backup systems are better suited for recovery. For example, Apple’s Time Machine is a robust backup tool. It backs up automatically and stores previous file history. But it is also proprietary. You can’t grab a Time Machine drive and browse its files (even less so if the Time Machine drive is password-protected, and even less so if the password is forgotten).

Full recovery is also not always what I want. For example, when I get a new computer, I like the idea of starting fresh. I want to copy my previous files, but I don’t want to carry over the previous state (I have no clue how all the different versions of Python, Ruby, and Node coexist on my machine).

Finally, the computing landscape has changed dramatically over the years. My first computer was filled with personal files. Scanned tax records, receipts, movies (let’s be honest, pirated movies, thanks to BitTorrent!), music (same)… just a lot of stuff.

Most of that stuff lives online now. It’s easier to Google something than save a local copy for later. I don’t bookmark sites anymore. Most of my docs live in Google Drive. I love unlimited access to music from Spotify. And it’s easier to rent or stream the latest movie.

Photos & Videos

The only content I’m producing is photos and videos. And those are really, really important and irreplaceable.

Before everyone carried a camera in their pocket, photos were printed and preserved in physical albums. These albums would provide a curated, accessible (albeit heavy) view of the past.

The move to digital means we’re capturing more content than ever before, but at the loss of accessibility. My photos are only available on my device and backed up to my iCloud account. I wish all the best for Apple, but I don’t know where they will be as a company tens or hundreds of years from now.

This backup system optimizes for photos and videos. I consolidate all our photos (mostly from our phones, but sometimes from a DSLR) into a single folder on my laptop, and then sync that folder with my wife’s laptop. That extra syncing serves two purposes: a) it gives my wife quicker access to our photos, and b) it offers further redundancy for what matters most.

Pros & Cons

The backup system I’m experimenting with optimizes for longevity in a few ways. It focuses on backing up data files, not system state or history. It uses standard tooling like rsync and avoids anything proprietary (assuming file formats like JPEG and HEIC are readable in the future). And it adheres to the 3–2–1 backup practice by including cloud options like iCloud and Backblaze.

There are a few downsides to this system as well. The first is maintainability. The nice thing about off-the-shelf backup solutions is that they are automated. I configure them once and never think about them again. I include iCloud and Backblaze in this backup system as a hedge against this, so there is continued automation in case I don’t keep up with running the backup scripts regularly. I may also find ways to improve the automation in the future, as I get a better sense of how this backup system works in practice.

I also don’t know how maintainability will scale as more devices are added. Our kids are young now, but someday they will have their own phones and computers. Am I really going to plug in a USB drive and run an rsync script on every computer?

The second downside is security. Since I want these files to be accessible by my family, I’ve avoided any proprietary pieces, including passwords. I’m ok with this tradeoff since as mentioned above, most of my important documents have moved online (for better or for worse). The most a thief would have access to is a lot of photos and videos.

So there you have it, that’s my backup system circa the beginning of 2021. Let’s see how this all plays out over the year and the years.

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Monsur Hossain
The Startup

Engineering Manager @ Google, Author: CORS in Action