Why and How to Backup Your Files

Why and How to Backup Your Files

Backups are like insurance. No one really wants to try to figure out their backup solution, pay the small price to get started, and maintain their setup. Plus, it brings no immediate personal benefit when you get one in place. But, like insurance, they are necessary (vital, important, life-saving, and insert any other words to show the absolute importance of a backup solution!) For the readers of this blog, most who are probably a current students or already a professional in their area of study, this is of utmost importance. Most likely, all your life’s work is stored in digital form. At the risk of making this article too long and you not reading it I will go ahead and dive in giving what I think every backup solution should consist of and my recommended setup.

Do not count storing your files in Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, or any other similar cloud service as your backup solution.[1]

Every Solution Should Include…

I’ve learned and developed most of my backup strategy both from the Mac Power Users podcast (episodes 8 and 43) and Katie Floyd’s blog (link)

  1. Automatic backups. The reality is that if you are in charge of trying to remember to manually backup your system you are probably going to forget at the worst possible time. Your backups need to be automatic so they are there when you need it most.
  2. Off-site solution. If something happens to your house/apartment (fire, flood, theft, etc) you don’t want your backups to go with it. Preferably, you would have both an on-site and off-site solution
  3. Multiple backups. One backup solution is probably not enough because if a something happens to one of your backup solutions you want to be able to have a backup of that.

Backblaze (online service)

I recommend finding a solution that both backups automatically via the internet to an off-site storage. The solution I have been using for several years for my Mac is Backblaze. The reason I use this is five-fold:

  1. Automatic. Whenever I am connected to the internet it backs up everything on my computer plus any hard drives connected to it.
  2. Cheap. It is only 5 $/mo of 50 $/yr for peace of mind
  3. Trusted. Backblaze is created by ex-Apple developers and trusted by many of the Mac community that I follow and learn from. Plus, over the two-years that I have been using them I have had zero problems.
  4. Recovery. If something does happen to your data they can either rush you drive with all your files on it that you can just copy back to your computer. Or, if you are just looking for individual files you can recover those from either their website or their iOS app.
  5. Off-site and secure. Everything is stored securely on their hard drives off site. Safe and sound.

The initial backup will take awhile. Once it has backed up your computer then it only updates the backup when it detects changes on your system. Therefore, you are not continually making new complete backups of your system, just keeping the backup you do have up-to-date

Purchase a subscription to Backblaze here.

Time Machine

If you are using an Apple computer then you have the ability to backup via the Time Machine software that comes with your computer (how to backup via Time Machine). It does snapshot backups hourly, daily, and weekly. The advantage to this system is that you can recover previous versions of a file that you may have changed or deleted. When your hard drive fills up then it deletes the oldest files. The software runs in the background of your computer and all you need is a hard drive to backup to. Time Machine can backup to the following devices:

  • External hard drive connected to a USB, FireWire, or Thunderbolt port on your Mac
  • Time Capsule or OS X Server on your network 
  • External hard drive connected to the USB port of an AirPort Extreme (802.11ac) base station on your network  
  • AirPort Time Capsule

If you can, I recommend doubling up with the AirPort Time Capsule. This will give you 2 or 3 TB of storage plus serve as a wireless router. This also allows you to backup your computer (and anyone else you allow) whenever your Mac is connected to power and on the wifi network. Out of sight and out of mind, exactly what you want out of a backup solution.

Another option is to buy an external hard drive (cheaper option than the AirPort Time Capsule) and physically plug in the hard drive to your computer to back it up. I recommend the 2 TB WD My Book drive. The problem (well caveat) with this solution is that you have to remember to plug your computer to have it backup.

Conclusion

You can do more to backup your files but in my opinion you will probably be safe if you backup with Backblaze and use Time Machine. This will give you multiple automatic backups of all your files. The most important thing is to have a backup solution! You don’t want to be 2-months into a project to sit down at your computer and realize you have lost all your files. So, please, please, please backup your files!

Update: iMore also recently wrote a helpful article on backups here

If you have any further questions or follow please leave a comment below or contact me via email (brian@techademic.co) or on Twitter: @_techademic


  1. Recently, a friend had several research files in a shared folder in Dropbox. Somehow on of the persons on the shared folder deleted some of the files. This deleted all the files for everyone. Unfortunately, my friend (thought) he lost all his files because the changes made synced to everyones computer. If he had a backup solution listed below then he would have been able to go back a couple days in his Time Machine backup and retrieve the files. Thankfully, the story ends well and he was able to recover the files via temporary storage on his computer but this was after several hours of panic.  ↩

Brian Renshaw is pursing a Masters of Divinity at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is currently a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, North American Patristics Society, and the Society of Biblical Literature. His research interests range from the Gospels, Catholic Epistles, history of interpretation, theological interpretation of Scripture, and discourse grammar. Regarding his involvement with the Center for Ancient Christian Studies, Brian serves as Director of Digital Production and is also on the editorial staff. Currently, he attends Sojourn East with his wife, Jen Renshaw. You can follow him on Twitter @renshaw330, he blogs at his personal website.