How I Do Backups

2020-02-16

I have read a lot of complaints about Catalina and the Time Machine backup solution built into Apple computers and the complaints are certainly warranted. How on earth testing would not catch the issues I am hearing about is beyond me, especially since Apple limits the models that can run each OS version. However, what surprised me more was that Time Machine seemed to be the primary backup solution for a lot folks complaining. I have been lucky, Time Machine backups have been working just as they always have for me and I do consider that to be somewhat lucky. That being said, I have never considered Time Machine as my primary backup, it is more of a convenience and a solution to move my account to a new Mac or restore a failed hard drive. I do have a fair amount of computers I work from running MacOS, Linux and FreeBSD. So my backup solution has to be more robust than most. But how are these people backing up photos, hopefully not with Time Machine?

The two primary technologies for my backup solution are FreeNAS and a tool I built on rsync called Rapid Redux, both have served me well. I am currently using the FreeNAS server I built on a HP ProLiant N40L in 2012. I have upgraded the four internal disks once and have almost 8TB of usable ZFS storage. I rsync my home directories twice daily, but I pick and choose what I backup from my home directories, I know what is important and what I can afford to lose. If I choose to I can kick-off a fresh backup whenever I want. I do use Time Machine without issue from my Apple computers but this is mostly because this is the Apple approved backup and I have restored from Time Machine successfully on multiple occasions over the years. That being said, the rsync to FreeNAS is the real jewel of my setup. I worked to build a lot of brains into my system but you do not need to build some tool over rsync for it to be awesome, just use rsync and your backup solution will be better than most folks.

I am not a huge fan of storing any of my files in the cloud but I understand the importance of offsite backups. Both my wife and I do utilize iCloud with our phones and the photos we take. This acts as a sort of offsite backup for our photos which are also on the FreeNAS. For documents, documentation and anything that I need to have a copy of at my disposal I utilize Syncthing, a decentralized storage solution, which I have mentioned both here and here before. Syncthing allows me to have copies of the files I choose to synchronize on all my computers as well as my work computer. For important files I rely on often, Syncthing is my offsite backup, because I always have a copy at the office and at home on multiple computers and the files are always current.

I have been using rsync for 20 years, FreeNAS for over 10 years and Syncthing for about 4 years. None of these have ever let me down. You can get so much more for your money using FreeNAS and other open source tools than you can buying some proprietary headache or selling out to Google. It is interesting that my Time Machine has been working fine, even on the computers where Catalina is installed and I have never owned a Time Capsule, I have always backed up to FreeNAS. Embrace open source, they test harder, care more and are less likely to rush their changes to meet a deadline.