How I Do Backups


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 hear about is beyond me, significantly 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 many folks complaining. I have been lucky, Time Machine backups have been working just as they always have for me, and I consider that somewhat fortunate. 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 have many 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 made on an HP ProLiant N40L in 2012. I have upgraded the four internal disks once and have almost 8TB of usable ZFS storage. I sync my home directories twice daily, but I pick and choose what I backup from my home directories; I know what is essential and what I can afford to lose. I can kick off a fresh backup whenever I want if I choose to. I use Time Machine without issue from my Apple computers, but this is mainly because this is the Apple-approved backup. I have restored Time Machine successfully on multiple occasions over the years. That being said, the sync 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 make some tool over rsync for it to be excellent, 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 utilize iCloud with our phones and the photos we take. This acts as a sort of offsite backup for our pictures 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 and 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 home on multiple computers, and the files are always current.

I have been using rsync for 20 years, FreeNAS for over ten years, and Syncthing for about four 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 buying some proprietary headache or selling out to Google. Interestingly, 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.