After reading Scott’s personal backup post a while ago, I finally got around to revisiting my backup situation a couple of months ago.

I’ve written about my awesome Home Server before. It’s been faithfully backing up my computers for me for many, many years, and at some point I have to start worrying about what will happen when it dies. A year or so ago I bought a new disk that I’m using to share content between computers, mostly my Zune music collection that just keeps growing, thanks to the old ’10 DRM-free downloads a month’ plan.

About a month ago I got a Western Digital My Passport drive and decided to use the backup software that came with it. The drivers and software installed some updates, and a few reboots (and many hours) later, I had a happily backed up drive. Awesome stuff.

However, I found that every time I restarted my computer, the backup service program would crank up CPU usage for minutes and minutes, and would scan and re-scan files that had presumably been backed up already. This kept happening and made the computer unusable for a good while. Online searches revealed that others have also had this problem.

So instead I’m trying a mixture of TrueCrypt and SyncToy, to protected the contents and to make it easy to keep things backed up.

TrueCrypt seems pretty great so far – I’ll be donating next week if all goes well. It takes a few minutes to set things up, and the support and online docs are pretty great. It’s also open source, which never hurts.

SyncToy is an old classic. While Microsoft has been focusing more on SkyDrive integration lately, the tool works just fine. Ultimately there are two things I want to do with SyncToy: keep a backup of things I work with regularly, and archive things I no longer care about. Because there is always a time-sensitivity aspect to this, I’ve lately come to organize my folders more by time (or sub-folders of important things by time), typically by year. From an old article, I can see what my options are for subscribing.

  • Sync. Copies new and updated files in both directions. If you rename or delete a file in one folder, that action is replicated in the other. This doesn’t work for me, because I don’t want any accidental changes in my hard drive to replicate back to my working disk.
  • Echo. Copies new and updated files, and performs deletes and renames only from the left folder to the right. This is a bit better, but when I want to archive content, I don’t want my local deletion to delete the archived copy.
  • Subscribe. Copies updated files from right to left, and only if the file already exists on the left. Changes made on the left will not be replicated to the right. Almost, but not quite…
  • Contribute. Copies new and updated files on the left to the right, while ignoring deletions. Bingo!
  • Combine. Keeps multiple machines in lockstep by copying files that exist on one side but not the other. Files that are deleted or renamed on either side are not affected or replicated. Again, changes in my backup drive shouldn’t propagate back to my working machine.

Let’s see how this goes. If it seems manageable, I’ll probably get another passport for robustness, and if things grow too crazily over time, I might get another one for media content (although with the ability to buy movies that I can then stream from whenever, that starts getting less and less compelling).