Backup? It’s so 2010, isn’t it?

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I tried, but I couldn’t quit completely. Significant reduction but still addicted – to the good feeling. That’s what the backup/archive system in the garage delivers. Peace of mind, a feeling of safety. Is it real?

The addiction has roots 40+ years back. When the PC-age started in the mid 80s the equipment was unreliable, the software was buggy, resources minimal and users – well, everyone was a novice. Murphy’s law ruled. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong – again and again. Frustration mounted but no-one knew about backup. How could they? Computers were for the few, and computer operations for the even fewer.

A decade later backup had become if not a household term, then something most PC-users were familiar with. A necessity still too often forgotten, ignored or just nonfunctional. Another 10 years and everyone had digital cameras, family albums and archives – and frequently lost everything: ‘Oh sh.. – I forgot the backup.’

It happened to everyone, even the most pedantic preachers of the backup gospel, like myself. Data, work, history, important documentation were lost and gone. The more technical we were, the more embarrassing the data losses. That’s why it’s so ingrained in our spines. No backup, no sleep.

Then came the Cloud: Cheap capacity, easily available – enabled by more bandwidth, better services, more capable clients and finally: Automatic backup for everyone. What a relief. Not so much for those of us claiming (!) to have complete control, but for the rest of the world. No more remembering to plug the phone into the computer for the daily backup. The pros are handling it, they know what they’re doing. An automatic, unattended, never-to-worry regime, even for the laptop, the tablet and the desktop.

It worked, we got complacent. I haven’t backed up my phone locally for 10 years, maybe more. And my computers are being mirrored to the cloud continuously. I know it’s working – it’s being tested every time I get a new machine or phone or tablet, which means at least once a year, maybe more. So why am I still addicted, doing backups at home?

I’m on a mailing list with some of the best (and most paranoid) security people in the world. They practice zero trust for real – ‘trust no one ever’. They never back up anything to anywhere except their own basement and some (self-controlled) mirror site (seriously!). And they continuously discuss advanced encryption mechanisms for those backups in order to make sure big brother, rocket man, Putin and Xi cannot look at their data. It’s inspiring and frightening at the same time. Inspiring as in demonstrating what’s possible, frightening as in what it takes to be 90+% secure.

I’m not paranoid, but more than average interested. Security has been part of my profession for 40 years. Nevertheless, a few years ago I was close to terminate local backups altogether. I had (and still have) backups of everything in iCloud, archives on Google Drive and sharing on Dropbox. My entire family is covered. It seemed the do-it-yourself era was definitely over, not required, useless. That said, there was no rush since everything was automated anyway, but the decision had been made.

Then it happened. I was spring-cleaning my desktop computer and accidentally deleted several directories and a couple of mailboxes, mistaking them for old garbage. It took only a couple of minutes before I discovered the bummer. And spring cleaning means ‘remove’, not moving files to the wastebin.

No problem, I had Cloud backups. But I was in a rush, I needed the stuff now, and sifting through on line backups to find exactly what I needed would take time, maybe hours. My local copies (and something called TimeMachine) saved me. Not my data, they were safe anyway, but a lot of time. Suddenly, the local backup system got a new lease on life.

Then it happened again. This time the net was down – for many hours. Technical glitch, weather, operator error, whatever – it was dead. And I needed some data that had been purged from my machine because of disuse – the ‘available-when-needed’ type. I love those. This automated regime (sometimes called ‘file streaming’) keeps my work systems (and my phone) clean, synchronized and lean. But this time I needed something it couldn’t deliver: Speed, availability. Again the local backup saved my bacon.

Shortly after that the world changed. First the pandemic, then climate related disasters at an increasing frequency, then unrest and war. And it’s deteriorating by the month. So my decision to eliminate local backups was permanently reversed. More than that – my backup system got an update: New disk drives, more capacity. 20+ terabytes that should keep us going for a while.

Here’s the point – actually two points: First, fast change is the new normal, the ability to adapt is survival. Reconsidering decisions is power, not weakness. Second, make sure you know what you really need. The Cloud backup delivers just that, backup. My local backup system delivers backup and (short term) resiliency. For a moment I forgot the latter. I got the ‘wakeup call’ in time.

Cloud backups are safe and secure as in ‘reliable service’ and ‘availability’, reasonably well protected from hacking. They will remain the mainstay of our backups and digital archives – all automated, no worries. Better in most ways than anything I can build locally with reasonable effort and cost. But they don’t beat the availability and extra convenience of a ‘local cache’ (which is tech speak for local, updated copies) to take care of situations like the ones mentioned and many more. Which is becoming more important as the world becomes increasingly unstable. My wife calls it common sense. I call it resilience. Both are correct. The peace-of-mind feeling is real, trust me.

If you need more inspiration, take a look at a recent blog post from the SANS Institute: Got Backups?

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