Have you ever just been doin yo thang and then lost your work, or your pictures, or your music or your you-name-it? Maybe you chucked your computer out the window like this guy. Maybe your father used your iPad for a cutting board, like this lady. Or maybe were launching a breakdancing breakthrough, like this chill fellow (note the despair and panic on his face). Maybe you can save the computer and maybe you can’t (bring it to us and we can tell you if it’s possible), but I can tell you how to make sure you NEVER lose your data, even though you lose your device. Please read to learn how!

I first learned about the importance of backing up like many of you: through a painful loss of data.  All my music was on one laptop – a used Dell at the time – and the Hard Drive failed (that’s what Hard Drives do, after all). I didn’t have any other copies of that music anywhere.  HOURS of ripping CDs (that is, copying them from Compact Disk to .MP3 music format using iTunes or WinAmp or other software) were completely lost, and the CDs themselves had been stolen. Thank the Maker that digital photography was still out of reach for most people, otherwise I’d have lost a LOT more.

What Is 3-2-1 Backup?

To ensure you don’t lose your data, do this: Ensure you have at least THREE copies of your precious data; Ensure you have that data on at least TWO different kinds of media, and ensure at least ONE of those copies is in a physically different location from the others.

Three copies, two kinds of storage, one being somewhere else. That’s easier today than ever. Allow me to explain.

How To Deploy 3-2-1 Backup

We humans can tend to be lazy, no? Man, if our routine tasks aren’t automatic, we go get or even invent a tool that can do it automatically for us. The good backup solutions these days ARE automatic. Think Carbonite, Time Machine, etc.

Most of our clients use Macs – after all, we are the Mac Ranch. And on modern Macs, Time Machine automatically asks you if you want to use larger external drives as a backup disk. If you say “Yes,” it’s setup and ready. I’m a fan of Time Machine, and that’s coming from a Windows fan (when I go home form work I use Windows, not Mac). I think if you have a Mac and are not using Time Machine, you should go get a dedicated disk and start. On a Mac, it’s a very useful tool, even here in our shop, to get someone going again after a data loss – and there are many, many kinds of loss, not limited to: liquid spill, OS upgrade, accidental drop or hit, theft, fire, device failure, and worst of all: user failure.

But watch this: combine Time Machine with something like Carbonite, and you are suddenly meeting 3-2-1 backup requirements!  You have the local copy on your computer, the copy on your Time Machine disk, and the copy in the Carbonite cloud, total of 3 copies. You have them on at least two types of media (three in this case): internal storage, external storage, and cloud storage. Finally, you have one copy in a physically separate location (yes, even if you live next-door to Carbonite’s server farm, they have that data replicate to other server farms). 3-2-1 Backup complete!

Says Peter Krogh, who coined the catchy phrase: “While my focus has been primarily on digital media, the 3-2-1 principles are pretty universal. In fact, the ‘rule’ itself was simply a synopsis of the practices that I found among IT professionals as I was writing my first book. I just gave it a catchy name…. Over nearly 20 years, 3-2-1 has been a great tool…” (1)

One More Thing

I also want to specifically address Cloud Syncronization: it’s not a backup. Dropbox, iCloud, OneDrive, Box, and others: you are not a backup utility in the strict sense of speaking. Yes, your data is replicated. Yes, your data is in another location on another kind of media. “So, Matt, what’s the big deal?” you might ask, “My data is safe in Drop Box!”

Actually, your data is quite vulnerable there. You see, it synchronizes your data. Changes go *both ways*.

I recently worked with a kind gentleman who had taken some critical photos for a multi-million-dollar deal.  Through a series of troublesome events, he found himself unable to find these photos. It could cost him his livelihood if they are gone.

Let that sink in for a bit.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

I hope this point hits your heart and spurs you on to doing something about your data….

My kind customer was using Drop Box as a backup solution. His colleague had gone in and deleted these photos out of the cloud storage, and now they were wiped off his computer too.  Uh Oh.

Now, just because I was able to recover them doesn’t mean he wasn’t suffering. He was. Thankfully it had not been beyond the time period of the Drop Box trash being emptied, which is where I found all his photos. I redownloaded them, and he was saved.

The CRITICAL difference between a backup and a sync tool is that backups go in one direction. From you to the backup. Deletions are not replicated, except in a separate backup. Need that thing back that you deleted this morning? Go to yesterday’s backup and it’s still there, it’s not deleted because it’s a backup, not a synchronization.

Go Forth & Backup Your Data

I don’t care about some of my data. I care about some of it very little. Still other data I want to keep, but it’s not a big deal if I lose it. But some data… some of my data cannot be replicated. That stuff I do backup. I make sure that if I lose my devices, my data is in a cloud backup somewhere.  God forbid, if Downtown Durango went up in smoke, my data won’t be up there with it because my Time Machine backup is at home. And I encourage you too, deploy a 3-2-1 backup!

(1) https://www.veeam.com/blog/321-backup-rule.html

about the author

Matt Lee is Technical Lead at The Mac Ranch. He has been practicing technology since 2008.