Backing up and Drobo

Since we started doing sponsorship spots for Drobo on Mac Power Users, I've had several emails from listeners asking about how I backup the Drobo and how I use the Drobo as a backup device. Hopefully I can answer both questions with this post.

First, a bit about how I use my Drobo. I have a Drobo FS, which is the network-connected version of the Drobos. I like it because I plug it into my network and access my data from any machine on my network that has been granted the appropriate access. If you have a direct connected Drobo, these directions may vary slightly, but the general idea is the same. I have the Drobo Dashboard software running on my Mac mini which is always powered on and connected.  I use it primarily as a home media server. My MacBook Air is my primary machine and I like to run it lean and mean and install as little extra software as possible. 

I love my Drobo because I use it as a single pot of storage that I can throw gobs and gobs of data in. I keep my entire iTunes library in my Drobo including lots of home movies and all my video podcasts. Also on my Drobo are disc images for almost all my installers and images for software for the computers I regularly support. (See David's Magic Install Disc.) I use the Drobo as a backup location for several family computers and keep recent images of their machines as well as use it as a destination for CrashPlan backups. Lastly, it's where I archive all my files that I want to keep, but don't need on my main computer.

Backing Up Data On The Drobo

Although Drobo has data redundancy built in and will automatically rebuild itself in the event of a drive failure (or two if you have dual-drive redundancy enabled) I still make sure I have a second copy of every bit of data on my Drobo. My general philosophy in life is that if your data only exists in one place, it doesn't exist. Also, the Drobo is still a single device and thus a single point of failure. 

My first level of backup for the Drobo is off-site backup using CrashPlan. I use CrashPlan+ to backup all the files on my main computer but you also have the ability to backup files from external drives as well which I do for all the important files on my Drobo. The problem when using a Drobo FS is CrashPlan may not see the Drobo as an attached hard drive if you're just using the Drobo Dashboard software. I've found that you have to mount the Drobo manually through the operating system. To do this I use Lingon 3 on the Mac mini to mount the Drobo at startup and then re-mount it every couple of hours (just incase it drops the connection for some reason.) On the MacBook Air, I use an AppleScript to mount the Drobo via AFP that I can trigger with LaunchBar. Once mounted, CrashPlan sees the Drobo just as it would any external drive. 

The second level of backup I use with the Drobo is really the primary backup and that's simply cloning the contents of the Drobo to another hard drive. I found an inexpensive 3TB External Hard Drive on Amazon and plugged it into my Mac mini. I then use Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC), at 2:00 a.m. to automatically execute a clone operation to mirror the contents of the Drobo to a folder on the external drive. For good measure, I've also set it up to notify me via email if for any reason the copy operation fails. You could also use a utility like ChronoSync, but I've just found the new updates to CCC to be very nice and it made setting up and configuring the daily clone operation simple. 

Backing Up Data To The Drobo

As I mentioned in the introduction, because I have so much available space on the Drobo (and adding space is as easy as popping in or swapping out a hard drive) I'm now using it as a repository for backups. I have a few family members for whom backing up is a challenge. They each have minimal amounts of data (say less than 3-7 GB in total) and their data doesn't change that often. Time Machine is  easy but drives get unplugged or powered off sometimes. I can't convince them of the importance of paying $5 a month (or less) for their own off-site backup solution, but of course when something goes horribly wrong, guess whose job it is to make it right? 

CrashPlan to the rescue yet again. The free version of CrashPlan has a feature where you can "backup to a friend."  I setup the free CrashPlan application on their computer, and add them as a "friend" on my CrashPlan account. I have CrashPlan running on my Mac mini with the backup destinations set to a folder on my Drobo. (Again, CrashPlan may not initially see the Drobo as a backup designation so I have to mount it as indicated above.) I configured CrashPlan on my Mac to accept incoming backups during the weekday (when I'm likely at work) and after hours (when I'm likely asleep) so as not to create a problem with my network traffic. So far, I have a couple of Macs and even a few PCs backing up nicely to my Drobo and not bothering their owners. (Pro tip: if your family members are really not tech-savvy, when you create their CrashPlan account, use an email address that comes to you so you'll get notifications of any problems.) If/when disaster strikes, I'm going to be able to save the day yet again when I restore their photos and data.

Lastly, whenever a family member's computer is "in the shop" (aka at my house) for upgrades or troubleshooting, I make a clone disk image of the machine to my Drobo using Carbon Copy Cloner. I try to make a point to update the images every couple of months which makes a good starting point for restoring a system if necessary.  

Full disclosure: Drobo is a sponsor of Mac Power Users.