How to backup an external hard drive?

Peat Moss

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I've just been backing up my files and folders on a stick up to now, but I'm ready to get a proper external hard drive.

My needs are simple, so I don't want nor need a NAS. I am a single home user, not on a network. I also find most cloud subscriptions too expensive.

What I would like to do is get an external hard drive, and back this up to another drive which I will store off site. I want to be able to update the off-site drive regularly (weekly/monthly). I figure I will accumulate 4TB over the next 5 years.

Questions:

1. Can I do this with by putting my external HDD in some kind of RAID configuration? Can I hot swap a disk with data on it in RAID 1, or does the disk I am swapping in have to be new and clean? If I have a 2-bay (or more) hard drive enclosure, I want to be able to switch out one of the drives for the off-site drive in order to update it. Is this possible?

2. If it's not possible, should I just have one external hard drive and copy it to my off-site drive? How do I do that?

3. So basically, I want to be able to copy what's on my external hard drive(s) to my off-site drive on a weekly/monthly basis. What's the simplest and cheapest way to accomplish this?
 

likeman

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seems like just 2-3 external USB3 HDDs is what you need (so you can rotate the backups)

and a backup software that can do it
 

Peat Moss

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If I put one HDD in a 2 bay enclosure, and then put my off-site disk in the enclosure once a week to update it, would that work?
 

drescherjm

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I also would recommend multiple USB3 externals and rotation. Although a 2 bay would work separate USB3 externals will be cheaper and likely easier to manage.
 

griffinhart

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I've just been backing up my files and folders on a stick up to now, but I'm ready to get a proper external hard drive.

My needs are simple, so I don't want nor need a NAS. I am a single home user, not on a network. I also find most cloud subscriptions too expensive.

What I would like to do is get an external hard drive, and back this up to another drive which I will store off site. I want to be able to update the off-site drive regularly (weekly/monthly). I figure I will accumulate 4TB over the next 5 years.

Questions:

1. Can I do this with by putting my external HDD in some kind of RAID configuration? Can I hot swap a disk with data on it in RAID 1, or does the disk I am swapping in have to be new and clean? If I have a 2-bay (or more) hard drive enclosure, I want to be able to switch out one of the drives for the off-site drive in order to update it. Is this possible?

2. If it's not possible, should I just have one external hard drive and copy it to my off-site drive? How do I do that?

3. So basically, I want to be able to copy what's on my external hard drive(s) to my off-site drive on a weekly/monthly basis. What's the simplest and cheapest way to accomplish this?
I personally find USB hard drives to be unreliable. I don't seem to get much better than a year out of one, and that's just leaving it in place.

If you're not wanting a NAS, that's fine, but Cloud subscriptions are still a good option. Carbonite is $72 a year for unlimited storage. a single 4TB HD is $99. IMHO, it more cost effective than buying hard drives, and far less of a hassle than manually copying data. It's also far more reliable than someone manually performing the action as this is something that's REALLY, REALLY, REALLY easy to put off over and over. $6 a month is well worth the cost.
 

Peat Moss

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I also would recommend multiple USB3 externals and rotation. Although a 2 bay would work separate USB3 externals will be cheaper and likely easier to manage.
How would buying two or more separate external HDD enclosures be cheaper than buying one?
 

Peat Moss

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I personally find USB hard drives to be unreliable. I don't seem to get much better than a year out of one, and that's just leaving it in place.

If you're not wanting a NAS, that's fine, but Cloud subscriptions are still a good option. Carbonite is $72 a year for unlimited storage. a single 4TB HD is $99. IMHO, it more cost effective than buying hard drives, and far less of a hassle than manually copying data. It's also far more reliable than someone manually performing the action as this is something that's REALLY, REALLY, REALLY easy to put off over and over. $6 a month is well worth the cost.
Thanks. I didn't realize external HDD enclosures were unreliable. First I've heard of this.

There's all kinds of backup software that will automatically perform scheduled incremental backups. So putting it off or manually doing it wouldn't be a problem.

$72. a year for cloud storage is still $720. over ten years. Also, in Canada, we have relatively low data caps so I'd have to calculate if it would be worth it. I'm also uneasy about cloud storage security (I don't want Amazon or Google to have my data), as well as internet disruptions and slow upload speeds, etc.
 

drescherjm

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Usually single disk external USB3 drives are cheaper than the same drive without the enclosure. For example 2 days ago on sale the 8TB WDC External was on sale for $130 US. You won't get a bare 8TB drive for anywhere near that price. They don't go on sale like this.
 

THRESHIN

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here's what i did in a similar scenario, my backup issues are that my desktop doubles as a home media server....with a rather extensive library these days.

as other members here educated me, a backup that is always attached to your system is not a great solution. it'll protect against a drive failure, but not against things like power surges or possibly a virus of some sort that wipes out your drives. as suggested, a regular internal drive is likely more reliable than a USB drive. i do use USB drives, but not for backup. my main storage is a bit of a Frankenstein, but i have several drives in good working order that i see no reason to toss away.

for the backup, i grabbed a HGST internal drive. when i need to run a backup, i have a USB dock for it. as my storage needs expand, i can just buy another one and continue to use the dock. only difference is i'll be buying two drives at a time instead of one. normally my backup drive is not connected and sits in the anti-static bag it arrived in.

since you asked about RAID with a USB drive, yes it is possible via software. i don't believe that there is a hardware method to do this. my running storage is actually 3 drives - 2 USB external and one internal. they're pooled together as one drive using storage spaces built right into windows 10. there is 3rd party software to do this and quite frankly it's better. storage spaces works, but it's pretty half-assed. i'm only using it because it meets my needs and i'm happy with that. it is rather limited. for example, if you were to partition a drive into two and wanted to put one of those partitions into the pool it cannot be done. full physical drive or nothing. storage spaces has other modes too such as mirrored.

this is a bare minimum solution, but as i said it meets my needs and i'm quite happy with that. only downside is i've seen the initial spinup time of my media drive(s) increase a bit since i now have to wait for all drives to sync up. it's not terrible.

in the future when one of these 3 drives decides to pack it in, i'll be removing them all and replacing with a single drive. i'll pool them again and add new drives as necessary.

interesting side note: i ran the number recently and found that using HDDs for backups is the most economical for most of us. tape is cheaper if you have massive amounts of data, but due to the high cost of the drive initially, isn't really worth the entry cost in my case. flash memory is more expensive per GB (or TB, whatever) and you'd end up with a bunch of flash drives. have fun trying to balance that. optical is just trash now. it's about twice the cost per GB as a HDD and burning discs is a pain in the ass. plus all the wasted space since you're always scrambling to fill every disc as much as possible.
 

THRESHIN

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Also, in Canada, we have relatively low data caps so I'd have to calculate if it would be worth it.
just curious where you are in canada...i'm in ontario and there are some great 3rd party alternatives. they use rogers, bell or cogeco's network but offer the service at a reduced price and usually don't have bandwidth caps. if they do, there's always the option to get unlimited. i've never had a bandwidth cap myself...i refuse to purchase a service with one on principle.
 

griffinhart

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Thanks. I didn't realize external HDD enclosures were unreliable. First I've heard of this.

There's all kinds of backup software that will automatically perform scheduled incremental backups. So putting it off or manually doing it wouldn't be a problem.

$72. a year for cloud storage is still $720. over ten years. Also, in Canada, we have relatively low data caps so I'd have to calculate if it would be worth it. I'm also uneasy about cloud storage security (I don't want Amazon or Google to have my data), as well as internet disruptions and slow upload speeds, etc.
It could be I have just been unlucky on drives, but I've gone through both WD and Seagate USB drives. In my NAS, I have also loss consumer grade drives more often than I would like. These days I stick to NAS drives like WD reds or Seagate Ironwolf drives, though I've had decent luck with WD Black drives. I don't trust WD greens at all, and the basic Seagate drives have been problematic for me as well. Still, I wouldn't trust any 5+ year old drive, especially external drives, for a backup solution. In the end, the service cost wouldn't be that much more than maintaining reliable hardware for similar lengths of time. Plus the set it and forget it nature of it is worth the expense. You also gain the advantage of file versioning and the ability to access files from anywhere.

Data caps could be an issue with online storage, if you have them. Fortunately for me, I don't have one to deal with. That said, the nice thing about services like Carbonite is that they usually allow for decent control of how fast/often stuff gets pushed up and once the initial upload is finished, it's just new stuff and changes that need to be pushed up.

Doing local backups is easy to automate, it's the off site stuff that tend to get neglected. Local automated backups are what I used USB Hard Drives for, and these are the drives that have failed me the most. 3 of them in 2 years.

It's wise to think about how secure your data is. Ultimately, Carbonite does have the ability to read your files. They are encrypted, but they keep a copy of the Key. Their disclaimers state that they do not access customer files without permission from you or a valid court order/warrant, but trusting such statements is down to the individual. I, personally, use BackBlaze B2 to store my data off-site. They let me encrypt the files and they do not have the encryption key. It's not an unlimited amount of data though, and you pay for how much you store. Since I am only storing Photo's and Documents there, I only have about 1TB of data stored there, and that has been costing me about $3.50 a month so far.

Internet outages usually don't pose a problem. If it goes out, it will simply continue where it left off before the interruption.

I honestly don't want to appear to be pushing you into a specific solution, but being a long time IT guy, I take my data protection pretty seriously. I would be devastated if I lost decades of photos and documents. As a result, I tend to suggest to folks what I would use given the known limitations. If your goal is to safeguard your data, long term, you want a solution that lets you get your data back after a malware attack, Hardware damage, fire, flood, natural disaster, etc with zero chance of forgetting to move that data off-site.
 

Dead Parrot

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Simplicity is your friend on backups. Get two backup drives - doesn't really matter if they are standalone external USB drives or 2 SATA drives and a dock. Write your backups to drive 1 then store it offsite. On your next backup cycle, write to drive 2, then transport drive 2 to offsite location and retrieve drive 1. Repeat however often you feel is necessary. Offsite location could be a bank safe deposit box or a friend's house.

Whatever solution you pick, test it on occasion. Make sure you really can restore files.

Nothing prevents you from doing two solutions. Do the physical drive, nearby offsite location for normal backups and obtain a cloud solution as a backup for the backups for those really important files.

Don't overlook the old school method of burning a DVD as an alternate backup method for those really important files. One advantage of DVD is it leaves a trail of old file versions. Could be useful if you screw up a file and don't catch it before your HDs all get overwritten.
 

Peat Moss

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Usually single disk external USB3 drives are cheaper than the same drive without the enclosure. For example 2 days ago on sale the 8TB WDC External was on sale for $130 US. You won't get a bare 8TB drive for anywhere near that price. They don't go on sale like this.
Thanks. What I like about enclosures is the ability to choose the type of disk I want to put inside it. I could choose Iron Wolfs or WD Gold Enterprise, Reds, etc. With a preloaded external drive, I am stuck with whatever disk the model happens to come with.

I agree though, the preloaded externals are generally cheaper.
 

Peat Moss

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as other members here educated me, a backup that is always attached to your system is not a great solution. it'll protect against a drive failure, but not against things like power surges or possibly a virus of some sort that wipes out your drives. as suggested, a regular internal drive is likely more reliable than a USB drive.
Well, it depends. If an external usb drive is always powered on, then yes, being attached to your PC could be a problem under certain threats. However, one can always keep it powered off except when you have a scheduled incremental backup, or when doing manual saves.


since you asked about RAID with a USB drive, yes it is possible via software. i don't believe that there is a hardware method to do this. my running storage is actually 3 drives - 2 USB external and one internal. they're pooled together as one drive using storage spaces built right into windows 10. there is 3rd party software to do this and quite frankly it's better. storage spaces works, but it's pretty half-assed. i'm only using it because it meets my needs and i'm happy with that. it is rather limited. for example, if you were to partition a drive into two and wanted to put one of those partitions into the pool it cannot be done. full physical drive or nothing. storage spaces has other modes too such as mirrored.
I was basically wondering about being able to swap a disk in and out of a 2 bay (or multi bay) external enclosure at will. i.e. swapping in and out one disk with data already on it once a week, beside another disk that's always there in the bay enclosure. Could I do this in JBOD - independent? Would the permanent disk be able to copy over to the temporary disk that I swap in and out weekly? I guess I would need to know more about how JBOD works. I have a feeling I wouldn't be able to do this in RAID 1.

Or maybe I would just have to schedule an incremental backup to both the permanent disk and the temporary disk one at a time.
 

Peat Moss

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just curious where you are in canada...i'm in ontario and there are some great 3rd party alternatives. they use rogers, bell or cogeco's network but offer the service at a reduced price and usually don't have bandwidth caps. if they do, there's always the option to get unlimited. i've never had a bandwidth cap myself...i refuse to purchase a service with one on principle.
I am in Alberta, and use a third party ISP called Internet Lightspeed. I am on an ADSL connection. My data cap per month is 325GB. My upload speed is 3.0 Mbps.
 

tedych

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I think the data cap is the least of problems. This 3Mbps upload speed is tragedy.
As others said you can use some cloud for the really important relatively small files/archives. And you upload them manually from time to time after encrypting them locally with some archiver like Winrar.
But reading all these posts and imagining how much of a hassle is to physically move/remove/store_offsite etc, and the intrinsic expenses on enclosures etc... I really think getting some hardware to play NAS is gonna be advantageous for you.
That machine could play different roles in your home. Since I installed such (not powerful) server machine in my home few years ago, it now serves as Many things, including IPTV with Kodi. Using restricted FTP account you can upload archives to it and not worrying the desktop could affect/delete/rename or corrupt the archives already uploaded. And I use a dock with standard older SATA internal drives to store backup states less frequently. So a 3-stage backup strategy. Local for the desktop to another internal drive (guarding against main drive failure) - I keep one set of backups (incrementals) here; then the server with restricted FTP (second stage), and the external drive, less frequently. All this is orchestrated via two big scripts I wrote myself just serving my requirements.
 

Peat Moss

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I think the data cap is the least of problems. This 3Mbps upload speed is tragedy.
As others said you can use some cloud for the really important relatively small files/archives. And you upload them manually from time to time after encrypting them locally with some archiver like Winrar.
But reading all these posts and imagining how much of a hassle is to physically move/remove/store_offsite etc, and the intrinsic expenses on enclosures etc... I really think getting some hardware to play NAS is gonna be advantageous for you.
That machine could play different roles in your home. Since I installed such (not powerful) server machine in my home few years ago, it now serves as Many things, including IPTV with Kodi. Using restricted FTP account you can upload archives to it and not worrying the desktop could affect/delete/rename or corrupt the archives already uploaded. And I use a dock with standard older SATA internal drives to store backup states less frequently. So a 3-stage backup strategy. Local for the desktop to another internal drive (guarding against main drive failure) - I keep one set of backups (incrementals) here; then the server with restricted FTP (second stage), and the external drive, less frequently. All this is orchestrated via two big scripts I wrote myself just serving my requirements.
Thanks.

Yeah, I just chatted with someone at iDrive.com (cloud backup), they said uploads are compressed on transmission. Still, I wonder how long a disk image (say, 400GB) would take to upload at 3 Mbps, even with compression? Days?

I would like to keep one copy of a disk image off site.....either in the cloud, or in another location on a bootable drive. (I live half a block from a place I can rent a storage mail box).

As for incremental backups, I am beginning to think cloud backup might be cheaper ultimately in the long run, compared to buying expensive hardware and occasionally replacing drive disks. But I can't afford to do both.
 

tedych

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Installing a server machine/NAS is only beneficial if you could/need use it for other things too. I started this "project" with only 2 needs I had at the time, FTP for collecting one client's backups, and virtual one machine running two small softwares I needed and still need. The it fast expanded to many other functions. My large HDDs are there.
At 3Mbps however, anything bigger than few megabytes daily would be a PITA! Telling the truth I have 200 Mbps upload to clouds such as GDrive or pCloud and still mostly I don't use them, largely because I already have my multi-functional server :) . I upload there the most critical data once in a blue moon.

400GB over 3Mbps equals about 2 full weeks :) . Using cloud storage even for backup assumes some sane minimum of upload speeds and 3Mbps I don't think fits.
 

Peat Moss

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Hmmm....Ok, it looks like it's going to be a hardware solution for my backup storage solution then.


All I want to do is have two external drives. a) one always connected to my PC, and b) another which is a copy of this drive that I rotate on and off site once a week for incremental (not full) back up.


1. Do I simply copy one external drive to the other? (and how?). Or do I backup both directly from my C\ drive on my PC?

2. Do I buy 2 external portable USB drives and rotate them? Or do I buy a 2 (or 4) bay enclosure and rotate one disk out weekly?

3. How does my off site disk get backed up incrementally? From which drive, and how?

4. Which backup software should I use that is best suited for backing up to a secondary external drive, Macrium Reflect or Acronis?
 

drescherjm

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I would use some backup software and make 2 independent backups in a rotation. Swap the backup drives every month or something like that moving the other drive offsite. Depending on your software you may be able to do incrementals after the first 2 full backups. You may have to use independent backup jobs and / or backup sets for your software to allow for this.

I don't have a recommendation on software because I use a linux opensource backup solution bacula to backup the 100TB+ I have at work to LTO7 tapes. For 11 years before this year I used it to backup the data to an LTO2 dual drive autochange but we switched to the LTO7 single drive as the cost of LTO2 tapes no longer made sense and the drives were wearing out. I would not recommend this software or a tape drive for your use case.
 

likeman

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I think the data cap is the least of problems. This 3Mbps upload speed is tragedy.
As others said you can use some cloud for the really important relatively small files/archives. And you upload them manually from time to time after encrypting them locally with some archiver like Winrar.
But reading all these posts and imagining how much of a hassle is to physically move/remove/store_offsite etc, and the intrinsic expenses on enclosures etc... I really think getting some hardware to play NAS is gonna be advantageous for you.
That machine could play different roles in your home. Since I installed such (not powerful) server machine in my home few years ago, it now serves as Many things, including IPTV with Kodi. Using restricted FTP account you can upload archives to it and not worrying the desktop could affect/delete/rename or corrupt the archives already uploaded. And I use a dock with standard older SATA internal drives to store backup states less frequently. So a 3-stage backup strategy. Local for the desktop to another internal drive (guarding against main drive failure) - I keep one set of backups (incrementals) here; then the server with restricted FTP (second stage), and the external drive, less frequently. All this is orchestrated via two big scripts I wrote myself just serving my requirements.
upload can't be any faster then 1.1mb/s (1.4mb if you take Annex M slower download but more upload if you call 400kbs more upload) or unless your on 3-4 ADSL phone lines to get that speed in bonded mode
 

Peat Moss

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I may be able to upgrade my current internet speed to 10 Mbps. Would this be enough to backup on the cloud?
 

Peat Moss

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It won't be if you have TBs of data.

Thanks, I had a feeling cloud storage would not be suitable for large amounts of data.

Which leads me back to consider using an external HDD, and to my next question...

While looking around for high quality HDDs to use for external drives, I came across the Western Digital Gold drives. These are enterprise level drives (I presume similar in quality to the Seagate Iron Wolfs). So I thought these would be best-in-class for my purposes. I called Western Digital to ask about them, and they said they don't recommend the Gold's for external HDD enclosures, only for servers. In fact, they would not even provide warranty for use in external hard drive enclosures.

I always thought a 3.5" HDD was a 3.5" HDD, and you could use any 3.5" HDD in an external enclosure? Is this not the case? If not, why not?
 

drescherjm

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I called Western Digital to ask about them, and they said they don't recommend the Gold's for external HDD enclosures, only for servers.
That may be heat related.
 

likeman

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I may be able to upgrade my current internet speed to 10 Mbps. Would this be enough to backup on the cloud?
the easiest solution for power of 3 (unless you have 3 copies of it is not a backup) is to buy 2 synology and have the second synology backing up the first one (it has included features to link 2 synology's up)

the second one does not have to be onsite, but first time backup you would be better if you left it in on site so, once you move it off site it will only backup changed/added data and limit upload to 5mb if you have 10mb upload so it does not disrupt the connection as uploading at full speed will cause disruptions in the house (it be better to really just locate the second nas in house far away)

or just have 3 external HDDs and manually rotate the backups for the other 2 disks
 

Peat Moss

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Huh? The Golds are helium sealed, which means they would run cooler, not hotter.

"Using helium rather than air between the platters helps to reduce power consumption of HDDs compared to non-helium models due to the lower drag force coefficients of helium compared to air - this allows for less friction between heads and the air "
-- Anandtech https://www.anandtech.com/show/10259/western-digital-introduces-wd-gold-hdds-for-datacenters


Also, I would be using them in an actively cooled enclosure.
 

Peat Moss

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I'm still trying to figure out why the WD rep told me the Golds were not recommended for an external enclosure. I don't see what difference it makes whether the drive is connected internally to your PC, or externally to an enclosure.
 

Zepher

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I'm still trying to figure out why the WD rep told me the Golds were not recommended for an external enclosure. I don't see what difference it makes whether the drive is connected internally to your PC, or externally to an enclosure.
If it's not actively cooled the drive will get really hot, 70+ C if it's writing/reading for over 15 minutes.

I have one of these which is similar to a gold and even though this case is actively cooled (with a really tiny fan) it still goes over 60*C when spinning at idle.
IMG_6685.JPEG
 
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