Suggestions for backing up desktops and laptops

Research-related data on desktops and laptops

You may synchronize research-related data and settings from a desktop or laptop to your personal AFS space, as a way of making sure it gets backed up.
  • For code and other plain-text resources, checking revisions into a subversion repository can work quite well.
  • For other files, you might save files via sftp or CSAIL WebDAV, but TIG doesn't currently have a recommendation for automated backup software that saves to an arbitrary WebDAV share or sftp site.

Other data, applications, and settings

For personal data and media (images, audio, video), and applications and other state stored on your personal hard disk(s), you may wish to investigate the solutions described in the below list. TIG does not support any of these products.

(The following list is adapted from dnj's summary of suggestions posted to csail-related in March, 2011.[1] Quotes are from the original posters, not dnj.)

Online backup services, cross-platform

  • JungleDisk - app, backup to S3. S3 pricing: storage $0.14/GB/mo, transfer $0.10/GB/mo. Jungle Disk itself is $2/mo for backup, $3/mo for a network drive.
  • CrashPlan - Unlimited for $5/month for 1 machine, dropping to <$3/mo if you buy multi-year plan. Handles all Mac metadata, but not symlinks?
  • DropBox - largest account is 100GB, $20/month. "Gets almost all HFS+ metadata right." "Not as convenient for large-scale periodic backups as it expects you to place or symlink all your files into one directory."
  • SpiderOak - zero knowledge encryption. SpiderOak is $5/mo/100GB for anyone with a .edu email address, half the going rate among Dropbox,!SugarSync, etc.
  • Wuala - zero knowledge encryption. Wuala has an interesting P2P feature in which you can trade disk space on an always-connected machine for an equivalent amount of cloud storage, and thus pay nothing
  • tarsnap - command-line/scriptable online backups with strong encryption. Incremental pricing model.
  • TSM provided by MIT IS&T - "I haven't tried it, but one possibility if you want to use a service run by MIT is the one IS&T offers. I can't vouch for it, but it might be what you're looking for. It gives you 300GB for $15/month. It looks from the webpage like they have no requirement that the data you're backing up be related to your work at MIT."

Backup services, Mac OS

  • Arq - Buy Mac app for $29. S3 costs (for "reduced redundancy"). Data in at 10c/GB, storage at 10c/GB/mo. 200GB is $20/month
  • Strongspace - 200GB for $20/month; accts up to 15TB. rsync+ZFS snapshots.
  • Time Machine to local disk - Covers accidental deletion, but not all theft/damage scenarios.
    • across network? - "My understanding is that Time Machine does NOT work OK across the net unless the server at the other end implements an extra protocol that allows verified forcing of updates. The Apple Time Capsule apparently provides this extra protocol, but it may be the only server that does. Time Machine itself will object if you try to set it up to use a remote service other than Time Capsule. Hacks have been posted that bypass its objection, but it is risky to do so."

"Hiccups" (horror stories) with online backup software:

Roll your own:

  • Several posters reported duplicating data to disk drives and storing them in bank safe deposit boxes
  • rsync and unison are traditional unix tools, with various sharp edges.
  • SuperDuper and Carbon Copy Cloner can duplicate local disks for Mac OS
  • Microsoft SyncToy synchronizes files between local disks and local network locations (not AFS or WebDAV).


[1] As of December 2011, Daniel reports:
In the end, I went with CrashPlan. I paid about $400 for 48 months of unlimited backup for 6 machines. So far, I'm very happy with the service. It seems to be reliable and fast, and the UI is very good. I don't know what "unlimited" actually means, but I currently have about 400GB backed up and it hasn't been a problem yet.
Topic revision: 29 Dec 2011, GarrettWollman

MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory


  • About CSAIL
  • Research
  • News + Events
  • Resources
  • People

This site is powered by Foswiki MIT: Massachusetts Institute of Technology