How to create a backup strategy with terabytes of files

I recall my first hard drive: 60MB (that’s megabytes) for a mere $600. A bargain! Now, a 6 terabyte drive—one that stores 100,000 times more data—costs as little as $100. The problem is no longer storage, but backing up that storage so that when (not if, sadly) your drive fails, you have not lost precious trillions of bytes of images and movies.

I’ve advocated a typical strategy for years: make a nightly clone of your startup volume for ease of fast recovery; have a secured internet-hosted backup, at least for critical documents; and swap two drives on a regular basis for local backup, so you always have a store of all your older data that can’t be destroyed by fire or other disaster or stolen from your home or work. (A simpler version is often summarized as 3-2-1: three copies, two local, one offsite.)

When you start amassing terabytes of data, all of which is precious, you might feel like you’re outstripping your ability to manage it, because you’ve added drives over the years instead of increasing volume storage. With the current low cost of high-capacity drives, and you’re starting to fill their capacity, it’s a good time to swap.

Clone yourself

Ensure that you have a single drive that can make a backup each night or at least frequently that’s an exact image of your startup volume. Use SuperDuper! or Carbon Copy Cloner to schedule and handle it. Both are updated for Catalina.

Go big

Figure out your budget, because you should get two replacement drives of the same capacity, so you can rotate one off-site from time to time. For some people, that will be a 6TB USB 3.0 drive (like a Seagate Expansion model, $110); for others, as big as a 12TB drive (such as the Western Digital Easystore, $250). (Time Machine automatically manages updating a Time Machine volume with the latest files whenever it’s plugged in.)

ex2 a WD

Many network-attached storage (NAS) devices can be used with Time Machine. 

Some people might decide to switch to network-attached storage (NAS), a network-accessible device that can hold multiple high-capacity drives. It’s typically used for home networks for having a central place from which to stream video that’s been ripped or download from digital sources. If you’re ready to make that leap for network-wide video access or other reasons, some NAS models also support Time Machine backups or can be used for straightforward sync or copying with software like Econ Technolgoies’s ChronoSync. (Consult TechHive’s December 2019 update for NAS recommendations.)

Migrate your old backup sets onto the new, higher-capacity drive, if possible. You can typically copy Time Machine backups, for instance, or copy a disk image used for cloning.

Retire your old drives, but make sure and erase them securely or that they will be securely erased if you’re donating them.