Whoa, Backup!

Backups, file duplication, redundancy, security are essential dimensions of performing quality genealogy work; well honestly they are required for any type of computing.  Having said that, most people don’t bother with any of this unless, and until, they have a catastrophe, and even then only for a short while after an accident.

To my mind these functions need to be easy, seamless and nearly automagic once they are established.  All this is to say, data synchronization and backup must require very little, if any, extra effort or thought.  Extra effort or thought are almost always extra… and extra things tend to get forgotten.

Like many of you over the past few months, I have read and ‘participated’ in numerous discussions regarding “what happens to my data when I’m gone“.  Truth be told, it is worth even more to have a plan to make certain you can use your data while you’re hereAnd then, you can make certain it is available for others when you are gone.  If your data does not survive you working on it, it hardly matters what is left when you’re gone.

So let me provide a bit of food for thought on the topic. To begin, I will briefly describe my simple working computer environment:

  • in my home office, I have a slow and unreliable Qwest “high-speed” network, which really means we have a poorly performing DSL network;  the only reason we keep this network is because no one else will bring us a network of any type (sad but true)
  • my primary PC is an Asus K52F running 10.4 LTS Ubuntu Linux (yep, a geek)
  • my travel buddy is a netbook PC- an eeePC 1000HE running 10.10 Ubuntu Linux
  • I also have a nifty iPad to augment my image as super geek and cool old genealogy guy…

Given I have multiple PCs and I’m lazy, my objective is to keep the Netbook and K52F fully synchronized so that the same data is available on whichever PC (Asus) I pickup. My super cool iPad is slightly different in that it is set to access pre-selected information/data for reading and display purposes (this information, too, needs to be both current and synchronized with my other machines).  In addition to gaining information access, I want to be certain that my PCs are continually backed up and that all data is available for easy recovery, at any time. Lastly, I want my data to be 100% secure, redundant, and stored non-locally, call me paranoid.

What all of this means is that:

  • I need to store my data on a Cloud server which offers a zero-knowledge account; in my case, all my files are directly encrypted on my source PC and my password never leaves my PCs.  Sooo, I have to be certain NOT to loose either my username or password (they are my responsibility, not the responsibility of some service provider).  My service provider can access neither my files nor my passwords.
  • all of my data is encrypted using AES, RSA and SHA for security purposes- the same algorithms used for government security
  • the Cloud server needs to have its files stored redundantly and in different locations, in my case this includes storage in Switzerland, Germany and France (I live in Colorado)

Wuala, the provider I am currently using, does all these things.  Plus, it offers its services on Windows, Mac, and Linux.  Their tools can also be operated directly from any PC using a browser, without one of my PCs ever being involved. Finally, this system integrates on each of my PCs as a network drive, so I am able to open and edit my files in the application of my choice (there are one or two other providers of roughly similar services, including SpiderOak).

As a genealogist, this system also allows me to send links to files and folders to anyone. Recipients can click directly on a provided link and access designated files in their browsers.  This feature will allow me to provide better information access to my clients, a service which I am about to begin providing.

So what does this really do for me?  Here’s a small list of what I see as benefits:

  • my stuff is backed up- I am pretty certain (99.999% certain, I will always be able to get at a copy of my information)
  • each of my PCs have access to current data (anything I view is current and accurate)
  • my data is less prone to local disaster, because it is spread across the planet
  • once setup, all of this takes place with very little intervention on my part (remember I am lazy)

And perhaps most importantly, I can give my designee access to everything I own. My information is safe for use both while I am here and when I am gone. By either handing a designee my PC or by setting them up to share all or parts of my data files, images, videos, a full, or partial, suite of my materials can be securely transfered to my successors, users, and/or clients.

If you might want to learn more about the specific environment I use from Wuala please use this link.  If you sign-up for a free account, I’ll get some additional disk space added to my available allotment.