My History of Backups

Backing up one’s data is a perennial problem. I’ve been backing things up for a long time, here’s a little history.

My very first backups were actually wetware. I backed up my programs inside my brain. I was able to do this since my first “computer” was a calculator (a Casio FX180P), which only had 38 bytes of memory. So I could not help but memorize my library of software. Restoring the backups was simply a matter of tapping in the program again.

Next came the ZX81. This stored its programs on tape. Now initially I did not have a tape recorder, and the wetware solution proved inadequate, so I resorted to simply leaving the computer switched on. This meant I generally only ever used a program once, after I typed it in, and then it vanished forever a few days later. Not ideal.

Later I got a tape recorder, where the standard backup solution was to simply use a very long tape (like 90 minutes), and just record each new version of the program one after another on the tape, noting the tape counter on a piece of paper. This was a very early form of version control. At the end of the tape, you just flipped it over.

Still later the Atari ST arrived, with 3.5″ Floppy disks. Here I lived somewhat on the edge, and I don’t remember ever backing anything up. I later got a hard drive, and I never backed that up either. I don’t remember losing anything.

When I got a job, I had to take things more seriously. I would have two sets of 3.5″ floppy disks, labeled A and B, and I would alternate them daily, taking one home.

At my next job, we were required to copy our work onto a floppy at the end of the week, and then this was copied onto a PC’s hard drive, and perhaps thence to tape. It was quite mysterious.

Variants of these techniques were used for several years. Then when I was at Neversoft we initially did the floppy thing, then get a Server (with, as I recall, a 1GB hard drive), and copied things there. Then the server had a tape backup, which I think we never ever used to restore things from.

Later I got a Jazz Drive (for IOmega), which stored 1GB. I again reverted to the A-B backups, updating them every day, and taking them home with me. Occasionally CDs would be burnt.

At home, the Jazz drive worked very well for a while. But things started to fall apart with the advent of digital photography. The amount of “my stuff” was increasingly rapidly. I had to start archiving things over sets of CD.

Eventually I got married, and we got two computers, and I had the computers back up each other. This worked very well. But I also wanted something “off-site”, just in case the house burnt down. So I signed up for a company called “@Backup”, (now “”), which was an early provider of online backup. I think they had quite reasonable rates, and I also got an account for work. They eventually noticed the vast amount of data that were were being backed up daily and asked us to upgrade, so I had to sidle away. It worked fine for home, as I remember.

I later upgraded to a company with a product “Connected data protector”, now owned by Iron Mountain. They hada quite reasonable (at the time) rate of 4GB for $25 per month. Again this worked well for a while, but then I had to upgrade to 10GB. And recently it finally popped over that, and they asked me to upgrade again.
All this time, I’d not really had a satisfactory off-site backup of my photos, since I had about 60GB of them, and that would have been ridiculously expensive on most services. But then I found, which offers the insanely reasonable package of unlimited backup for $5 per month!!! Or 2GB for free!!!1111 So I signed up for the free package, which seemed to work quite well. So I canceled my “connected” account and signed up for the unlimited account.

In a fit of foolishness I though I’d just back up everything, which unfortunately turned out to be about 350GB, and nearly a million files. Mozy did not like this, and really I was just being greedy, so I pared it down to just my photos, my documents and my projects (web and code), which came to around 70GB in a mere 108200 files . It’s backing up now, but still has several days to go (see above). Still, once it’s got everything once, subsequent backups won’t take very long.

Something else I might try is FTP backups, since I have an account on GoDaddy that gives me 100GB for just $7 per month, I could pretty much have all my photos there too, just as soon as Mozy gets done.

So now I feel pretty safe. I have things backed up on multiple computers, and on an external drive. I also have Mozy, in case the house burns down. Unless the house burns down in the next eight days, then I should be fine.