Project: Offbeat Offsite Backup Storage

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Google Map for demonstrative purposes only

Things have been quite good in terms of my backup strategy over the past few months.

After documenting just about everything I currently do to take backups on Github, Medium, and on several Linux websites, I thought I had things all sorted out.

My Synology DS920+ continues to run my rsync scripts every night. I have now fully migrated from S3 and Glacier over to Backblaze B2. And the SaaS cloud-to-cloud backup scene continues to evolve in promising ways with new vendors popping up on my radar every few months (I remain hopeful that in a few years’ time somebody will have developed a one-click Zapier-style SaaS cloud backup solution suitable for consumers. Until then, I have my documentation to rely on).

The Gsuite Backup Problem

Unfortunately all has not been totally rosy in Backup Land … and so the backup improvement mission marches on.

The most prescient “backup problem” I face is that I feel the need to backup my G Suite data at a regularity which the platform is not well designed to handle.

The details, which I have discussed here previously, do not bear lengthy repetition, but — remarkably — there currently exists no way to incrementally back up all of one’s Gsuite data.

Sure, there are third party tools by companies like Spanning that capture business-important aspects of Google’s cloud service offering intended for enterprise users (Drive, Contacts, and Gmail are the usual suspects). But that leaves an awful lot of a typical Google/Gsuite user’s footprint un-backed-up. Things like: Google custom Maps; YouTube videos; Maps (to name but a few).

Google does provide an end-user oriented solution called Google Takeouts. However, this is clearly not intended as a backup methodology — rather, it is a user data export tool. But even if it were, by simply exporting every part of one’s Google data in a massive dump it would clearly be a full approach. And those, from a data standpoint, are clearly inefficient.

There are a few problems here:

  • I generate new data on Google which needs to be backed up almost daily. Today alone I created several new albums in my Google Photos; added a few YouTube videos; and send and received a few email. ActiveBackup for GSuite, one of the components of Synology DSM, takes care of my email once a day — but what about the other components? Currently I’m only backing those up whenever I run a Takeout which is, by necessity, a manual process.
  • If I am going to rely on the Google Takeouts / full backup methodology this is getting progressively more difficult as the pool of data I host in Gsuite continues to grow — while, pending the arrival of fiber to my locality, my upload speed remains a constant at a dismal 3–4 Mbps.

Old Style Offsite Backups?

Through listening to the various entertaining anecdotes relayed in the Restore It All podcast I have gotten (what I think is) good insight into what people used to do to take offsite backups before things like Backblaze B2 and affordable cloud object storage came on the scene. They stored them … offsite!

In what could be considered an early (and much lighter) predecessor of the AWS Snowmobile, people periodically loaded up backup tapes in a car and proceeded to drive it to some location geographically separated from their place of business (or home, or production studio).

Anecdotally, I am aware that this methodology is still being widely employed. A friend — used to listening to me drone on about backup problems — recently confided in me that her architecture firm shipped off a backup copy to an employee’s home every weekend on a rotating basis.

The rationale for creating offsite/cloud backups is clear. Synology DSM has ample functionality for creating backups of the NAS. But the question remains where to back up. Sadly, my station in life is not lofty enough that I own multiple properties. Therefore I have toyed with a few options.

Thus, I did some thinking:

Potential Offsite Backup Storage Locations

A Car

I could keep the offsite backup in my car. This will be relatively offsite to my apartment depending on where I park for the night. The advantage here would be that I would feel relatively comfortable with having an unencrypted backup lying around.

Advantage: Access is regulated by lock and key.

Disadvantage: HDDs would be very susceptible to physical damage due to bumpiness while driving

A Random Hole in the Ground

A more imaginative approach would be to find a patch of grass (say, in a forest), dig a hole, put a hard drive into it, and then mark the geocordinates on a Google Map.

This has the appeal of feeling very much like a drop site from espionage. However its practicality is probably limited.

Advantage: Completely ridiculous.

Disadvantage: Likely to arouse massive suspicion if the storage is discovered. Potentially illegal.

A Friend’s House

Storing the hard drive in a friend’s house would be more conventional. And this is very close to what Hyper Backup achieves. The downside of this approach is that — for obvious reasons — the backup would need to be encrypted, which is a minor inconvenience. Additionally, access to this offsite location is controlled by a third party.

Advantage: Secure

Disadvantage: Access is limited. Encryption necessary.

A Burn Bag On The Roof

The final idea I’m toying with here is storing the backup on the roof of my building encased in a fireproof box. Alternatively in the basement cellar. My rationale here would be that in the event of a fire catastrophe the roof of the building might remain intact.

Advantage: Relatively easy access. Relatively secure.

Disadvantage: Minimally ‘offsite’

A Bank Safe Deposit Box

People have been using safe deposit boxes in banks and dedicated institutions for years in order to store valuables — including data. Unfortunately it’s not clear what options are currently available in my locality — and it seems that if they do they tend to be exorbitantly expensive.

Advantage: Secure. Professionally managed.

Disadvantage: Hard to find (for me). Expensive.

Action Items

To take this latest backup experiment I am going to need to buy, and do, the following:

  • Figure out how much storage I’m using on my NAS and two sufficiently sized HDDs for backing these up to (1 to store offsite, 1 to rotate with).
  • Figure out how to use Hyper Backup to back up the NAS to this drive
  • Survey my local neighborhood for any abandoned fields which may be suitable for using as offsite storage locations using the dig-and-mark-geocordinates methodology (note: in less geeky and underage days this same methodology may have been employed to tactically store cans of beer in off-the-beaten-track locations in my city)
  • Buy a fireproof bag

I will update this blog with the results of my experimentation.

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