We all have that one overflowing file cabinet or possibly a closet we’ve been jamming full of files we think may be important to keep, whether because we might need them one day or they include too much personal information.
This year, with the income tax deadline extended to July 15th, I decided to try to sort through all the files I’ve put aside that I felt were important. I keep the current information I need for filing my taxes near me but the older documents I just throw in a box in my basement. With more time at home this year, I’ve realized that a lot has been “saved” over the years. Nonetheless, keeping the old records might come in handy if I need to produce them to file a claim for a tax refund, if someone steals any of my information, or if a creditor or an insurance company asks for specific records from longer than a few years ago.
After going through the process of sorting my old files and documents, I found that other people around me—family members or friends—also have a lot of important documents they want to digitize and back up, and might not know how to start. I want to help make that process a bit easier for other people and provide some peace of mind that all of your important documents stay safe and easy to access for years to come.
It’s important to note that not all of these files may be tax-related. You may be reading this post because you want to jump start documenting your family history or have old schoolwork that you want to save, and you came to this post to find a quick solution on how to save these paper documents on your computer. The information here can relate to many situations, so read on to learn more!
Since 1997, the IRS will accept electronic records as long as they are legible and readable. Having your tax documents in a digital format allows you to get more organized with the way you keep them. When scanning your documents you’ll want to pay attention to what you are naming your files and the state that they are in. Make sure the new digital files are set up in a way that when you search later, you can easily find the information you’re looking for.
Getting the Paper Documents to Your Device
When picking a way to digitize the documents it’s all about what kind of device you feel most comfortable with using. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it at all, you can hire a professional to do it for you. Read on to learn more about both of these options.
This is one of the most common methods of scanning. Whether you have a printer with a scanning function or a device only used for document scanning, this will get your documents on to your computer one scan at a time. There are many different kinds of scanners for different use cases so we recommend comparing reviews of scanners to think about the features that best fit your needs.
Using a desktop scanner will take you a while depending on the size of documents you need to scan but it is a good option for a long term project if you prefer to organize your files on your own.
Third-Party Apps for Your Phone
This option will speed up the scanning process a little more compared to using a scanner. These apps like Evernote Scannable or CamScanner will use your phone’s camera to scan printed documents, receipts, family reunion pictures, birth certificates, and more. Some may even have a function that will analyze the type of document and sort it into a folder for you. That means that all of your photo scans are saved in one folder, while scanned documents go in another. Depending on the third-party app that you chose, it could also have connections to sync services, like Dropbox or Google Drive.
Also, depending on the phone that you have, there may be first party apps available as well, like PhotoScan by Google. If you’re using an Apple device, iOS 11 includes a scanning feature built-in to the Notes app, while iOS 13 supports a scan and sync feature in the Files app.
Document Scanning Services
If you have a very large (closet size) amount of documents to save, then you may not feel comfortable doing it all by yourself. This is when a professional can help you with your project. You can send all your files to a company near you that offers document scanning services. They will work with you to digitize all your important documents and even sort them into folders (and possibly subfolders) to keep your paper documents organized and easy to find on your device. They also give you the option to shred documents you no longer need. This option will off-load the stress that may come with going through your big box of document doom.
One thing to note: These services are great for things like photos, but be aware that you will send them your personal, private, or confidential information, and that they will have access to that data.
Now Your Files Are Digital. What’s Next?
Now that you’ve had your documents digitized on to your computer or a hard drive, it’s important to make sure you protect that data from computer damage (spilled coffee can wreak havoc), viruses, and ransomware by backing up your device.
If you’re using a third-party app to scan and sync your tax documents, you’ll want to be sure you’re also backing them up. Using a sync service, like Google Drive or Dropbox, doesn’t guarantee that your data stays protected. (We go into the details of the differences between sync and backup in this post.) These things may sound very similar but the important difference is that a sync service lets you access the same files across devices, whereas a backup service saves a copy of the most recent version of your data on your computer to another location. More simply: Sync doesn’t protect your data from accidents or disasters.
If you are new to backing up your data, it’s good to make sure you have three copies of your data, the original and at least two backups: one local, on your desktop or on a hard drive, and one in the cloud. Having backups of your newly digitized data ensures that you will always have your important tax information whenever you may need it. We call this the 3-2-1 backup strategy, and you can read more about what it means, here.
It’s important to actively back up your old tax records (or any records) in case you may need to produce them one day. Digitizing and organizing your documents now will help if that situation ever occurs.
Do you have any tips on backing up paper documents that we didn’t mention above? Share them in the comments below!
For the past twelve years we’ve commissioned an annual poll conducted by The Harris Poll asking people the simple question, “How often do you backup all the data on your computer?” and published the results here on the blog. In 2009 we decided to make this an annual event and declared June to be Backup Awareness Month.
Entering this June, we’re curious to see how the changes we’ve seen in the world since the beginning of this year have affected our behavior when it comes to backing up. This year we also asked if people understood the difference between cloud backup and cloud storage—spoiler alert: many don’t. Let’s dig into the numbers!
Are We Backing Up?
There’s good news in this year’s report! Among those who own a computer the percentage who state that they “never” back up all the data on their computer continues to decrease. Even better, the number of people backing up once a year or more frequently is increasing. Even with all that good news though, there’s still work to be done. Roughly one fifth of those who own a computer (19%) say they have “never” backed up all their data. If you add that to those who back up all the data on their computer less than once a year, that number balloons to one in three (33%).
The fact that almost one in five of those who own a computer have never backed up all the data on the computer is still alarming, as they are vulnerable to losing important documents, photos, and other files. We still have work to do to reach all those people to convince them how easy and economical it is to protect their data through regular backups.
But let’s look more closely at the data:
We love seeing that “daily” and “weekly” number increasing. Those are positive trends and more proof that simple backup solutions are causing more people to take action and protect their data.
You can see that the number of people who are backing up frequently has increased substantially over the years. As the “daily,” “weekly,” “monthly,” and “yearly” categories increase, we’d expect to see the “never” category decrease, and that’s a great sign of awareness.
Here’s a detailed look at the numbers from our surveys in 2008 through 2019.
Key Takeaways and Fun with Numbers
Every year after the poll is conducted, we sift through the poll data to see what conclusions we can draw from the results. Our pollster gives us demographics about the subjects surveyed such as the region of the U.S. where they live, level of education, household income, and whether they own a computer or not (kind of important, we think, for this poll). Here’s what stood out:
Almost one in five (19%) of those who own a computer have never backed up all the data on their computer. We’re making some progress, but with almost 50% of people losing data each year, we want to get that number down much further!
10% of those who own a computer say they back up all the data on their computer once a day or more. That’s the highest daily backup percentage we’ve ever recorded.
There’s still a lot of cloud confusion out there with 41% of Americans saying they do not understand the difference between cloud backup and cloud storage. (And for even more nuance: cloud backup vs. cloud sync.) The age group with the highest rate of daily or more backup was the 35-44 year old group at 15%—a mix between Gen X and Millennials. (Who’d of thunk it?)
The Northeast region of the United States has a high rate of daily backup or more with 15% vs. 9% in the Midwest and only 8% in the West.
A few years back, seniors (65+) were the best at backing up, but now as a group they’ve slid back. 30% have never backed up their computer and only 8% back up once a day or more.
It seems the folks in the Midwest who own a computer are the most at risk to lose data, with 26% having never backed up all the data on their computer versus 18% each in the Northeast and West, and 17% in the South.
Want to back up more often? Think outside the box and have children. Those who are not parents of children under 18 are more likely than those who are to have never backed up all the data on their computer (23% vs. 12%). It would seem that backing up is necessary with children running around…
The best way to succeed at a task that’s sometimes neglected is to make it so easy that it gets done. Fortunately, computers are good at automation and backing up can be configured to happen quietly and automatically in the background.
We believe that the reason more people are successful at backing up is that they have discovered automated backup solutions such as Backblaze Personal Backup.
Backblaze Personal Backup can be installed on a Mac or PC and in less than a couple of minutes will be on the job continuously backing up your data. In many situations, the default settings are fine so there’s nothing else to do.
If more people use solutions like Backblaze Personal Backup and automate their backups, the poll results will continue to improve, but more importantly, people will be less likely to lose their valuable photos, messages, financial records, and other important files and documents.
It will be interesting to see whether the poll results next year show even more people backing up. We hope so.
How You Can Help!
One of the things we’re trying to do is educate people on the different types of cloud services and storage options available. The links above are a great way to learn the differences so that you can choose the right solution for you. Those solutions are important considering that almost 20% of people still don’t back up their computers. We need to get that number down as far as we can!
You can also help improve the results for next year’s survey. If you’re already a Backblaze customer, you can let your friends and family know that backing up is important. You can even refer them to Backblaze using our Refer a Friend feature which allows you to invite your friends to an extended free trial of Backblaze Personal Backup. It’s perfect because they get peace of mind knowing that Backblaze is backing up their computers, and you’ll get a free month of service if they sign up with us! If you’re not a Backblaze customer, consider signing up for a free trial, and help us ensure that no one ever loses data again.
• • •
Survey Method: These surveys were conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of Backblaze among U.S. adults ages 18+ who own a computer in June 1-3, 2020 (n=1,913), June 6-10, 2019 (n=1,858), June 5-7, 2018 (n=1,871), May 19-23, 2017 (n=1,954), May 13-17, 2016 (n=1,920), May 15-19, 2015 (n=2,009), June 2-4, 2014 (n=1,991), June 13–17, 2013 (n=1,952), May 31–June 4, 2012 (n=2,176), June 28–30, 2011 (n=2,209), June 3–7, 2010 (n=2,051), May 13–14, 2009 (n=2,154), and May 27–29, 2008 (n=2,723). These online surveys were not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact Backblaze.
When I first started using Google Drive I saved everything there. Class projects, presentations for work, notes from meetings, resumes, recipes, and family mailing lists. You name it—all of my files lived in my Google Drive because of how easy it was to access and share them there.
However, the longer I used Google Drive, the more I used it while juggling different accounts (school, personal, and work). So, inevitably, I lost track of where some of my favorite files were located. But then I faced a real challenge: My university announced they would soon be deleting my year’s academic Google Accounts. I realized, as I considered this change, that a lot of important files and emails were on that account that I absolutely needed.
Whether controlled by work, school, or your housemate, Google Accounts are not permanent. Depending on the type of account you have, or who controls it, you may suddenly only have limited access to the account; you might lose your passwords and not have access to the means to reset them; the domain might lapse and get picked up by someone else; or, at the extreme end, your account could be hacked.
So whether you want/need to leave your Google Account for a new service, or you just want to save a copy of all your Google data to a second source, you need to understand how one retrieves and backs up content from a cloud sync service. We’ve outlined some simple steps for you to achieve that, here.
How to Download from Google Drive
Log in to the Google Account you would like to copy your data from.
On average, people have two email accounts, so it is important to make sure you are logged in to the correct Google Account before you start this process. Once signed in, you will want to go to Google Drive itself: drive.google.com. From there, click on the top right corner of the page where your account profile image is located and a drop-down menu (like the one pictured below) will appear.
Select “Manage your Google Account” and you will be led to a new page where you will have four different options to choose from. Select the section labeled “Privacy & personalization.” This is where you will see what data, activity, and preferences your Google Account has associated with it. From here you want to select “Manage your data & personalization” which will bring you to the page where you can download your data.
Once you get to the new page, scroll down to the section labeled “Download or delete your data” and select “download your data.” This will lead you to a new website named Google Takeout. Here, you can export a copy of the content in your Google Account to keep on a local storage source. A reminder before we go forward: this is going to download your data, but it does not delete it from your Google Account.
Select the data you want to download.
On this page, you can select to download an archive of your Google Drive and also your Chrome bookmarks, transactions from various Google services, locations stored in Google Maps, Google Drive contents, and other Google-related products you may use.
When most people think about downloading the data they store in Google Drive, they’re thinking about the documents, photos, and other larger files they work with, but as Google Takeout makes clear: You have a lot more data stored with Google outside of Drive.
Here’s why you might choose to export everything: to have a copy of bookmarked websites, to have a copy of emails that may contain files you’ve lost over time, or to have a copy of important voicemails from loved ones in Google’s Voice product that you want to keep forever. Also, when you download all of your data it is a good reminder of what information Google has on you.
Decide how you would like your files to be delivered.
Once you have decided what parts of your Google data you would like to download, you will have to pick what file type you would like it sent as, the frequency you would like this action to happen (example: if you would like your data to be downloaded every six months this is where you can set that to happen), and the destination you would like your data to be sent to.
When picking a destination for where your data will be sent once you download it, you can choose from having the files emailed to you or sent to a sync service (if you use one) like Dropbox or OneDrive.
Depending on the size of your data, Google may send you multiple emails with different sizes of files. You can choose to have these files sent as a .zip file or a .tgz (tar) file. The main difference between the two options is that a .zip file compresses every file independently in the archive, but a .tgz file compresses the archive as a whole.
What to do once you have your data in your inbox.
An email will appear in a few minutes, hours, or a couple of days (depending on the size of data you are downloading), informing you that your Google data is ready to download. Once you have this email in your inbox, you have a week to download the data. Click the “download your files” button in the email and—presto—you will have a .zip file or a .tgz file (depending on what type of file you picked) on your computer with your Google data.
Backing Up Your Google Drive
You now have your data with all of your important work out of the Google cloud and on to your operating system. What’s next? Protecting your newly downloaded Google data with a good cloud backup strategy should be the next thing you do.
Make sure to have at least two backups: one local, on your desktop or on a hard drive, and one in the cloud. (The word “cloud” may be confusing since you just had your data in a sync cloud service but we’ve found a simple way to define sync vs. backup.) Having two (or three) backups of your newly downloaded data ensures that you will never lose those projects you spent hours working on.
Do you have any techniques on how you download your data from Google Drive or other Google products? Share them in the comments section below!
At the beginning of this month, I received a frantic phone call from a long time friend who teaches ninth grade English. She had just been given the news that she would have to start teaching from home. Her school district gave out Zoom accounts and external hard drives to some of the teachers in order to have them transfer their lesson plans from their school computers to the personal devices they have at home, and sent them on their way.
My friend never had to use an external hard drive before since she saved everything to the computer she used at work or on to a Google Drive account. She was nervous about using it incorrectly, breaking it, or even just finding it on her computer.
This is a reality for thousands of teachers and employees who are being asked to learn new skills at home without the aid of onsite IT help. If you’re one of many folks who are suddenly asking “what is this thing?” and “how will it be helpful to me?” and “I hope I don’t break it”—all while trying to schedule online lesson plans, big meetings, or just trying to continue your connection with your students—you’re not alone! Lots of folks are dealing with this, and we’re here to help with a guide for setting up and protecting your new hard drive.
When you first start using an external hard drive, you might be annoyed by the need to learn something new, or you may simply ignore it. But we love hard drives (obviously) and will include some information below regarding the benefits they can bring to your table: extra space on your computer for new files and applications, portability, and more!
A Guide to Setting Up Your First External Hard Drive
During this COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have found ourselves in situations where we are handed external hard drives to keep our files safe. We hope these tips will help you understand how to best utilize your external hard drive and protect your data.
While it might seem like a no brainer, the first step for setting up your hard drive is to plug it into your computer. An external hard drive typically has one or two cords, usually one for the computer which transfers the data, and another that may also go into your computer or an electric plug to power the hard drive. Small, external, portable hard drives usually need only one cable for both data and power.
Know What’s On Your External Hard Drive
Store only what’s needed. External hard drives are simple: you plug them in, they appear on your computer, and you can simply click and drag your files onto them to copy the files onto the hard drive. But it’s important to monitor what’s on your external hard drive. You can do this by periodically checking your drive to make sure your files are up to date and still needed.
To find where a connected external drive is located on your Mac, try opening Finder. You can do this either by clicking the default Finder icon at the bottom left end of your Dock, or by pressing Command + Space bar, and searching in Finder, or by pressing Shift + Command + C. Once Finder is open, you should see your drives listed either immediately or in the left-hand navigation column under “Locations.” From here, you can click on specific drives to view their contents.
For a Windows computer, you may see variations depending on the version of Windows you are using. In general, you will find your drives listed in File Explorer by clicking on Computer or This PC in the left-hand navigation bar. If you are unsure on how to open File Explorer, try looking for it in your Start Menu. You can also try clicking on your desktop and pressing Windows Key + E together. Once you have located the drives, you should be able to click on specific drives to view their contents.
Another important thing to remember when reviewing the files on your external hard drive is to delete duplicates. Occasionally we will create a copy of a project or create a final edit of a video and have multiple saved versions of the same file. Deleting the duplicates you do not need can help your drive run faster and free up space for more files. You can manually check your files for duplications or use an application that will find and delete duplicate files on your drive.
Learn How to Clean Your Drive
To keep an external hard drive clean you must clean both the hard drive itself as well as the area around the actual computer. Most important is to keep your drive and surrounding areas free of dust. Keeping the airflow in your device free of dust or other debris makes it less likely to overheat. If you’ve already run your hard drive in a dusty environment, compressed air is the best cleaning tool for remedying your situation.
To know where to blow the compressed air you should look for the fan vent, check where the USB ports are, and find other spots on the external hard drive that could collect dust over time.
Finally, it’s important to keep the area around your external hard drive uncluttered to allow for maximum airflow. Be sure to move anything around your drive that may be blocking its airflow like books, papers, etc.
While storing information in the cloud has become second nature to most, there’s still nothing like having everything saved on a physical device. A 3-2-1 backup strategy means having at least three total copies of your data, two of which are located locally but on different types of media (like an external hard drive), and at least one copy that is offsite. So, if you have your files on your computer and your hard drive (which you should store separately from your computer when not in use), you need one other copy stored separately from your house. That’s where the cloud comes in.
There are numerous cloud backup services that will service your computer and your attached drives. We’re partial to our own, of course, and, with Backblaze’s Yearly and Forever Version History features, you can back up your external hard drive easily without having to worry about plugging it in every 30 days.
Keep Your Operating System Up to Date
Your operating system (OS) is the interface of the computer that your external hard drive connects to. We have all hit “remind me later” on an update dialog from our computer at some point in our lives, but updating your OS will ensure that your computer is secure, that your system can run better, and that hard drives are able to properly connect to your files. Updating your OS can vary depending on what kind of computer you have. The best place to look for how to update your OS is in your system’s preferences.
Depending on the age of your computer, however, you should reach out to your local IT person before updating. Some older computers are not able to run, or run very poorly on newer systems.
Prepare for a Drive Failure
Don’t wait until it’s too late. The average hard drive manufacturer’s warranty is only three to five years, and budget hard drives can be even less. This number does not take into consideration physical damage, make or model, or conditions that they are stored in.
When using an external hard drive, you have to prepare for the day that it fails. There are several different ways you can monitor your external hard drive’s health. When it’s near its end, you’ll see or hear the signs like strange clicking or screeching noises, slower performance, and encountering lots of errors when trying to open folders on the drive. You can manually check the status of your drives on your computer.
For a Windows computer, you’ll use a simple command prompt that will tell your computer where to look and what to check. Just right-click the Start menu on your computer, select Run, and type “cmd” or type “cmd” into the search bar. In the Command Prompt window that opens, copy and paste “wmic diskdrive get model,status” without the quotation marks and hit enter. This command will run and it will return “Pred Fail” if your drive is not performing, or “OK” if the drive is performing well.
For a Mac computer, you can monitor the status of your external hard drive by opening Disk Utility by going to Applications and then Utilities. Next, you will click on the drive you would like to test to see how it’s performing. Once you click the drive you would like to check on in the top right corner, click on First Aid. If your drive is performing well, you’ll be able to scroll until you find where it says the volume appears to be OK. If it is not performing well, this process will automatically notify you of any problems like file corruption, an external device not working properly, or that your computer won’t start up. Disk Utility will not detect or repair all problems that a disk may have, but it can give you a general picture.
There are tools or apps you can download to monitor your external hard drive’s health on a Mac using S.M.A.R.T (Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology) diagnostics. One tool that does a good job is an app called DriveDx, which costs $20 (but you can test it out with a free trial first). DriveDx will help you continuously monitor your drive with a menu bar item that you can pull down and check the status of your drive.
Starting out with an external hard drive is exactly like starting out with any piece of technology you might own. The more you educate yourself on the ins and outs of taking care of it, the better it will run for you, hopefully. But if something bad were to happen, you should always have a backup plan (we suggest Backblaze, but you probably already know that) to protect your new piece of equipment.
Are you a hard drive expert? Are there any tips you would like to share with beginners? Be sure to share them in the comments below.
Remote work, and therefore remote IT management, have become an essential part of the global fight to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19. Thankfully, it appears that widespread social distancing is working to reduce the acceleration of new cases in a number of regions, but it’s clear that the disruption this has caused for businesses is far from over. And for those tasked with IT management during this unpredictable time, their work is more challenging than ever.
With these challenges in mind, we wanted to take a moment to offer our Backblaze Business Backup customers a quick primer to make sure they understand the full range of solutions available to them if they’re experiencing disrupted workflows due to the current pandemic. We hope they help, and if you need any additional guidance, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments, or on our help page.
We understand that deploying new IT systems during this time could be impossible in many scenarios, so this guide begins with a focus on current customers. But if you’re in need of remote backup, restore, or file-sharing services over the coming weeks and months, scroll to the end of this post to learn how seamless and incremental Backblaze Business Backup onboarding can be.
Tips for Remote Backup, Restore, and File Sharing
For those of you that already use Backblaze, here are some tips and tricks to work more efficiently while you’re remote.
Remote File Access
There’s a good chance that a number of employees undergoing mandatory work from home (WFH) arrangements have lost access to files and directories they typically work with on their office devices. With a solution like Backblaze, employees can access their work files from any location, including home. To do so, they merely need to sign in to their account at Backblaze.com, and follow these easy steps.
If for some reason the user is not able to access their account, then an administrator of a managed Group can prepare a restore on behalf of that employee directly within the admin console. The admin can then either notify the employee that their file is ready to download, or download it on the admin computer and email it to them.
Groups-Level File Sharing
Alternatively, if you know exactly what you need to push to your users, Backblaze offers the option of sharing a file directly with multiple recipients without the need to download or have users log in. This can be done directly within the admin console as we outlined here.
Physical Restores for Low-Bandwidth Users
Of course, given that your teams will likely be on a wide array of networks with varying qualities of connectivity, the quantity of data you need to share could saturate a home internet connection if downloaded.
For users in this scenario, Backblaze offers the option of shipping an encrypted restore drive with your data preloaded on it to locations anywhere in the world. Admins can log into their account, prepare the restore drive with the data needed, and ship it to their employees. If the drive is returned after the files are recovered, the price of the restore is refunded, making the process of restoring via USB drive free.
For Users in Need of Remote Backup, Restore, and File Sharing
For businesses with majority onsite teams, it’s tempting to use on-premises backup tools for individual workstations and servers, with backup drives being stored remotely to satisfy a 3-2-1 backup approach. But when teams suddenly have to work off-network for long periods of time, these solutions often no longer cut it. With team members only intermittently logging on to the VPN, or working on their personal machines at home, much of the data created during WFH periods may never hit your server or your backup drives.
If this sounds familiar, we’d urge you to consider using a cloud backup service, if only for the hopefully short duration of time that your team will be out of the office.
Remote Installation of Backblaze Business Backup in Three Steps
If you’re interested in giving it a shot, Backblaze Business Backup can be set up remotely in three easy steps:
1. Administrators email an invitation to employees.2. End users click on the link in the email to install Backblaze and they’ll be backing up in minutes.3. Once the files are backed up, employees’ data is safe regardless of an employee’s physical location, whether they are in the office, working remotely, or even offline.
It really is that easy, and once you’re set up, you can scale up or down your use of Business Backup as you need to for your current business reality. You’re not locked into any level of commitment. If you’d like to learn more, you can get started here.
Staying Together, Apart
These are hard and uncertain times for all of us to navigate, but we hope this information can help those of you out there who are tasked with managing your business’ technical infrastructure find some useful information here. As our CEO, Gleb Budman, noted in his message to customers about our response to COVID-19, it’s all about being “together, apart.”
Has been rewritten to increase the upper thresholds for inheriting a backup state. In the past, some edge-cases existed where log files were too large to be inherited, resulting in a failure. This has now been fixed.
The process has also been cleaned up to remove unnecessary older files, which should result in better performance and less system resource usage.
Fixed a bug which sometimes showed duplicate volume listings in the apps, which led to confusion.
Fixed a bug with .Bzvol which resulted in no files appearing to be selected in some cases.
Minor security enhancements and improvements to logging.
Release Version Number: Mac — 7.0.1 PC — 7.0.1
Availability: April 9th, 2020
Cost: Free for Backblaze Cloud Backup consumer and business customers and active trial users. Upgrade Methods:
Immediately when performing a “Check for Updates” (right-click on the Backblaze icon and then select “Check for Updates”).
It’s a face-off we’re asked about a lot. But from our perspective, the “versus” should really be a “plus,” as the two are complimentary.
Having the right tool for the right job is something any contractor will tell you is imperative, and the same guiding principles apply to computer usage. Sync or backup, which to use? As it happens, using both sync (Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, etc…) and backup (Backblaze Computer Backup) services for your Macs and PCs is now a computing best practice. But there’s still confusion about what these services do, and that leaves some users in a vulnerable state.
We’ve been keeping track of trends and use-cases over the last few years and these misunderstandings about how to leverage the “cloud” for personal use appear to be on the rise. One common quip that often comes up in conversation is “I don’t need a backup, I’m using Dropbox.” Our usual reply is, “Oh, what tier are you paying for?” The response is almost always “No, I just use the free tier.” Which means, while they may not need to back up the data they keep inside their syncing service, the rest of the data on their computer is completely at-risk. And odds are, if you are using the free-tier of a syncing service, you have a lot of data that’s not syncing.
Since we’re in the business of protecting people from data loss, we wanted to offer a little more information about the differences and similarities of Sync and Backup, so that you can make the best, most informed decision about how to adequately protect your data using either or both service types!
What is the Cloud? Sync and Backup
The cloud is still a term that causes a lot of confusion, both about what it is and how services utilize it. Put simply, the cloud is a set of computers that someone else is managing on the customer’s behalf. These computers (typically called servers, or in Backblaze’s case, Storage Pods) typically live in large buildings known as data centers, where they are fed a constant supply of power, are kept in environmentally controlled rooms, and are connected to each other with incredibly fast networking equipment. That networking equipment also connects these data centers to the outside world, where customers can interact with the service providers inside the data centers.
The cloud is perfect for Sync and Backup services, because they both require a lot of space (in the form of servers) to store the data that is being synced or backed up, and a lot of bandwidth (all of that networking equipment) to make sure that data flows to and from the services rapidly. But, while both types of services require similar infrastructure, they are very different in how they function. Let’s take a closer look below!
When considering sync and sharing services like Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or the slew of other options, people often assume they act as a backup solution as well. The word “cloud” only adds to this confusion, leading people to believe that all “cloud” services are doing the same thing. To help sort this out, we’ll define Sync and Backup below, as they apply to a traditional computer setup—a Mac or PC—with a bunch of apps installed and data on the hard drive.
These services sync (short for “synchronize”) folders on your computer or mobile device to folders on other machines or into the cloud, allowing users to access a file, folder, or directory across different devices. What this means is that you can access a file via a sync service on your computer at home in the morning, make changes, then head to work or a friend’s house and access the same file with all those changes that were made on the other computer. You can also share that file with another user and they can make changes from their computer, which will in turn appear on yours. In either scenario the file is always synced no matter where you access it from. It’s important to note that only the files, folders, or directories you put into the sync service are synced. The rest of the data on the computer is not.
Typically these services have tiered pricing, meaning you pay for the amount of data you store with the service, or for tiers of data that you are allowed to use. If there is data loss (let’s say you share a file with someone and they simply delete it), it may be lost forever. Sometimes these services have a version history feature, meaning you’re able to recover an earlier version of your work (before your friend or coworker deleted it). Of course, only files that are in the synced folders are available to be recovered.
In some cases, relying on a syncing service as a backup can be detrimental. A recent ZDNet article—”Ransomware Victims Thought Their Backups Were Safe, They Were Wrong“—made clear that some people, who thought they were protected by their syncing service, where shocked to discover that the ransomware encrypting their computers also encrypted all of their synced files. With a backup solution (discussed below) with longer version history, these people could’ve simply rolled back to earlier backups, from before the encryptions occurred, and been back up and running with a quick restore. Where sync services ensure that a certain set of data is the same across multiple devices, backup ensures that all or most of the data on one device is backed up elsewhere. In this case “elsewhere” is the cloud.
Backup services typically work automatically and in the background of a person’s computer, backing up new or changed data that is on your computer to another location. For the majority of backup services there is not much configuration involved and there is usually a fixed price (no tiering) for the service. In the event of a computer crash or data loss, all backed up files are available for recovery.
For the most part, backup services catalog and save the most recent version of all data, but many cloud backup services now offer features like extended version history, which helps recover files from past points in time. If you happen to accidentally delete or overwrite files without noticing it, or realize that an earlier version of a file is more useful than the currently saved version, you can recover that older work.
A Note on Backups: Before the cloud became an available and popular destination, the most common way to back up was primarily to a tape, a CD, or an external hard drive. As the cloud became more readily available and affordable, it quickly became the most popular offsite storage medium because it eliminated the need for manual backups by automating the process. Automation makes backing up much easier and more reliable.
Which Backup Service is Right For You?
Backblaze strongly believes in a 3-2-1 Backup Strategy. A 3-2-1 strategy means having at least three total copies of your data, two of which are local (or quickly accessible) but on different mediums (e.g. an external hard drive in addition to your computer’s local drive), and at least one copy offsite. A good way to think about this is a setup where you have data (files) on your computer, a copy of that data on a hard drive that resides somewhere not inside your computer (commonly on your desk), and another copy with a cloud backup provider.
What is the Difference Between Cloud Sync and Backup?
Sometimes it helps to have a real-world example, so let’s take a look at some sync setups that we see fairly frequently.
Example 1. Users have one folder on their computer that is designated for Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, or a similar sync tool. Users save or place data into that folder when they want the data to appear on other devices. Often, they are using the free tier of the syncing and sharing services and only have a few gigabytes of data uploaded in them. This is the most common example that we see and works great for people who simply want to have a little bit of data accessible across many of their devices.
Example 2. Users pay for a higher tier of Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, etc., and essentially use those services as their ‘Documents folder,’ meaning they primarily work out of that one folder. Files in that folder are available across devices, however, files outside of that folder (i.e. living on the computer’s desktop or anywhere else) are not synced or stored by those syncing and sharing services.
What both examples are missing is the backing up of any photos, movies, videos, or anything else among the rest of the data on their computer. That’s where cloud backup providers shine. They automatically back up user data with little or no setup, and no need for the dragging-and-dropping of files.
If Backblaze Computer Backup is added to this example, its application scans the hard drive(s) to find all the user’s data, regardless of where it might be stored. This means that all the user’s data is kept as a backup in the Backblaze cloud, including the data synced by sync services like Dropbox, iCloud Drive, Google Drive, or OneDrive, as long as that data resides on the computer.
Beyond just where and how your data is stored, it’s important to consider how easy it is to get your data back from all of these services. With sync and share services, retrieving a lot of data, especially if you are in a high-data tier, can be cumbersome.
Generally, the sync and share services only allow customers to download files over the internet. If you are trying to download more than a couple gigabytes of data, this process can take time and can be fraught with errors. If the process of downloading from your sync and share service will take three days, one thing to consider is having to keep the computer online the entire time or risk an error if the download were to get interrupted. One thing to be wary of with syncing and sharing services is that if you are sharing your folders or directories with others, if they add or remove files from shared directories, they will also be added or removed from your computer as well.
Cloud backup services enable you to download files over the internet too and can also suffer from long download times. At Backblaze, we never want our customers to feel like we’re holding their data hostage. That is one of the reasons why we have a lot of restore options, including our Restore Return Refund policy, which allows people to restore their data via a USB hard drive and then return that drive to us for a refund. Cloud sync providers typically do not provide this capability.
One popular data recovery use case we’ve seen when a person has a lot of data to restore is for that user to download just the files that are needed immediately, and then order a USB hard drive restore for the remaining files that are not as time sensitive. The user gets all their files back in a few days and their network is spared the download charges.
One of the most important questions for a company that’s scaling quickly is: how do you scale your culture? After the founders, initial hires are easy, but once you’re into triple digits (Backblaze just reached 145), it can be difficult to figure out how to build a community with a shared understanding of your business’s evolution.
One way that we tackle this challenge is by assigning required blog reading to many of our new hires. Along with their different logins, personnel forms, and other onboarding information, new members of the Backblaze family receive a collection of blog posts to read so they can get up to speed on the company.
As the new Publishing Associate, my orientation also featured a lot of reading, and I realized it would be helpful to share my onboarding assignment. After all, there are a lot of new readers coming to the blog these days, and I expect that they might be curious as to what makes Backblaze tick.
So go ahead and read through some, or all of these 10 blog posts, and you’ll receive the same education as every new hire at Backblaze does about what makes our company special.
Transparency is one of our most cherished values—if not the most important value of our business. So we ask anyone new to Backblaze to read this post to learn first-hand from our CEO and co-founder, Gleb Budman, about our guiding philosophy for choosing to publish our designs, statistics, and calculations.
There are always going to be positives and negatives to sharing the inner workings of our business, but for us, building credibility, trust, and awareness has only made our team more excited about transparency. And even though this approach is especially uncommon in the world of cloud storage, we plan to keep open-sourcing our designs and stats because we need the feedback on our products and services to ensure that we continually improve.
This is the second post we typically assign. Where “The Decision on Transparency” is about our values, this post is one of the best examples of our values in action.
When we were first starting out, we couldn’t afford the cost of existing cloud storage solutions at our price point, so we had to build our own multi-petabyte storage system that kept costs low. And yet, many people couldn’t believe that it was possible to provide unlimited data storage for only $5 a month. The only way we could prove our technology worked was to share it with the world. So we did. The results were incredible, but we won’t spoil the surprise.
Another Backblaze value is to be “cleverly unconventional.” And our experience during the Thailand drive shortage is a master class in unconventional thinking and doing.
A 2011 flood in Thailand, where the factories that helped produce nearly half of the world’s hard drives were located at the time, threatened the global supply chain and cut off Backblaze from affordable drive prices. In order to keep the data centers scaling at the right pace, the team came up with a plan to buy up every hard drive they could get their hands on and shuck the external cases to get to the internal drives. Thanks to the help they received from friends, family, and customers, they managed to pull it off. The rest is blog history.
To solve problems and grow as a company, we’ve learned to think creatively to access big picture solutions. And, as we move forward, we’re always thinking about how we can continue to implement our value of transparency. This post is one in a series that we share with new hires who are particularly interested in how we’ve weathered the storm of some universal startup issues. As someone who has been with Backblaze since the beginning, Gleb Budman breaks down a range of common roadblocks and gives his insight to other entrepreneurs looking for advice in this series of nine blog posts.
Curious about how Backblaze makes everything actually work? I was too! When it comes to our commitment to open-sourcing, we didn’t stop at publishing our Storage Pod design; six years later, we also released Backblaze Reed-Solomon, a Java library for erasure coding. This post is essential onboarding for our staff because, until you understand our approach to Reed-Solomon, you can’t understand how our service works. It’s not uncommon for managers to “test” new hires on their understanding of this post, which typically leads to some entertaining whiteboard sessions.
We like to share this post with new hires so they know exactly how our Storage Pod hardware and software architecture come together in the data centers. In this post, we published the final piece of the puzzle of our software architecture: the Backblaze Vaults. If you can understand “Petabytes on A Budget,” the Reed-Solomon post, and “Backblaze Vaults,” well, you might as well send in a resume because you’re ready for your interview at Backblaze!
In 2017, we celebrated the one year anniversary of the launch of Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage, but the most common questions we were still receiving was: “How can you afford to offer such reliable cloud storage at such a low price?” So we decided to craft a post about the underlying costs of running our cloud infrastructure, how our storage system keeps our costs low, and what we do to ensure we have sufficient financial and data storage buffer for unpredictable issues. If you’re interested in knowing where a dollar you give to Backblaze goes, this post will tell you in detail.
No conversation about cloud storage is complete without an argument about durability, and so this post is a must read for anyone new to our business.
Everyone wants to know, and should know, just how safe their data is with Backblaze. So to put a finer point on that knowledge, we shared that the Backblaze Vaults durability can be calculated at 11 nines, and we shared how we calculated that number. But what does 11 nines mean, and why is it important? If you’ve been thinking about how much you miss those super-complex mathematics classes in college or high school, this post is for you.
Backblaze Hard Drive Stats reports are some of the largest data sets on disk drive performance ever to be made available publicly. We also release the raw data that feeds these reports, so that anyone can take a closer look or even recreate the calculations for themselves. We ask new hires to take a look at our stats so they can see the information for themselves, but also so they can see some of the content that has helped us build such an incredible readership. Take a look at one of our most recent reports and let us know what you would do with this information!
Being “fair and good” is another central value for our company. We assign this post to new hires because it shows how we always make our business decisions with our customers’ best interests in mind, even when it’s tough.
Raising prices is never easy, but almost every business is faced with the decision at some point. Since we’ve only raised prices once in Backblaze’s history, we wanted to share the fairly entertaining story of how it happened, and why it’s proven to be a valuable lesson for our team.
Want to Know More About Us?
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Backblaze just as much as I did when I first joined the team. For everyone in our company, sharing our journey has been a fundamental aspect of our approach to improving our products and services throughout the years. Want to learn more about us and the unlimited data backup we offer? Take a look at all of our options for getting started with backing up your data.
50,000,000,000—that’s a large number. It also happens to be the milestone that we crossed (on February 5th, 2020 at 14:47 UTC) for files restored from our Computer Backup service! Back in 2016, Backblaze hit 20 Billion files restored for our customers. It took us almost 9 years to get to that number, and only another 4 years to more than double it (and that’s not even including all the Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage files that get accessed and downloaded every day).
50 Billion is a giant number, but it’s not just a number to us. It’s baby pictures, first step videos, PhD theses, long lost tax forms from years past, powerpoint presentations, digitized family albums, art projects, documents and writing, manuscripts, book outlines, and all manner of memories. We love that we’ve built a sustainable business around restoring people’s files which they may have thought were lost forever.
The last time we wrote about a restore milestone we went in and took a look at a typical month in the life of our restore system. Lets revisit that and take a look at the stats for January 2020, with a few new ones thrown in:
January 2020 Stats:
28,841 Total Restores
1,119,500,858 (1.1 Billion) Total Files Restored
2.17 Petabytes of Data Restored
3 Terabytes per hour—equivalent to a good sized external hard drive
48 Gigabytes per minute—about one 4K UHD Blu-Ray movie
810 Megabytes per second—just over one CD’s worth of data
Restores By Operating System:
49.08% were Mac
50.92% were Windows
Of all January 2020 restores:
97.82% were Zip
1.63% were USB HD
0.54% were USB Flash Drive
The Average Amount of Files Per Restore:
29,927 files – Zip
518,756.23 – USB HD
232,711.93 files – USB Flash Drive
The Average Size Of a Restore:
42.16 GB – Zip
2,081.42 GB – USB HD
131.95 GB – USB Flash Drive
Total Data Restored:
Based on ZIP restores:
Range in GB
% of Restores
1 – 10
10 – 25
25 – 50
50 – 75
75 – 100
100 – 200
200 – 300
300 – 400
400 – 500
We started Backblaze with a goal of preventing data loss, and we’re now recovering over 2 Petabytes of data per month, which is a stat that we are, to say the least, very proud of. To put that into perspective, it took us 2 ½ years to reach 2 Petabytes of customer data under management. Now we’re helping our customers restore that amount of data on a monthly basis.
We want to thank our Backblaze customers, and remind folks of how easy it is to restore data with us. You can download it for free via the web, recover your files via a USB Hard Drive or Flash Key, and use our Mobile apps to access your data on iOS and Android! To learn more, visit our restore webpage. If you want to test a restore, try this easy web guide:
Do you have a great story of Backblaze helping you recover data? We’d love to hear it and possibly highlight it in a future blog post. Just comment below with the story of how Backblaze helped you get your data back! Need an example? Here’s a great one.
The files you use every day on your Mac or PC, whether at home or at work, carry around a slew of hidden data that can be incredibly useful to you… or problematically revealing to others. For example, the image in the header reveals latitude and longitude details in an iPhone photo that you could use to organize the photo along with others taken in the same place. But anyone else can access the same data and enter it directly into Google Maps to discover exactly where that picture was taken! Not quite as useful.
But if you know what this hidden information is—and how to use it—it can be incredibly helpful in diagnosing problems with files, organizing or protecting data, and even removing information you don’t want revealed! If you don’t, it can be a huge annoyance, and potentially even dangerous.
“It” is “metadata” and it’s something everyone works with, even if they don’t know it. Whenever you move a file—through email, into or out of a sync or cloud storage service, or to another device—you’re likely altering its metadata. It’s something we work with at Backblaze every day. And because moving files into and out of computer backup and cloud storage services can affect metadata, we thought we’d take a high-level look at how this information works in common file types to help you understand how to optimize its use in your own file management.
You can follow along as we walk through several examples, then tackle some real world file mysteries with the power of metadata. At the end of the post, you will find a list of several tools for Macs, PC’s, and command line to test out and add to your own ‘metadata toolbox.’
What is file metadata?
A great way to think of file metadata is as extra information about a file, carried along with that file, that makes it easier to use and find. So it’s not the actual document or photo itself, it’s information about it—like the file’s name, thumbnail image, or creation date. This information is embedded in or associated with the file, and helps make it easier for you, your applications, and your computer to actually use those files.
Information about a File for Humans
The most obvious kind of metadata is a file’s name, extension, icon, and the timestamp of the its creation date. This simple metadata alone makes searching across an entire hard drive of files and folders as easy as typing a part of the name into the finder or search bar, sorting the results by date, then singling out the file you want by the proper thumbnail or filename.
Information about a File for Computers
A less well-known example of file metadata is meant to make working with files easier or safer for your operating system. Your files might carry notes for the operating system that they should be opened with a specific application. Or a flag might be set on a file you’ve downloaded from the internet or mail attachment warning your OS that it may not be safe to use.
Other critical information about a file is the permissions, or privilege levels, extended to users on that computer:
For example, files on UNIX-like systems, like Linux and macOS X, are marked with the name of the user account that created them (the ‘owner’), the computer account group they belong to, and the permissions for the owner and other users to open and view that file, or make changes to it.
When permissions on files are set correctly, you rarely need to think about them as a user. But if this permissions information changes, users could lose access to files, or files could be opened by users that shouldn’t have access.
Information about a File for Applications
Another category of information is human-readable, but really intended for your applications to use. Some of this information can be incredibly detailed. The best-known example of ‘application metadata’ is camera and location data embedded in images by the cameras when you take pictures, such as the camera information and the camera’s lens and shutter setting when the particular picture was taken.
All this information is read by your image editing software to enable new features. For example, in iPhoto you can search for all images taken in the same location, or find all images shot with the same camera. That means that these files are a trove of interesting information such as the camera type, shutter speed, and even GPS coordinates where the picture was taken.
Information You Won’t Want to Share
You may already know that you do not want to broadcast the location of photos you share, but even plain old documents can have information embedded in them that you’d rather keep to yourself.
In the image above, you’ll see the file metadata of an old word processing document that happily includes names and email addresses for anyone to see! It’s common for files to include information like usernames, email addresses, GPS coordinates, or server mount paths. This is the kind of information you might want to delete before making a file public.
How Metadata Changes as You Move Files from Place to Place
As your files move around—copied from user to user and system to system—all of this useful metadata is vulnerable to being changed or lost. This has implications for your workflow, especially when you inevitably need to reconcile different versions and copies of files.
Unfortunately, the operating-system-specific tags or comments you place on files are the first to be lost when they move from location to location, and system to system.
For example, if I carefully color tag a folder of images on my Mac, then send them to be reviewed by a colleague who works on a PC, all those tags are gone when I get the files back. For this reason, true workflow-specific tags are usually applied in an external system that is dedicated to managing this kind of metadata for files—like a photo manager or a digital asset manager.
File Permissions Can Change from Macs, Windows, and Linux
It’s also common for files received on one OS to come over with non-standard permissions set. For whatever reason, documents saved on a PC end up having the executable bit set when they are moved to a Mac. The files will still open, but there’s no reason for them to be marked like an application.
File Creation and Modification Dates Can Change, Too
When you create or change a file on your computer, the time is recorded as part of the file’s metadata. But what happens when the time on one computer differs from another? Most modern OS’s do a good job of syncing to special time servers, and compensating for universal time based on location, but there are still changes introduced that make sorting files by time a challenge.
Permissions and Timestamps Can Change from Network and Cloud Storage File Metadata and Cloud Servers
When files are copied to network servers, or the cloud, things can get completely changed. Depending on how the file is moved, and how the storage provider handles files, your modification dates could get completely blown away, and since the ‘old’ file you’re uploading is new to the storage system, it becomes a new file with an entirely new creation date.
Individually, these changes are annoying, but collectively they threaten to kill with a thousand cuts. As time stamps, tags, and permissions are changed, your carefully organized file hierarchy or valuable archival information could be in tatters.
A Real World Example of Changing File Metadata
To see how metadata changes, let’s follow a single file downloaded to a Mac, then a PC, then upload and download them to different cloud storage options to see what changes get introduced.
First: A Computer-to-Computer Test
In this test I downloaded a PDF from Backblaze’s website to a Mac. On the Mac, I added color tags, and even comments using the Finder’s preview pane. Next, I downloaded that same file on a Windows system, then copied it over to the Mac.
Despite appearing to be the exact same PDF file, let’s fire up a terminal window on the Mac to inspect them further and make sure.
To follow along, navigate to the folder of files you want to inspect so that it’s handy. Then open another finder window and double click on the ‘Terminal’ application, which is found in the Utilities folder inside of your Applications folder. The terminal application will launch, and you’re placed at the ‘prompt’ ready for your command.
To navigate to the folder you want to work with, type in ‘cd’ at the terminal prompt to change directory, enter a space, then drag the folder of files you want to work with into the terminal window and drop it. You’ll see that the path to the folder is automatically resolved to that folder’s location, saving you a lot of typing.
Now that I’m in the proper folder, the tool I want to use is the humble ‘ls’ command to list a folder’s files. To do so, type in “ls” and then a space, then a dash, immediately followed by “[email protected]”—this will retrieve the long form of results, and the ‘@’ flag will explicitly show extended metadata on the Mac.
As you can already see, the following changes have been introduced:
The Windows file has non-standard permissions (the PDF file is marked as executable as if it were an application, which you can tell by the asterisk marker at the end of the file name, and the permissions sets are all marked with an ‘x,’ indicating that the file is ‘executable’ or treated like an application or command instead of a document.)
The Mac’s Finder shows that the file color tag and comments that I’ve entered are missing in the Windows version.
The Mac has flagged files downloaded on the Mac for its file Quarantine, which is part of the Gatekeeper security feature on mac OS X that marks and prevents potential malware or security risks to your system. This was completely bypassed when copying it over from Windows, so no Quarantine flags were set.
Next Stop, the Cloud
Now, I’ll move these files to and from three different types of cloud storage—Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage, Google Drive, and Dropbox—and see how they change.
To move the files to Backblaze B2, I used rclone, which is an extremely popular tool to copy and sync files from any mix of storage and cloud systems. For Google Drive, I used their web interface, and for Dropbox I uploaded via the web, then retrieved the files as a compressed file.
Now, when I compare all the files side by side I can see how different all of the file metadata is.
First, all of my user-entered metadata, like tags and comments, were not picked up by cloud storage, as expected. Secondly, the Mac’s Gatekeeper security feature also promptly labeled every file downloaded with the ‘Quarantine’ flag. Backblaze B2 returned files with proper file permissions, (644 or read/write for the user, read for the group, and read for all others) and preserves the creation date of the original file.
Both GDrive and Dropbox applied new file creation and file modification timestamps—and bizarrely, the files returned by Dropbox have a “modified date” 8 hours in the future! Does Dropbox know something we don’t?
You can see how searching and sifting through all of these copies on my Mac has become tremendously complicated now.
Solving Metadata Workflow Mysteries and Challenges
Hopefully it’s clear that unless your files only live on your local system, as they move from system to system, the metadata they carry around will change.
Workflow Example 1: Using Metadata Tools to Learn About a ‘Mystery’ File
Let’s apply what we’ve learned in some common examples of how metadata is changed in files, how to inspect them, and some suggestions to correct them.
Inspecting a file’s metadata information can be helpful in diagnosing misnamed files, or files that have lost their file extension. The operating system usually blindly trusts the file extension. For example any file named with a .pdf extension will try to open it as a PDF file even if it’s really something else!
Above, I have a file from a very old backup that is missing an extension. The Mac is having trouble interpreting the way the original Windows OS file system encoded the date, so my Mac thinks the file was created December 31, 1969! (I’m pretty sure I wasn’t using MS Office in 1969.)
Without an extension, my Mac assumes this file must be a text file, and offers to open it in TextEdit, the default app for opening text files. When I double click on the file, the OS tries to open it but throws an error.
Reaching into the toolbox, I use a command-line program called exiftool, a powerful tool to reveal a file’s embedded file metadata. (Navigate to the bottom of the post to read more about exiftool and where you can learn more about how to use it). By calling the exiftool from the terminal application, and passing in the name of the file I want to inspect, all is revealed! This is, in fact, a Microsoft Word file.
Looking closer, I can even see that this isn’t the original file, it was autosaved from the original file, which has an entirely different name. Mystery solved! I can now safely add the ‘.doc’ extension to the file, and it will open properly with my word processor that can still import this version of Microsoft Word.
Workflow Example 2: Uncovering Duplicate Files
Next, let’s take this entire folder of PDF copies that I used for upload tests. After all that uploading and downloading, my single original file has 8 copies. I ‘know’ that I only need one of these, so let’s try de-duping them!
When I try to dedupe this folder using a tool like Gemini, a duplicate file finding tool, I’m presented with several choices of duplicates for me to remove. In other words, Gemini 2 was able to determine that there are duplicates, but isn’t sure which set of files it should keep.
If I select by ‘oldest’ duplicates, it leaves me with the Dropbox versions, by ‘newest’ it leaves me with the GDrive versions, etc. In this particular case, the ‘automatic’ selection tool lets me mark the GDrive and Dropbox versions as the duplicates I will delete. However, the differences in file permissions and extended attributes in Mac’s Finder are preventing these files from being de-duped any further.
I still have two files—the ‘original’ files downloaded to my Mac and PC. Gemini insists they are different files, but we know they are not, so let’s meet some new tools.
Setting Proper Permissions
I could, of course, use Mac’s Finder to reset the permissions of this single file downloaded from Windows. But what if I’m faced with having to reset permissions on thousands of files at once?
To show how you can combine several tools at once, chain the ‘find’ and the ‘chmod’ commands together to first find all documents in my current folder, then change permissions on all of them at once.
Cleaning Mac Extended Attributes
Next, I’ve decided that I want to clear all of the extended attributes that the Mac has set on these files. For this task, I’ll use Apple’s xattr tool.
Now, when I rerun Gemini 2 on this folder, I identify the last duplicate, delete it and I’m back to one file again.
File Metadata Takeaways
As we’ve seen, the metadata carried by the files you use every day changes over the life of the file as it moves from system to system, and server to server. And those changes can be problematic when it comes to the usefulness and security of your data.
You now have the power to see that information, inspect it, and—with the tools listed below—you can change it, solve the mysteries that crop up trying to mediate those changes, and clean up metadata you don’t want made widely known when you share the files.
Do you have more questions about file metadata and how it affects how you use and save your files? Let us know! Meanwhile, the tools listed below are excellent starting points to aid in further exploration.
Addendum: Tools Reference
Here is a list of tools referenced in the article, and other interesting command-line and GUI tools to move, dedupe, and rename files:
exiftool—Hands-down the most widely used metadata exploration tool, which lets you inspect and manipulate standard EXIF and other associated metadata. Latest Windows and macOS downloads are available on the exiftools.org website, via Linux package system, or on a mac with ‘brew install exiftool.’ There are many GUI ports available from the website as well.
rclone—Uses rsync style syntax to copy and sync file locations to and from the widest variety of destinations including almost every known cloud storage choice.
xattr—A macOS system tool to inspect, create, or remove file extended attributes.
ranger—An old school ‘file commander’ that includes an embedded metadata pane. Binaries available, build from source, or on a Mac install with ‘brew install ranger.’
MacPaw Gemini2—Still one of the most widely-used GUI de-dupe tools on the Mac.
fdupes—One of several available command-line de-duping tools.
A Better Finder Rename—A GUI tool to rename batches of files, and even rename according to parent folder structure and EXIF information.
rename—(or ‘brew install rename’) A truly impressive tool to rename entire batches of files with regex, or simple text replacement or addition. Be sure to use the “–dry-run” flag to test what changes it will make first!
At Backblaze, we’re exceedingly proud of our on-site, US-based Support team. These often-unsung heroes are our first responders for technical issues and customer complaints. They shoulder the majority of whatever negative feedback we receive and often take lead on reporting the most critical performance issues to our engineering staff. With a team of just 14, they quietly solve thousands of problems on a weekly basis, all while keeping things impressively fun.
So we wanted to take a moment to call attention to the amazing feats that Support achieves every day, because it feels like their superhuman efforts, and the quirky culture they’ve spawned, sometimes fly under the radar. In short, we wanted to offer a little “support” to Support.
How Support Works
Most customers that have technical issues while using Backblaze contact Support by either sending in a ticket or chatting live with a Support Technician. Support Techs are available to share their knowledge and help customers seven days a week; they’re committed to responding to tickets within 24 hours; and they will respond to chats in real-time (provided they’re received during work hours). Other than our on-call staff, the Support team is one of only two departments at Backblaze (the other being our Data Center Team) that has staff officially on the clock every day of the week.
But How Does it Really Work?
The Support team uses Zendesk, a customer service management application, to handle their workload. When a customer submits a ticket, it gets distributed to the next available Support Technician. Same with chat—as users reach out, they get routed to whoever is available for a response. What this means is that new challenges flow into each of the Tech’s queues all day long. They address the issues as they arrive and work to close out each one in turn.
The team helps customers with technical issues about anything and everything. Some questions are fairly straightforward—covering topics like storing data, ensuring that a hard drive is backed up, or backing up a new computer. Other questions, especially those related to B2, our cloud storage product, can get a bit more complex. Queries range from simple (“How do I archive disk images of my servers on B2”), to complex (“I need to set up a content delivery network and make sure that I can economically distribute this video file that I am creating”).
Ryan Kilby, a former member of the Support team who now works in one of our data centers, described how the two teams had different vibes to them. While the data center staff is more project-oriented, with a team that bands together to finish big projects, the support team constantly manages a stream of incoming inquiries, which they mostly have to deal with individually.
The queries come from customers as well as administrators from business accounts. While most of the team can answer questions related to all Backblaze products, a few of the Techs focus on specific areas like business or B2. And whenever they aren’t sure of an answer, they make good use of their shared office space to call out questions and pass off tickets to one another, depending on whatever expertise might be required.
What Makes Backblaze Support Unique
“I’m really proud of the support team,” Brian Wilson, our Co-founder and CTO, said when I interviewed him recently, “because a lot of tech support organizations are based on the idea of what I call ‘turfing the customer,’ which is when you delay and push the customer instead of truly trying to help them. Eventually, they just gives up in frustration at least 50% of the time. That becomes a support case that is ‘closed’ because the customer gave up. Our team, on the other hand, does a really good job of getting to the root cause of what’s going on and solving the problem.”
Other cloud storage companies don’t even have support for a majority of their customer base. Instead, they push off customers to user-moderated forums. But that’s not the Backblaze way. We believe in being actively present for our customers, both to help them as individuals, but also to assist the tens of thousands of other customers who won’t suffer from technical issues because support helps us stay ahead of potential issues. That’s because, aside from resolving issues for customers, the team also plays a role in deciding which bugs get fixed, and when.
When the team leads notice that something is consistently causing issues for customers, they will bring it up so that the engineers can fix the problem. From this point of view, the Support Team could be congratulated for closing ten times the number of tickets that they’re actually credited for: By flagging issues as they begin to crop up, they solve future problems before they’re even logged. (Yes, we’re essentially saying that Support has the ability to time travel.)
Last Fall, the Support team cleared an impressive milestone: 500,000 support tickets! If this is the number of problems they’ve managed, just imagine how many more they helped prevent by ensuring our team was fixing bugs and dealing with other issues as fast as possible.
What Makes Backblaze Support Really Unique
In the early days of Backblaze, Brian Wilson understood the hardships that came along with serving in support and worked to ensure that our Technicians were well taken care of. For instance, to reward them for their hard work, he bought gaming computers for the first five Technical Support Agents. That might seem like an odd perk until you understand something about a large portion of the Support team: They live for games.
The quirky culture of Support took root when the first three Technicians discovered that they all had a passion for the same video games. They enjoyed playing “Left 4 Dead”, “Starcraft”, and “Age of Empires.” One of the first members of the Support team, Yev Pusin, now our Director of Marketing, explained, “Support can be a little bit of a draining role. But the video games seemed to help.” Before gaming was introduced, the team would often just wait between tickets and chats for the next issue to come in, but games gave them a moment to reset and refresh, ensuring that they would be in a good head space for the next customer.
“They’ve done a really good job of maintaining morale,” Yev continued, describing the current support team, “but their methods have evolved in some ways. They still play video games and they still order pizza in, but the types of games that they play have changed.” Today, the employees trend toward tabletop RPGs, and especially love “Dungeons and Dragons”—though this is typically an after-hours exploit. (Yes, our support team has such a healthy culture that they elect to spend free time together, too.)
And yet, while there are favored distractions among the team members, this is an equal opportunity gaming culture. While others spend time playing board games, Annalisa Penhollow, our Senior Support Technician, loves playing “The Sims.” She explained how the game helps her cope with the emotional hardships of her job: “It’s a good distraction. It gets my mind off of whatever complaint or issue I have to deal with. It might not be for very long; it might just be like a minute or two, but even then, it helps me cool down before I deal with the next thing.”
When agents have the chance to take a breather, they respond to the next user in a calmer manner, which ultimately helps the person on the other end of a ticket or a live chat. “We have a chance to make sure that we’re in the best mindset possible to provide the best support to our customers,” Zack Miller expanded. “We aren’t just trying to get through our day, we’re not just trying to survive getting through everyone’s issues—we have a chance to be in the right mindset to actually provide help.”
In addition to the games and activities, Miller is also happy to report that the team has fostered a flexible work schedule. If employees need to be out for some reason, take time off, or just work from home, the team can work around that. That means that they can either be answering tickets from the office, their couch, or anywhere around the world.
Come Join Us!
Support jobs are difficult, but Backblaze believes that they are a critical element of our service. As a result, the company ensures that the team has what they need to provide the best service possible. Whether they need to play a game to cool down or work from home for a few days, Backblaze accommodates them. And we’re always hiring more Support Technicians. If you are interested in joining our support team at Backblaze, please feel free to send your resume to [email protected]! We look forward to hearing from you.
Otherwise, join us in simply thanking Support for all their great work. We wouldn’t be Backblaze without them.
Over the holidays, I was doing what every 20-something does with their family over break… teaching them the ins and outs of Facebook! “How do I comment on a post?” or, “Where do I share my status?” are the usual questions, but this time my uncle asked me something that I didn’t have a clear answer for: “How do I download the photos I’ve posted on Facebook?”
A little backstory: My uncle has spent every family reunion taking tons of pictures of our extended relations and then sharing everything on Facebook. As we were talking, I realized—with a little horror—that Facebook was the only place he kept copies of his photos. Forget backups, he didn’t even have the originals on his home computer. He just wanted copies saved on his personal device so that he could share the photos with the non-Facebook-using members in our family, but I wanted to ensure that our cherished history wasn’t locked up on Facebook or lost forever.
It’s increasingly common to realize that you’re missing photos that you know are only on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter. But it seems like most of us—myself included, until just recently—are unsure of how to retrieve and save these images without spending days copying each picture to our camera roll. So to help my uncle, and my family, (and hopefully you!) I went on a search for an easier answer to downloading albums from Facebook.
What I found was a very easy way to not only extract photos but also to download all of your personal data from Facebook. So whether you are doing this because you wish to leave the social media world behind but don’t want to lose your memories, or you would just like to keep a copy of everything you post, here’s a guide for how you can extract your data from Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter—and a little encouragement to ensure it’s all backed up once you’re done.
How To Download Your Facebook Data
Facebook has a tool that lets you download all your data—including those “wall” posts you made on friend’s profiles, the chat messages to old colleagues trying to reconnect, the “About You” information you wrote in the late 2000s you may have forgotten was there (or at least, that you may want to forget), and, of course, the photos.
On the Facebook site, after you’ve logged in, navigate to “Settings,” or go to Facebook.com/settings. After you’re there, click on “Your Facebook Information” in the column on the left. This is the page where you can view, download, or delete your data at any time. To download your information, click the “Download Your Information” button. This will open the following screen:
On this page, you can select the types of information you would like to download and the date ranges you want. You can also select from 24 different categories in which Facebook collects your data. This ranges from your posts, to the advertisements you’ve interacted with, to your likes/reactions, your search history, and more. This is where you can click “Photos and Videos” if you would like to extract just those files from your Facebook.
After selecting what you would like to download from your Facebook account, you will need to select the file format you would like to receive the data in. They give you the option to choose between HTML and JSON formats. HTML is the more user-friendly option for those who are not very tech-savvy as it makes your data easy to read. JSON is a little more technical, but it is helpful if you would like to take your data and move it to a different web browser.
Facebook will let you know when your copy is complete, so you can download the file to your preferred device. It’s as simple as that! My uncle had all of his wonderful photos from our family reunions within minutes. Depending on how much content you’ve posted to Facebook it might take more or less time for the file to be prepared.
Please note, this option does not remove your current photos and videos from Facebook, it will only give you a copy of the files. To delete these items you will have to return to “Settings.” Once there, go to “Your Facebook Information” again, and click on “Deactivation and Deletion” to learn more about your options.
How To Download Your Instagram Data
Although most users interact with Instagram through its mobile app, you’ll need to log into your account in a web browser to download your data. Once you are logged in on Instagram.com, navigate to your profile page (click on the little “person” icon in the upper righthand corner) and then click on the “gear” icon next to the “Edit Profile” button and select “Privacy and Security.”
Once on the privacy and security page, you should scroll down to “Data Download,” and click “Request Download.” On this page, (pictured above) you can request a copy of what you have shared on Instagram. All you need to do is enter the email you would like your data sent to, then enter your account’s password, and up to 48 hours later you will receive a file including all of your profile information, photos, videos, archived Instagram Stories (those posted after December 2017), your post captions, and direct messages.
How To Download Your Twitter Data
Comparable to the Instagram process, you will need to log in to your Twitter account on a web browser to start the process of downloading your data. After logging in, start by clicking on the “More” section in the navigation bar. From there, a new navigation bar will appear. You should select the “Settings and Privacy” tab to progress.
Under the “Account” section, you will find an area labeled “Data and Permissions.” Here, you can select “Your Twitter Data” and it will lead you to a new page where you will be able to download your data.
Twitter will ask you if you would like to request an archive of your Twitter data or Periscope data. (Periscope is a live video streaming app for Android and iOS that you can use to “go live” on Twitter.) Once you select if you would like to download your data from Twitter, Periscope, or both, then you can click the button labeled “Request Archive.” You’ll get a notification with a link when your archive is ready to be downloaded. At that time, you will receive a ZIP file from Twitter with what they believe is most relevant and useful to you. This will include your direct messages, Twitter moments, profile media, and media you used in your tweets like gifs, photos, and videos.
You’ve Downloaded Your Social Media Data—Now What?
If you are looking up how to download your photos and videos from social media sites like my uncle and I did this winter break, then you must be doing this for a reason, and that reason could be that you don’t want to lose these memories. Protecting your newly downloaded Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter data with a good backup strategy should be the next thing on your list.
Make sure to have at least two backups: One local, on your desktop or on a hard drive (it’s best to have both!), and one in the cloud. Having two (or 3) backups of your data from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter ensures that you will never lose those pictures you shared, funny tweets you created, and all the creative captions you use for your posts. For more on how to keep your newly downloaded social media data safe, read our Backblaze Computer Backup Guide.
Are there any other social media sites that we missed that you would like to know how to download your data from their site? Share them in the comments below!
“New Year, New Me”—or so we like to think around this time. When the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, it feels like a fresh start to achieve something great in the next 366 days you’ve been given (Happy Leap Year!). Whether it’s working out, eating healthy, or going on vacation more often, most everyone’s made a list and aimed to fulfill it at some point in their lives.
This year, we propose keeping your data in mind when considering any new year’s resolutions. Your data is filled with important memories from years past, treasured pictures, essential documents, and personal projects that you do not want to lose. With ransomware affecting increasing numbers of people, there are more reasons than ever before to write “protecting my data” on the top of your list for 2020.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a selection of best practices to get you started. Whether you do one of these or all, you will be taking great steps to protect your data!
Set Up Two Factor Authentication for Your Accounts
Two Factor Authentication (2FA) provides an extra layer of protection against being hacked by adding a second step to verify users. 2FA notifies you whenever someone tries to log in to your account and will not give them access until you enter the second identification code. You can choose from many different delivery options to receive the code, like an SMS text, voicemail, or using an application like Google Authenticator (we recommend the latter as it’s the most secure).
Have a 3, 2, 1 Backup Plan
A 3-2-1 backup strategy means having at least three total copies of your data, two of which are located locally but on different types of media (like an external hard drive), and at least one copy that is offsite. You can store your data offsite with Backblaze’s personal backup or B2 cloud storage options. This will protect you from accidental data loss as a result of natural disasters, malware, or plain old personal error.
Practice Restoring Your Data
We all dread it: a catastrophic drive failure or computer crash. At that moment, you are going to be stressed out and on edge. Preparing ahead of time for the disaster by practicing restores will keep you calm and confident during the crisis. Backblaze has 3 different options for when you need to restore your data: downloading a zip file, ordering a USB drive, or ordering a hard drive. You can also download individual files either at home, or on the go using Backblaze Mobile Apps. Knowing how the restore process works means that should disaster strike, you’ll be cool, calm, and collected.
Protect Your Passwords
Yes, we used the plural version of “password.” Reusing the same password for every account can cause all of them to be vulnerable. Malicious actors will take previously leaked account credentials and try them on different sites, hoping that they have been reused. And they’re often successful. You can use websites like Have I Been Pwned to keep an eye on whether your email addresses and the passwords associated with them have been compromised in the past. Going forward, we recommend using password managers like 1Password or DashLane to aid your use of multiple, different, complex passwords.
Anti-theft your device
Backblaze has a way to track your computer if it is lost or stolen. Our Locate My Computer feature has helped many of our customers out of sticky situations. By allowing users with this feature enabled to see a rough representation of where their computer was last located and the IP address associated with its last known transmission, we’ve helped them to find their beloved machines and recover them safely.
Report Any Suspicious (Phishing) Messages
We’ve all received too many spam calls, texts, and emails at this point. One of the ways we can stop them from happening is reporting unwanted and suspicious emails, texts, and voicemails to the correct sites. The Federal Trade Commission is a great resource to find where to report these attempts and prevent future incidents from happening.
These are some of the things we recommend you do this year to protect your accounts. Do you have a specific way that you protect your data? Let us know in the comments below!
2019 was a great year at Backblaze and we want to thank all of our friends, family, customers, and blog readers (why aren’t you customers yet?) for making it one to remember! If you’re worried you missed anything good or you’re just looking for some reading material over your break, we’ve got your back: read below to catch up on the good, the better, and the ridiculous here at Backblaze.
We were hard at work and thrilled to get a lot of interesting updates and features out the door this year, including:
Backblaze Version 6.0: Our “Larger Longer Faster Better” release saw the introduction of larger recovery hard drives, the ability to save backed up data directly to B2 Cloud Storage, a “keep restores longer” functionality that allowed already created restores to be archived into B2, network management and speed improvements for the Backblaze App for Mac and PC, a mobile app overhaul for iOS and Android, and the introduction of SSO with Google. Phew!
The Blog Itself: We’d been hard at work on a blog redesign through the beginning of the year, and were ready to unveil the final product in April. This post covered everything that was new (faster load times, archives, post suggestions, better tagging, etc…) and gave a nice breakdown of all the changes.
B2 Copy File APIs: One of the more requested features for B2 Cloud Storage launched in May of this year. This new API allowed people to copy files, which unlocked the ability to rename and re-organize those files inside of their B2 buckets.
EU Data Center: We launched our first data center outside of the United States, firing up an EU Region based out of Amsterdam.
Backblaze Version 7.0: Version history and beyond! One of our most anticipated releases, extended Version History allowed computer backup users to upgrade the retention period of their backups and alleviated the need to continuously plug in external drives—a pain point we heard about a lot before this release!
Behind The Scenes
Taking a page from last year’s post, we wanted to highlight some of the articles where we took a look at ourselves in the mirror and dove deep into some of the internal goings on at Backblaze:
Storage Pod Museum: One of the things we’re most proud of is our storage pods, which enable us to store your data affordably, and pass the savings on. This post looks back at all of our different designs throughout the years.
Reddit AmA: Fielding questions from strangers can be pretty nerve-wracking, but we embraced the chaos and took some questions on Reddit. We highlight some of the questions that were asked and go over how we found ourselves on reddit to begin with.
Who We Are & What We Do: A short post highlighting a video we made to help us continue hiring some of the best minds in their fields.
Raising Prices Is Hard: Not all news is good, and in this post we discuss how we approached our first-ever price increase, and why we had to put it off for over a year at the last minute.
Last year we hired 34 people, and this year we’ve outdone ourselves and hired 48! Please help us welcome: Amanda, Brad, Crystal, Shaneika, Mark, Dan, Keith, Nirmal, Malay, Toren, Robert, Zach, Allen, Vincent, Michael H., Julie, Anu, Kim, Nicole, Christine, Queenie, Alex G., Art, Lisa, Cody, Patrick, Fabian, Elton, Matthew, Gloria, Dash, Griffin, Udara, Pavi, Sutton, Jeremy, Michael F., Jordan, Robert, Madeline, Eric, Kerry, Judith, Jonathan, John, Alex Z., Angelica, Foone, and Anna!
If you want to join our team, don’t worry -- we still have a lot of openings, and more on the horizon! Keep up to date on our careers page!
Not everything has to be serious—we know how to have a good time!
No, Thank You!: We take a look at some of the nice notes that we’ve received from satisfied customers over the years.
Interview From Storage Pod Pickup Day: While the actual giveaway process turned out to be much more complicated than expected, the pickup day itself went well, and we got to meet lots of fans—one even brought us cookies!
Backing Up The Death Star: We take a look at the back up philosophies of the Jedi Counsel, Empire, and First Order and what might have been…(minor spoilers for the films leading up to Rise of Skywalker).
There’s always a ton of numbers swirling around and here’s a few that we thought were interesting!
9% -- The number of people who were backing up their files at least once a day according to our annual backup survey. In 2018, that number was 6%—we love seeing that trending upwards!
48,300,000,000+ -- The number of files that Backblaze has recovered for our customers (both Personal Backup and Business Backup) since we started counting in 2011 (we only started keeping track 3 years after launching the service).
1,038,333,133 -- The number of files that Backblaze restored in November of 2019 for our Personal and Business Backup customers. And that’s not including the amount of files that were transacted in B2 Cloud Storage. That’s purely the number of files that we’ve recovered on the back up side of our business. And that number makes us feel good!
115,151 -- Spinning hard drives in our data center (boot drives included).
2,220 -- Storage Pods in use today, using our Backblaze Vault architecture.
Looking Towards 2020
Foresight is never 2020, but we’re very excited about what we have in store for next year. 2019 was a fantastic year, and we’re looking forward to continuing our trajectory going into the next decade.
It’s come to our attention here at Backblaze that there’s a movie coming out later this week that some of you are excited about. A few of us around the office might be looking forward to it, too, and it just so happens that we have some special insight into key plot elements.
For instance, did you know that George Lucas was actually a data backup and cloud storage enthusiast? It’s true, and once you start to look, you can see it everywhere in the Star Wars storyline. If you aren’t yet aware of this deeper narrative thread, we’d encourage you to consider the following lessons to ensure you don’t suffer the same disruptions that Darth Sidious (AKA the Emperor, AKA Sheev Palpatine) and the Skywalkers have struggled with over the past 60 years of their adventures.
Because, whether you run a small business, an enterprise, the First Order, or the Rebel Alliance, your data—how you work with it, secure it, and back it up—can be the difference between galactic domination and having your precious battle station scattered into a million pieces across the cold, dark void of space.
Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen any of the movies we’ll reference below, well, you’ve got some work to do: about 22 hours and 30 minutes of movies, somewhere around 75 hours of animated and live action series, a few video games, and more novels than we can list here (don’t even start with the Canon and Legends division)… If you’d like to try, however, now is the time to close this tab.
Though we all know the old adage about “trying”…
Any good backup strategy begins with a solid approach to data security. If you have that in place, you significantly lower your chance of ever having to rely on your backups. Unfortunately, the simplest forms of security were often overlooked during the first eight installments of the Star Wars story…
“Lost a planet, Master Obi-Wan has. How embarrassing!” –Master Yoda
The history of the Jedi Council is rife with infosec issues, but possibly the most egregious is called out when Obi-Wan looks into the origins of a Kamino Saberdart. Looking for the location of the planet Kamino itself within the Jedi Archives, he finds nothing but empty space. Having evidently failed out of physics at the Jedi Academy, Master Kenobi needs Yoda to point out that, if there’s a gravity well suggesting the presence of a planet—the planet has likely been improperly deleted from the archives. And indeed that seems to have been the case.
How does the galactic peacekeeping force stand a chance against the Sith when they can’t even keep their own library safe?
Some might argue that, since the Force is required to manipulate the Jedi Archives, then Jedi training was a certain type of password protection. But there were thousands of trained Jedi in the galaxy at that time, not to mention the fact that their sworn enemies were force users. This would be like Google and Amazon corporate offices sharing the same keycards—not exactly secure! So, at their most powerful, the Jedi had weak password protection with no permissions management. And what happened to them? Well, as we now know, even the Younglings didn’t make it… That’s on the Jedi Archivists, who evidently thought they were too good for IT.
“Most unfortunate about the security breach on Jedha, Director Krennic.” —Grand Moff Tarkin
Of course, while the Jedi may have stumbled, the Empire certainly didn’t seem to learn from their mistakes. At first glance, the Imperial databank on Scarif was head-and-shoulders above the Jedi Archives. As we’ve noted before, that Shield Gate was one heck of a firewall! But Jyn Urso and Cassian Andor exploited a consistent issue in the Empire’s systems: Imperial Clearance Codes. I mean, did anyone in the galaxy not have a set of Clearance Codes on hand? It seems like every rebel ship had a few lying around. If only they had better password management, all of those contractors working on Death Star II might still be pulling in a solid paycheck.
To avoid bad actors poking around your archives or databanks, you should conduct regular reviews of your data security strategies to make sure you’re not leaving any glaring holes open for someone else to take advantage of. Regularly change passwords. Use two factor authentication. Use encryption. Here’s more on how we use encryption, and a little advice about ransomware.
But of course, we’ve seen that data security can fail, in huge ways. By our count, insufficient security management on both sides of this conflict has led to the destruction of 6 planets, the pretty brutal maiming of 2 others, a couple stars being sucked dry (which surely led to other planets’ destruction), and the obliteration of a handful of super weapons. There is a right way folks, and what we’re learning here is, they didn’t know it a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But even when your security is set up perfectly, disaster can strike. That’s why backups are an essential accompaniment to any security.
The best approach is a 3-2-1 backup strategy: For every piece of data, you have the data itself (typically on your computer), a backup copy on site (in a NAS or simply an external hard drive), and you keep one copy in the cloud. It’s the most reasonable approach for most average use cases. Lets see how the Empire managed their use case, when the stakes (the fate of much of existence) couldn’t have been higher:
“I will take the designs with me to Coruscant. They will be much safer there with my master.”—Count Dooku
We first see the plans for the “super weapon based on Geonosian designs” when Count Dooku, before departing Geonosis, decides that they would be safer housed on Coruscant with Darth Sidious. How wrong he was! He was thinking about securing his files, but it seems he stumbled en route to actually doing so.
By the time Jynn Erso learns of the “Stardust” version of the plans for the Death Star, it seems that Scarif is the only place in the Galaxy, other than on the Death Star itself, presumably, that a person could find a copy of the plans… Seriously? Technically, the copy on Scarif functioned as the Empire’s “copy in the cloud,” but it’s not like the Death Star had an external hard drive trailing it through space with another copy of the plans.
If you only have one backup, it’s better than nothing—but not by much. When your use case involves even a remote chance that Grand Moff Tarkin might use your data center for target practice, you probably need to be extra careful about redundancy in your approach. If the Rebel Alliance, or just extremely competitive corporate leaders, are a potential threat to your business, definitely ensure that you follow 3-2-1, but also consider a multi-cloud approach with backups distributed in different geographic regions. (For the Empire, we’d recommend different planets…)
There’s being backed up, and then there’s being sure you have the right thing backed up. One thing we learn from the plans used to defeat the first Death Star is that the Empire didn’t manage version control very well. Take a close look at the Death Star schematic that Jyn and Cassian absconded with. Notice anything…off?
Yeah, that’s right. The focus lens for the superlaser is equatorial. Now, everyone knows that the Death Star’s superlaser is actually on the northern hemisphere. Which goes to show you that this backup was not even up to date! A good backup solution will run on a daily basis, or even more frequently depending on use cases. It’s clear that whatever backup strategy the Death Star team had, it had gone awry some time ago.
“The rebels managed to destroy the first Death Star. By rebuilding the Death Star, and using it as many times as necessary to restore order, we prove that their luck only goes so far. We prove that we are the only galactic authority and always will be.”―Lieutenant Nash Windrider
We can only imagine that the architects who were tasked with quickly recreating the Death Star immediately contacted the Records Department to obtain the most recent version of the original plans. Imagine their surprise when they learned that Tarkin had destroyed the databank and they needed to work from memory. Given the Empire’s legendarily bad personnel management strategies—force-choking is a rough approach to motivation, after all—it’s easy to assume that there were corners cut to get the job done on the Emperor’s schedule.
Of course, it’s not always the case that the most recent version of a file will be the most useful. This is where Version History comes into the picture. Version History allows users to maintain multiple versions of a file over extended periods of time (including forever). If the design team from the Empire had set up Version History before bringing Galen Erso back on board, they could have reverted to the pre-final plans that didn’t have a “Insert Proton Torpedo Here To Destroy” sign on them.
To their credit, the Death Star II designers did avoid the two-meter-wide thermal exhaust port exploited by Luke Skywalker at the Battle of Yavin. Instead, they incorporated millions of millimeter-sized heat-dispersion tubes. Great idea! And yet, someone seemed to think it was okay to incorporate Millenium Falcon-sized access tunnels to their shockingly fragile reactor core? This shocking oversight seems to be either a sign of an architectural team clearly stressed by the lack of reliable planning materials, or possibly it was their quiet protest at the number of their coworkers who Darth Vader tossed around during one of his emotional outbursts.
Cloud Storage Among the Power (Force) Users
At this point it is more than clear that the rank-and-file of pretty much every major power during this era of galactic strife was terrible at data security and backup. What about the authorities, though? How do they rank? And how does their approach to backup potentially affect what we’ll learn about the future of the Galaxy in the concluding chapter of the Star Wars saga, “The Rise of Skywalker”?
There are plenty of moderately talented Jedi out there, but only a few with the kind of power marshaled by Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Luke. Just so, there are some of us for whom computer backup is about the deepest we’ll ever dive into the technology that Backblaze offers. For the more ambitious, however, there’s B2 Cloud Storage. Bear with us here, but, is it possible that these Master Jedis could be similar to the sysadmins and developers who so masterfully manipulate B2 to create archives, backup, compute projects, and more, in the cloud? Have the Master Jedis manipulated the force in a similar way to use it as a sort of cloud storage for their consciousness?
“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”—Obi-Wan Kenobi
Over many years, we’ve watched as force ghosts accumulate on the sidelines: First Obi-Wan, then Yoda, Anakin Skywalker, and, presumably, Luke Skywalker himself at the end of “The Last Jedi.” (Even Qui-Gon Jinn evidently figured it out after some post-mortem education.) If our base level theory that Star Wars is actually an extended metaphor for the importance of a good backup strategy, then who better to redeem the atrocious backup track record so far than the strongest Jedi the galaxy has ever known? In backing themselves up to the cloud, does “Team Force Ghost” actually present a viable recovery strategy from Darth Sidious’ unbalancing of the force? If so, we could be witnessing one of the greatest arguments for cloud storage and computing ever imagined!
“Long have I waited…”—Darth Sidious
Of course, there’s a flip-side to this argument. If our favorite Jedi Masters were expert practitioners of cloud storage solutions, then how the heck did someone as evil as Darth Sidious find himself alive after falling to his death in the second Death Star’s reactor core? Well, there is precedent for Sith Masters’ improbable survival after falling down lengthy access shafts. Darth Maul survived being tossed down a well and being cut in half by Obi-Wan when Darth Vader was just a glimmer in Anakin Skywalker’s eye. But that was clearly a case of conveniently cauterized wounds and some amazing triage work. No, given the Imperial Fleet’s response to Darth Sidious’ death, the man was not alive at the end of the Battle of Endor by any conventional definition.
One thing we do know, thanks to Qui-Gon’s conversations with Yoda after his death, is that Dark Siders can’t become force ghosts. In short, to make the transition, one has to give in to the will of the Force—something that practitioners of the Dark Side just can’t abide.
Most theories point to the idea that the Sith can bind themselves to objects or even people during death as a means of lingering among the living. And of course there is the scene in “Revenge of the Sith” wherein Darth Sidious (disguised as Sheev Palpatine) explains how Darth Plagueis the Wise learned to cheat death. How, exactly, this was achieved is unclear, but it’s possible that his method was similar to other Sith. This is why, many speculate, we see our intrepid heroes gathering at the wreckage of the second Death Star: Because Darth Sidious’ body is tied, somehow, to the wreckage. Classic! Leave it up to old Sidious to count on a simple physical backup, in the belief that he can’t trust the cloud…
You Are One With The Force, And The Force Is With You
Are we certain how the final battle of the Star Wars story will shape up? Will Light Side force wielders using Cloud Storage to restore their former power, aid Rey and the rest of our intrepid heroes, and defeat the Sith, who have foolishly relied on on-prem storage? No, we’re not, but from our perspective it seems likely that, when the torch was passed, George Lucas sat J.J. Abrams down and said, “J.J., let me tell you what Star Wars is really all about… data storage.”
We are certain, however, that data security and backup doesn’t need to be a battle. Develop a strategy that works for you, make sure your data is safe and sound, and check it once in awhile to make sure it’s up to date and complete. That way, just like the Force, your data will be with you, always.
We’re updating our iOS and Android apps! Starting today, B2 users will be able to access data stored in B2 Cloud Storage through Backblaze Mobile. For years, our mobile apps have allowed our personal users to access all of their backed up data on the go. With version 5.0, we’re now enabling the same access for B2 users to do the same!
What’s New in Backblaze Mobile 5.0
B2 Cloud Storage support has been added. If you have B2 enabled on your Backblaze account, you can now access your B2 buckets, browse files inside the buckets, and download them to your mobile device. Once downloaded, you can view, work with, and share them like you would any other file on your mobile device or tablet.
Whether it’s a video that you want to show off, or a large presentation—you can now download it to your device without worrying about most file sizes. The only things to keep in mind are the available space on your device and your mobile data charges if you’re not on a WiFi connection! The file size limits have been bumped up to 5GB for your Personal Backup data, and uncapped if you are downloading B2 Cloud Storage files.
We’ve improved the apps, making them more performant and efficient—whether you’re using a brand new phone or a hand-me-down. We’ve also updated the apps to provide a better experience on tablets and larger devices—including updating the preview screen to make things even easier.
To get the latest and greatest Backblaze Mobile experience, update your apps or download them from your local app stores today on Google Play or the App Store.
Everything that makes working at a creative agency exciting also makes it challenging. With each new client, creative teams are working on something different. One day they’re on site, shooting a video for a local business, the next they’re sifting through last year’s concert footage for highlights to promote this year’s event. When their juices are flowing, it’s as easy for them to lose track of the files they need as it is for them to lose track of time.
If you’re tasked with making sure a team’s content is protected every day, as well as ensuring that it’s organized and saved for the future, we have some tips to make your job easier. Because we know you’d rather be working on your own projects, not babysitting backups or fetching years-old content from a dusty archive closet.
Since we’re sure you’re not making obvious mistakes—like expecting creatives to manually archive their own content, or not having a 3-2-1 backup strategy—we’ll focus on the not-so-obvious tips. Many of these come straight from our own creative agency customers who learned the hard way, before they rolled out a cloud-based backup and archive solution.
Tip #1—Save everything when a client’s project is completed
For successful creative agencies, there’s no such thing as “former” clients, only clients that you haven’t worked with lately. That means your job managing client data isn’t over when the project is delivered. You need to properly archive everything: not just the finished videos, images or layouts, but all the individual assets created for the project and all the raw footage.
It’s not unusual for clients to request raw footage, even years after the project is complete. If you only saved master copies and can’t send them all of their source footage, your client may question how you manage their content, which could impact their trust in you for future projects.
The good news is that if you have an organized, accessible content archive, it’s easy to send a drive or even a download link to a client. It may even be possible for you to charge clients to retrieve and deliver their content to them.
Tip #2—Stop using external drives for backup or archive
If your agency uses external disk drives to back up or archive your projects, you’re not alone. Creative teams do it because it’s dead simple: you plug the drive in, copy project files to it, unplug the drive, and put it on a shelf or in a drawer. But there are some big problems with this.
First, since external drives are removable, they’re easily misplaced. It’s not unusual for someone to take a drive offsite to work on a project and forget to return it. Second, removable drives can fail over time after being damaged by physical impacts, water, magnetic fields, or even “bit rot” from just sitting on a shelf. Finally, locating client files in a stack of drives can be like finding a needle in a haystack, especially if the editor who worked on the project has left the agency.
Tip #3—Organize your archive for self-service access
Oh, the frustration of knowing you already have a clip that would be perfect for a new project, but… who knows where it is? With the right tools in place, a producer’s frustration doesn’t mean you’ll have to drop everything and join their search party. Even if you’re not sure you need a full-featured MAM, your time would be well-spent to find a solution that allows creatives to search and retrieve files from the archive on their own.
Look for software that lets them browse through thumbnails and proxies instead of file names, and allows them to search based on metadata. Your archive storage shouldn’t force you to be on site and instantly available to load LTO tapes and retrieve those clips the editor absolutely and positively has to have today.
Tip #4—Schedule regular tests for backup restores and archive retrievals
When you first set up your backup system, I’m sure you checked that the backups were firing off on schedule, and tested restoring files and folders. But have you done it lately? Since the last time you checked, any number of things could have changed that would break your backups.
Maybe you added another file share that wasn’t included in the initial set up. Perhaps your backup storage has reached capacity. Maybe an operating system upgrade on a workstation is incompatible with your backup software. Perhaps the automated bill payment for a backup vendor failed. Bad things can happen when you’re not looking, so it’s smart to schedule time at least once a month to test your backups and restores. Ditto for testing your archives.
Tip #5 – Plan for long-term archive media refresh
If your agency has been in business more than a handful of years, you probably have content stored on media that’s past its expiration date. (Raise your hand if you still have client content stored on Betacam.) Drive failures increase significantly after 4 years (see our data center’s latest hard drive stats), and tape starts to degrade around 15 years. Even if the media is intact, file formats and other technologies can become obsolete quicker than you can say LTO-8. The only way to ensure access to archived content is to migrate it to newer media and/or technologies. This unglamorous task sounds simple—reading the data off the old media and copying it to new media—but the devil is in the details.
Of course, if you backup or archive to Backblaze B2 cloud storage, we’ll migrate your data to newer disk drives for you as needed over time. It all happens behind the scenes so you don’t ever need to think about it. And it’s included free with our service.
Want to see how all these tips works together? Join our live webinar co-hosted with Archiware on Tuesday, December 10, and we’ll show you how Baron & Baron, the agency behind the world’s top luxury brands from Armani to Zara, solved their backup and archive challenges.
In this blog series, we explore how you can master the nomadic life — whether for a long weekend, an extended working vacation, or maybe even the rest of your career. We profile professionals we’ve met who are stretching the boundaries of what (and where) an office can be, and glean lessons along the way to help you to follow in their footsteps. In our first post in the series, we provided practical tips for working on the road. In this edition, we profile our very own Elliott Sims, Senior Sysadmin, who successfully completes his work for Backblaze while he and his wife and dog travel the country.
How does a Backblaze Senior Systems Administrator manage to look after Backblaze’s network and computer systems while working remotely? He does it by planning ahead to ensure a solid connection to our network at every destination and having multiple options to make sure he’s never without a connection.
As a Senior Sysadmin, Elliott is responsible for doing whatever it takes to keep Backblaze’s services up and running. That ranges from network and Ansible (an IT automation tool) configuration to working with engineering to triage problems or design future systems. Elliott describes his job as a mixture of fixing what’s broken and ensuring that things are less likely to break in the future.
Tenacious planning comes naturally to Elliott. It’s why he’s in his position: he enjoys technical challenges that might deter others, like fixing systems that fail in complicated and hard-to-track-down ways. Previous to Backblaze, Elliott worked for EDS/HP as a systems administrator and later for Facebook as a site reliability engineer and operations engineer. He made the move to Backblaze after he decided he wanted to work with a smaller team. The idea of working for a company that offered a useful service to people outside of the Silicon Valley bubble, where many companies only offer services to one another, was especially appealing.
Elliott and his wife, Robin, got the travel bug during their month-long honeymoon. They didn’t like dealing with unfamiliar hotel rooms and beds and the many places that don’t accept dogs (there was no way they were leaving Stitch behind), so they made the decision to bring their home with them on their travels. In July 2018, they purchased a 19′ Escape trailer RV.
Elliott admits that his choice of vehicles reflects his operations mentality: He wants to stay many steps ahead of what can go wrong in any situation. The Escape travel trailer is solidly built out of two pieces of molded fiberglass, which presents fewer seams where water could leak in. It also is equipped with lithium batteries that last longer and charge faster than other options, which is essential for someone who is using the RV as a mobile office.
Shortly after acquiring the Escape, Elliott and Robin made a commitment to live one year on the road. After six months, they realized that a year would not be long enough. Just one month in Washington, D.C. was clearly insufficient for them to get the know the area as well as they wanted. They changed their plans and resolved to stay on the road indefinitely.
How a Sysadmin Works Remotely
While most companies might not like the idea of a Senior Sysadmin working away from the office, Backblaze didn’t blink. And why would we? Through good planning, Elliott is rarely out of touch with the crew back in San Mateo and in our data centers, and at least once a quarter he visits us in San Mateo along with the rest of the remote Backblaze team. The rest of the time he’s on his own and makes it work despite the varying quality and availability of broadband he encounters on his travels.
Planning ahead means that Elliott knows what kind of broadband to expect at his next destination. It needs to be reliable and fast, as he’ll be working from that location for a number of days.
His first choice for a reliable broadband connection is Wi-Fi, but that’s not always available or sufficiently fast, so he has backup options that include multiple cellular plans and devices. When Wi-Fi doesn’t work for him, he can turn to one of his cellular routers or even tether his computer to his phone.
For Wi-Fi, Elliott uses a directional antenna on his Ubiquiti router to reach access points. He has learned that most of the time the limiting factor isn’t the range to the access point but the backhaul from the WiFi access point to the internet — frequently it just can’t handle the bandwidth required. He explains that public Wi-Fi in urban areas typically has a better backhaul, but unfortunately places like restaurants and cafes often block VPN and SSH, which makes using it for work difficult.
When he started out, Elliott had cellular plans with both AT&T and Verizon through resellers. But after a couple of weeks, the AT&T plan suddenly stopped working and Elliott couldn’t reach the reseller for help. His other plan on Verizon worked OK, but at the same time as AT&T quit on him, Verizon dropped from 4G down to 3G and stayed there. Unfortunately, 3G is being replaced with 4G in many areas, so that limited this options. To add insult to injury, it turned out that the Verizon plan was tied to a specific router, which Elliott had left at home in favor of a dual-SIM unit he was using. Topping it all off was the fact that all of this happened in the middle of nowhere along US-50 in Nevada.
There weren’t any local retail options Elliott could turn to for a fix. He made do for a time with the fair-to-poor RV park Wi-Fi and tethering his laptop to his phone, but cellular gets expensive and Wi-Fi goes downhill fast around 5 p.m. when all the RVers fire up their favorite movie streaming service. Elliott made the decision to turn to the only carrier he knew of with a viable and unlimited plan at that particular moment, T-Mobile. When he reached the next town he signed up for T-Mobile and added that SIM in the router.
Failure is Not an Option — Plan C
As we said earlier, Elliott’s job at Backblaze is making sure that essential data center systems are always working, no matter what. So, we can expect that just Wi-Fi and multiple cellular plans wouldn’t be enough to satisfy Elliott. That’s why he also has a Plan C in his connectivity toolbox. This plan involves tethering his laptop to his phone. It works, but is expensive at $10/GB and doesn’t have the coverage of Verizon or AT&T.
Plan C takes advantage of Google Fi, a MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) that can switch between cellular and Wi-Fi services depending on what’s available, even including less known cell service providers like Commnet, which Elliott encountered while visiting the Grand Canyon.
When he doesn’t have Wi-Fi and can’t make a cellular connection from his dual-SIM cellular router, Elliott can tether his laptop to his phone and use one of the carriers that aren’t Verizon or AT&T. Elliott says he hasn’t fallen back to tethering much due to the high cost, but he’s glad it’s there if everything else fails.
Elliott’s Mobile Office Setup
MacBook Pro laptop issued by Backblaze
Backup/emergency laptop in storage in the RV
Wired Apple keyboard
Logitech MX Ergo trackball
External USB3 monitor
Ubiquiti Nanostation Loco M2 wireless access point with directional Wi-Fi antenna
Pepwave MAX BR1 Mini cellular router
MoFi Network MOFI4500 router
Security and Backup
Living on the road can increase the risk of loss through accident or theft, so Elliott follows strict practices for keeping both his personal and business data safe. Unfortunately, RVs are made of lightweight materials and there’s little one can do to keep a determined thief out. Unlike a house, it’s possible for someone to just hitch the entire thing up and drive away with it. Consequently, Elliott has to rely primarily on digital security. His laptop is secured with full disk encryption using Apple’s FileVault. All communication he does for work is over VPN, SSL, or SSH, which ensures end-to-end encryption.
Being a Backblaze employee, Elliott is on top of keeping everything on his laptop backed up to the Backblaze cloud — especially important with all the uncertainties of traveling. He makes heavy use of both Backblaze Computer Backup and B2 Cloud Storage for securing work and his and Robin’s personal files while on the road.
Elliott also has to make the most of limited space in his 19′ RV. The ergonomics of the dinette table were a problem early on, but Elliott settled on using an Apple keyboard he could prop in his lap and a trackball that fits better on the table instead of his usual mouse. A cushion brings the trackball up to a comfortable height. Elliott has an external USB3 monitor, but the limited table space available makes it impractical to use regularly.
Elliott’s power setup for the RV is extensive — no surprise. He has solar panels on the RV roof, a charger/inverter, lithium batteries, and monitoring systems for the solar systems and the interior temperature.
These systems aren’t just to enable remote computing and living comfort. They want to be able to leave Stitch in the RV for a couple of hours while they shop or go to a movie and not have to worry about the heat. They also want to have the option to camp out in a friend’s driveway for a few days and run everything off a normal 15A outlet (which their inverter/charger’s hybrid mode is great for). The setup also comes in handy when Elliott has to spend the day working from a rest stop with no plugins, or on occasions when the RV campground’s electrical systems strain to keep up with air conditioners running in unusually hot weather.
The two 180W solar panels are the maximum that Elliott could fit on the roof of their small, 19′ trailer. He says that solar tech has improved since then, and he could bump the panels up to 2x200W, but much more than that would be challenging. It’s plenty of power most of the time according to Elliott, but on high-power-usage days or during overcast winter days, it’s not quite enough. He says he’d probably double it if he could.
The 5x100Ah lithium iron phosphate batteries were chosen because they are significantly more power-dense than lead-acids, and basically it was the only way he could cram enough energy capacity into the small space that was available. They’re pretty expensive, though. In theory, the much longer cycle life should make up for it over time, Elliott believes.
Elliott likes his Victron MultiPlus inverter/charger. It’s a high-power true sine wave inverter and high-current charger in one, but the current limiting and hybrid modes are where it really stands out. He can tell it to limit the amount of power it’s pulling from the power hookup by not charging the batteries, or even set it to pull supplemental power from the batteries when needed. This lets him do things like run a long extension cord to a shared 15A outlet and pull only 9A max while still running an air conditioner. Elliott says that will eat into the battery charge a little on really hot days, but usually the A/C cycles off enough that it can keep pace or close to it. The solar setup also helps a little bit in those situations.
Elliott’s battery monitor and solar controller are also from Victron, and he can keep an eye on them from his phone via Bluetooth with their app.
Elliott rigged a nice little system to monitor the temperature for when Stitch is left in the RV. It’s a Raspberry Pi Zero W with a small temperature sensor that’s hardwired in with a 12V->5V converter and reports data to Amazon Cloudwatch via the hardwired mobile router. He has graphing set up on a free Grafana account. The total monthly cost? — $0. He was hoping to also report data from the Victron gear via Bluetooth, but it turns out that although Victron uses standardized protocols for the wired stuff, their Bluetooth communication is proprietary.
Elliott’s Power Setup
2x180W solar panels
5x100Ah lithium iron phosphate batteries
Victron MultiPlus 12/3000/120 inverter/charger
Victron battery monitor
Victron solar controller
Raspberry Pi Zero W DIY temperature monitor
The Adventure Continues
So far, Ariel, Robin, and Stitch have traveled about 8,600 miles and visited 22 U.S. states. Along the way, they’ve especially enjoyed Washington, D.C., the Rockies, and Tahoe. While in Phoenix, they made a stop in the parking lot of Backblaze’s data center, where Elliott was able to work for a while in the data center office, which let him spread out a little bit from the RV’s dining table.
After traveling back and forth across the country, Robin and Elliott decided that the 19′ Escape trailer is just not big enough, so they’re planning to upgrade to a 25′ Bigfoot trailer. That will give them not just more interior room, but a separate shower instead of a shower/toilet combination they currently have to endure. They’ll also gain the ability to walk around the bed, and the trailer will have bigger water and waste tanks. The bigger tanks will provide more flexibility for where they stay as they won’t have to find tank dump facilities as frequently.
The traveling trio are currently in California, not that far from Backblaze’s main office in San Mateo. They won’t stay put for long, however. Future travel plans include heading for the Denver area to visit Robin’s family. Robin will continue to handle a lot of the long haul driving, while Elliott gets the urban driving duties. They definitely want to see more of the Washington, D.C. area, and plan to visit Banff in the Canadian province of Alberta, and maybe Mexico sometime in the future.
Wherever they are, they’ll always be in close touch with Backblaze and we’re glad of that, because we depend on Elliott’s skills in keeping our systems running smoothly 24/7.
We’d Love to Hear Your Digital Nomad Stories
If you consider yourself a digital nomad and have an interesting story about using Backblaze Cloud Backup or B2 Cloud Storage from the road (or wherever), we’d love to hear about it, and perhaps feature your story on the blog. Tell us what you’ve been doing on the road at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can view all the posts in this series on the Digital Nomads page in our Blog Archives.
The open road has always held an allure of adventure and rebellion. Whether perched on an Indian or Harley-Davidson motorcycle, laid back in an old Chevy truck or a VW van, or sailing a sloop downwind to French Polynesia, who hasn’t daydreamed about breaking away from the daily slog?
Escaping the rat race used to mean separating from traditional employment as well as communication with the rest of the world. There were few jobs, other than those based on special skills and alternative lifestyles, that allowed for a road warrior lifestyle lived far from a business office or a city.
The New Era of Digital Nomads
That’s all changed. With the abundance of internet broadband available through Wi-Fi or cellular connections, most of the populated world can now travel almost anywhere and have access to family, clients, banking, shopping, cloud data, and the other digital services required just to get by in today’s society.
Programming, writing, photography, videography, and piece-work consulting are all naturally suited to a new, peripatetic lifestyle, and many in those fields are models of what a working nomad can do away from traditional work environments. But technologies like 5G and X Reality (XR) are opening the door to intricate tasks that in the past could only be performed in person. Procedures as demanding as remote surgery are now possible using telepresence technology. Who knows what skills and jobs will be able to done from thousands (or even millions of miles) away in the future? After all, today the Mars Rover can be driven by an operator in Pasadena, California.
Combine these new technologies with people’s imagination and creativity, and we can expect the number of people who live and work on the road to explode in coming years.
Our Series on Digital Nomads
In this blog series we’ll explore how you can master the nomadic life — whether for a long weekend, an extended working vacation, or maybe even the rest of your career. We’ll profile some professionals we’ve met who are stretching the boundaries of what (and where) an office can be, and glean lessons along the way to help you to follow in their footsteps.
We’ll be concentrating on those nomads whose needs include heavy data usage, such as videographers and other media and entertainment producers, IT professionals, and anyone else who needs the internet for more than just checking their email and social media and uploading photos from their travels.
Tell Us Your Story of Staying Connected on the Road
If you have a story you’d like to tell about working from the road (or water, air, or wherever you might be), or useful tips about how you make that lifestyle work, we’d love to hear from you. See our invitation at the bottom of this post for how to contact us.
Practical Tips for Digital Nomads
Before we launch into profiles, we’d like to offer a quick selection of tips for any of you considering this lifestyle for yourself. These are just the basics, and we hope you’ll offer your own suggestions in the comments. We’ll update this post with your ideas.
Staying Connected on the Road or Water
Internet connectivity is of course near the top of the list of required utilities for digital nomads. Just four years ago, Backblaze’s CEO Gleb Budman wrote a post about working on the road and gave some tips for how to do it. Many of Gleb’s recommendations are evergreen, but given how far the technology has progressed in four years, we should review the essentials for how to stay connected.
Tip #1 — Plan Ahead to Have the Services You Need
Planning ahead is probably our most important tip. While there are usually plenty of ways to stay connected en route, you’re going to want to be certain to find a reliable connection at your next stop, and you should know in advance where you’re likely to find it. Take advantage of books, articles, and online guides that direct you to the best places to find Wi-Fi and good cellular service.
Coffee shops, libraries, and restaurants can be good bets for connecting, but the bandwidth is likely to be limited and not usable for large uploads. They sometimes don’t allow VPNs and block anything other than web browsing. Paid internet cafes usually provide better bandwidth at a price. If you use the Wi-Fi guides we mention in this post, you’ll be prepared to go directly to the location best suited to your needs.
Next on our tip list is being sure you have a varied toolbox of tech options and service plans that will give you flexibility and increase your chances of finding a spot to connect no matter where you are. You can’t rely on just one cellular plan or a weak Wi-Fi transceiver and the small antenna in your phone to ensure connectivity.
Use network gear that can handle multiple networks and/or devices. You’ll increase your chances of making a connection to a Wi-Fi access point if you have a router or network device that brings more power to the game and can ensure that your device can reach a distant Wi-Fi antenna.
You can use a home router just about anywhere, but consider a device like those from Ubiquiti, Cisco Meraki, or Mikrotik that are a step above home consumer devices and give you more ways to handle multiple networks and distant access points.
Even better in many cases than more power is using a directional antenna to connect with a Wi-Fi access point. Omni-directional antennas work like a lamp, communicating in all directions from the device. Directional antennas work like a flashlight, concentrating their power in the direction you need it to go. The higher the gain of the directional antenna, the narrower the working angle and the longer the range. They’re great if you know exactly where the access point is and you can point your directional antenna right at it from your vehicle or your boat. Here’s an introductory video on using directional antennas.
Have multiple cellular carrier options through plans, devices, or SIM cards (the smart card inside a mobile phone carrying an identification number unique to the owner) to be certain to have coverage wherever you are.
If you have an unlocked, GSM, quad band mobile phone, you can use varied SIM cards from different providers, which is especially valuable when you are out of the country. You can take advantage of any affordable local data plans, make local phone calls, and locals can even call you. SIM cards are available in most countries around the world. You can find them at convenience stores, post offices, and often at grocery stores. Be sure to ask for a local SIM card with data (some SIM cards are for calls only).
Consider a solution like Google Fi that can connect to multiple carriers and switch between cellular and Wi-Fi services depending on what’s available where you are. Google Fi is now available for both Android and Apple smart devices.
Backing up is important for everyone, but it’s especially important to keep files safe when traveling. The possibilities of theft, accidents, and loss all increase while traveling.
Make backup copies of all your valuable files. This can be done with a USB thumbdrive, external drive, or even a NAS in your vehicle or boat. Copy your most recent photos, memos, and other files off your smartphone, camera, or other device to your laptop or external drive that is in turn backed up locally or to the cloud.
Keep a backup copy in the cloud. If you use an automatic backup product, such as from Backblaze, anytime you’re connected to the internet, your files will be copied to the cloud for safekeeping. Storing that copy away from your vehicle or boat adds an excellent layer of protection in cases of catastrophic loss.
Schedule strategically. A popular approach when dealing with limited bandwidth in some locations is to schedule the automatic backup to the cloud during the night while you’re somewhere with connectivity. You’ll start each day knowing that the previous days’ files have been safely backed up to the cloud.
Set up your backup before you head out on the road. Whether it’s on a local drive or in the cloud, you want to be sure your data will be safe before you expose yourself and your work to the rigors of the road.
Data Security Tips:
Change your password. Before you take off on your travels, change the passwords on the accounts you plan to use. Don’t use the same password on different accounts or reuse a password you’ve used previously. Password managers, such as BitWarden, 1Password, or LastPass make handling your passwords easy.
Encrypt your data. Your data is vulnerable, and a small computer, hard drive, or USB drive is easily stolen. Encrypt your drives using an OS or third-party utility. If you use a cloud service, you can encrypt the data so it’s protected during transmission and in the cloud.
Maintain a security wall. You’ll be using a lot of unfamiliar Wi-Fi connections, so be sure to use a connection that is private and secure.
Turn off automatic connection to open Wi-Fi networks.
Don’t use the web to access your bank, financial institutions, or other important sites if you’re not 100% confident in the security of your internet connection.
If you do access a financial, shopping, or other high risk site, make sure your connection is protected with Secure Socket Layer (SSL), which is indicated with a lock icon and the HTTPS prefix in the URL. When you browse over HTTPS, people on the same Wi-Fi network as you can’t snoop on the data that travels between you and the server of the website you’re connecting to. Sites that ask for payment or confidential information should use SSL. If they don’t, stay away.
Turn off sharing on your devices to prevent anyone obtaining access to your device.
Set up a virtual private network (VPN) to protect your connection. A VPN routes your traffic through a secure network even on public Wi-Fi, giving you all the protection of your private network while still having the freedom of public Wi-Fi. Here are some tips for choosing a VPN.
Tip #4 — Connect with the Experts
There is a lot of collective knowledge on the internet for how to work and stay connected on the road. They’ve been there and you can benefit from their experiences.
For those on the water, #boatlife is the hashtag to follow. YouTube has thousands of videos made by people who are living in vehicles or aboard sail, engine, and human-powered boats. These videos have a lot of great and practical information and can help you learn from others’ experiences doing what you want to do. Some search terms to try on YouTube are vanlife, boatlife, digital nomad, and sailing.
There’s a lot of good information from fellow nomads and journalists following the movement both online and in print. Here are a few to follow:
In future posts, we’ll write about people who are making it work living as digital nomads. If you have an interesting story about using Backblaze backup or cloud storage from the road (or air, or water), we’d love to hear about it, and perhaps feature your story on the blog.
Send Us Your Digital Nomad Stories and Tips
Tell us your story at email@example.com. We also welcome suggestions at our email address or in the comments to this post.
Announcing Backblaze Cloud Backup 7.0: The Version History and Beyond Release!
This release for consumers and businesses adds one of our most requested enhancements for our Backblaze Cloud Backup service: the ability to keep updated, changed, and even deleted files in your backups forever by extending version history. In addition, we’ve made our Windows and Mac apps even better, updated our Single Sign-on (SSO) support, added more account security options, became Catalina-ready, and increased the functionality of our iOS and Android mobile apps. These changes are awesome and we’re sure you’ll love them!
Extended Version History
Have you ever deleted a file by mistake or accidentally saved over an important bit of work? Backblaze has always kept a 30-day version history of your backed up files to help in situations like these, but today we’re giving you the option to extend your version history to one year or forever. This new functionality is available on the Overview page for Computer Backup, and the Groups Management page if you are using Backblaze Groups! Backblaze v7.0 is required to use Version History. Learn more about versions and extending Version History.
30-Day Version History
All Backblaze computer backup accounts have 30-Day Version History included with their backup license. That means you can go back in time for 30 days and retrieve old versions of your files or even files that you’ve deleted.
1-Year Version History
Extending your Version History from 30 days to one year means that all versions of your files that are backed up — whether you’ve updated, changed, or fully deleted them from your computer — will remain in your Backblaze backup for one year after being modified or deleted from your device. Extending your Version History to one year is an additional $2 per month and is charged based on your license type (monthly, yearly, or 2-year). As always, any charges will be prorated to match up with your license renewal date.
Forever Version History
Extending your Version History from 30 days or one year to forever means that Backblaze will never remove files from your Backblaze backup whether you’ve updated, changed, or fully deleted them from your computer, or not. Extending Version History to forever is similar to one year, at an additional $2 per month (prorated to your license plan type) plus $0.005/GB/month for versions modified on your computer more than one year ago.
This is a great new feature for people who want increased peace of mind. To learn more about Version History, pricing, and examples of how to restore, please visit the Version History FAQ.
MacOS and Windows Application Updates
More Efficient Performance For Uploads
We’ve changed the way that Backblaze transmits large files on your machine by reworking how we group and break apart files for upload. The maximum packet size has increased from 30 MB to 100 MB. This allows the app to transmit data more efficiently by better leveraging threading, which also smoothes out upload performance, reduces sensitivity to latency, and leads to smaller data structures.
Single Sign-On Updates for Backblaze Groups
We added support for Microsoft’s Office 365 in Backblaze Groups, and have made SSO updates to the Inherit Backup State feature so that it supports SSO-enabled accounts. This means that you can now sign into Backblaze using your Office 365 credentials, similar to using Google’s SSO.
Higher Resolution For Easier Viewing of Information
We updated the way our installers and applications looked on higher-resolution displays, making for a more delightful viewer experience!
An OpenSSL issue was causing problems on Intel’s Apollo Lake chipset, but we’ve developed a workaround. Apollo Lake is a lower-end chipset, so not many customers were seeing issues, but now computers using Apollo Lake will work as intended.
We’ve added support for MacOS Catalina and improved some MacOS system messages. MacOS provides some great new features for the Mac and we’ve changed some of our apps’ behavior to better fit Catalina. In Catalina, Apple is now requiring apps to ask for permission more frequently, and since Backblaze is a backup application, we require a lot of permissions. Thus you may notice more system messages when installing Backblaze on the new OS.
Of Note: Backblaze Restores
In order to implement the Version History features, we had to change the way our restore page handled dates. This may not seem like a big deal, but we had a date drop-down menu where you could select the time frames you wanted to restore from. Well, if you have 1-Year or Forever Version History, you can’t have an infinitely scrolling drop-down menu, so we implemented a datepicker to help with selection. You can now more easily choose the dates and times that you’d like to restore your files from.
Backblaze 7.0 Available: October 8th, 2019
We will be slowly auto updating all users in the coming weeks. To update now:
Perform a Check for Updates (right-click on the Backblaze icon)
Want to Learn More? Join Us on October 15th, 2019 at 11 a.m. PT
Want to learn more? Join Yev on a webinar where he’ll go over version 7.0 features and answer viewer questions. The webinar will be available on BrightTalk (registration is required) and you can sign up by visiting the Backblaze BrightTALK channel.
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