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Backups (Part 3: Online)

4. September 2018 — Jim Neumann

When we discuss backups, we generally advocate primary backups on local drives. However, we sometimes hear, “But, I want to use an online backup!” While, this is indeed possible, here are a few things to bear in mind:

  1. Our sync technology is not a backup, nor is it intended to be. DEVONthink’s sync is not merely copying your database and files to the cloud; it’s transmitting raw, chunked, and optionally encrypted data that is only usable by DEVONthink or DEVONthink To Go 2. You cannot go into the sync location and retrieve a particular file.
  2. You should only use a cloud solution that takes a snapshot and backs up from that. (Time Machine uses this method.) For his online backups, our company president successfully uses Arq, which also uses this method. ​However, most ​backup services ​do not do this​. If a service is claiming ​​”instant syncing” ​or anything that sounds like it’s continuously syncing your data to it, you should consider this as not data-safe. Data could change while the backup is running and you’d end up with a half-baked backup set. If you want to use an online backup service with your DEVONthink database, make sure to research this aspect before committing to it.
  3. Lastly, you should also consider the myth of network persistence, ie. the idea that you always have a network connection up and available, or that remote servers are operating properly. If you only have an online backup but your network is down or you’re in a location with little to no signal, you effectively cut off access to your backups.

As online backups let you backup your data to a remote location unaffected by e.g. a fire in your house or office, they perfectly complement your backup strategy: local drives and a snapshot-based backup application like Time Machine for the fast and activate-and-forget backup and an also snapshot-based online backup service like Arq and the like for the safety net outside our office walls.