My Apple Holiday Wish

I’ve been searching for a personal backup solution that doesn’t suck for, well, pretty much since I got my first computer in the 80’s, and I’m still looking.

A few years ago I was cleaning out old crap and ran across boxes and boxes of 800kb floppies labeled “1988 backup disk x.” The trash / recycling picker uppers got those along with a pile of zip disks, various CD’s, DVD’s, a USB drive or two, and a couple of bare SATA drives that I was too cheap to buy housings for. Oh, and there was even a pile of tapes in some long forgotten format in there.

After a few years of manually copying stuff to multiple USB drives, last year I was completely seduced by the “it’s like RAID but you don’t need identical drives” beauty of the Drobo. Three failures later (including one with smoke), a nasty virtual tinnitus that comes and goes as its disks transition through a perfect cabinet-resonating frequency, incompatibility problems with Time Machine and Airport Extreme, and access speeds that are too slow to serve Final Cut, and screw it. Now it mostly just sits there powered down making a Drobo-shaped dust-free spot on my desk. It’s too buzzy to listen to but too expensive to Freecycle.

Next up, Time Capsule. Still (even more) useless for Final Cut and that sort of thing, but it’s doing an ok job with backups – at least of the straight Time Machine variety. There are still a few issues though…

First off, I don’t really trust that single spinning platter. It will die some day. Plus, it’s in my house about ten feet from where my laptop is usually parked so my eggs are all in a single fire / theft / flood basket.

Apple’s Mobile Me and the Backup program that comes with it theoretically provide a solution to this issue, but unfortunately it sucks. It’s slow, much slower than a local time capsule backup because it is relying on an Internet connection. Also, it effectively requires my machine to be running all the time so that it can conduct it’s backups in the middle of the night when I won’t be competing for bandwidth or CPU cycles.

Even worse, it fails all the time. I don’t know why, but it’s finicky. A brief connectivity hiccup (or whatever) and I wake up the next day to find that my multi-hour backup died. Finally, It’s too small to be useful for more than a few key critical files. I have a few hundred gigabytes of data I’d like to secure and my mobile me account is limited to twenty.

So Apple, I don’t usually resort to begging, but here’s your chance to fix backup for me once and for all. Just update the firmware in my Time Capsule so that my fast Wi-Fi-based local backups can be incrementally streamed to either an expanded Mobile Me account or to a separate S3 account (or whatever) whenever it’s sitting at home with my network connection to itself.

I can’t leave my laptop connected for the days it would take to stream all those hundreds of Gig, but Time Capsule is just sitting there with my Internet connection doing nothing while I’m at work anyway, so give it something to do. This way I’ll have the best of both worlds, fast reasonably secure backups to my local Wi-Fi connected Time Capsule when I’m home and don’t-need-to-think-about-it remote storage that can take its time when I’m not. At the risk of way over reaching, it could even work in both directions so that if I’m on the road for an extended period, Time Machine could backup critical changes directly to Mobile Me which could then in turn incrementally stream that back to my Time Capsule.

Ok, that’s it. A simple idea I think. Can I have it by Christmas?

By the way, if the thought of all those gigabytes in your Mobile Me data centers makes you blanche (and the idea of using S3 is anathema to Apple’s do it all culture), how about a Time Capsule-based distributed hash overlay network? If every Time Capsule shipped with the option of turning on a separate partition representing about 1/3 of the disk, you could put a Planet Lab-like distributed file system in there. My files would be split into chunks, encrypted, and distributed around to other people’s Time Capsules while some of their stuff was on mine. Sort of an inverted Bit Torrent for backups, no data center required.

That would be cool but I know you won’t do it. And, from the category of “things you are even less likely to do,” if you opened up the Time Capsule firmware to third parties someone else probably would.