Backup Your Mac to AS3 with Arq

There are about 900 different options available to automatically back up your Mac, none of which I have been in love with until now.

If you’ve been reading my blog for more than three minutes, you’ve probably come across a post where I strongly recommend (okay, balls-out lecture, harp, nag and preach) that you should back your shit up. For web developers or site owners, that means your web servers, for “normal” people that means, at the very least, your computer.

Apple gives you a reasonably good way of automating your backups, by way of Time Machine. This is made even more effortless if you use Time Capsule, a dedicated network drive that integrates with Time Machine. Thing is, I have never wanted to pony up the cash for a Time Capsule, which starts at $299. Add to that the fact that I spend half my time working from home, half my time at the office, half my time commuting. (I’m very busy, you know.) So a networked drive is a nice enough solution, but backing things up in multiple locations can be a pain in the ass, especially when I’m not always near either of my primary locations. Relying on just one hard drive is scary, since eventually, all hard drives fail, and with my luck, mine will fail at the exact same moment that my Macbook Pro catches on fire, falls out a window into the ocean and is eaten by giant space pandas that can breathe underwater. (What? It happens!)

I had been using Jungledisk, but it’s slow as hell and they charge you a monthly fee for the privilege of using it (plus the AS3 charges). Granted, the $2 a month won’t put me in the poorhouse, but the speed issue has always been frustrating, and it’s always acted a little buggy for me. One of the features Jungledisk boasts is that you can sync multiple computers “effortlessly”. I don’t know if I’d agree with the effortless part, but nowadays, I use my laptop as my primary computer for both work and personal, so syncing is of little importance to me.

Enter Arq. I ran across this little gem in my RSS feed reader, thanks to a post on AppStorm.

According to app author Stefan, “the overhead of S3 PUT requests becomes a big performance problem when uploading many small files, so Arq combines small files together into ‘pack files’ to dramatically improve network performance”, which is why it kicks Jungledisk’s ass when it comes to speediness. (I added that last bit.)

I already have an AS3 account, since I helped out during the Iran elections and set up a proxy server using AS3 to enable the citizens of Iran to continue to communicate with the outside world after the government started shutting off their access to web services. I kept the account to use the fabulous Automatic WordPress Backup plugin, which backs up my (numerous and largely inane) blogs every night.

Simply put, this app couldn’t be more simple. It took me as long to install it and set it up as it did for me to download (it’s less than 4MB).

It comes pre-set to exclude trash, logs and caches, but you can add additional rules for exclusion as well.

By default, it will back up your ~user directory (excluding the aforementioned trash, logs and caches), but you can easily add additional directories as well. Drag and drop a folder into Arq to add it for automatic backup (including network drives). Drag and drop from a backup to immediately start restoring. It really is that easy.

Following the initial backup, Arq automatically makes incremental backups every hour, every day, uploading just the files that have changed since your last backup. Arq keeps hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for everything older than a month.

If you’re worried about getting hit with a huge AS3 account bill, don’t sweat that either. Arq lets you set a maximum budget for backups based on AS3 pricing. Arq also de-dupes your files, so you’re never storing the same files twice. It automatically drops the oldest backups to keep within the budget and keeps backup history for as long as you want.

Arq costs $29, and comes with a free 30-day fully functioning trial. Check it out for yourself by downloading it at the Haystack Software website, or hit them up with questions on their Twitter account.

Sure, one could argue that the AS3 monthly fees would add up to a $299 Time Capsule soon enough – but the ability to access and backup from anywhere is a big plus for me, not to mention the encryption, redundancy, privacy and speed of AS3. Amazon does charge an additional fee for upload/download, but they just extended their free upload pricing until November 1, 2010, so go ahead and give it a try.

  • Good stuff. I've been weighing some options, which did include JungleDisk. Any experience/luck with Carbonite? For a flat $5/mo, it's way cheaper in the long run.

  • A genuine backup maintains more than just the files, its permissions and metadata too. Backup bouncer is a suite that tests backup integrity. Arq passes all the backup bouncer tests, carbonite failed them all ( lists results) jungle disk also passes all tests.

  • Excellent point, John – I had forgotten to address integrity testing. 🙂

  • Thanks for laying out the steps with details. Amazon s3 seems to be very good service and i’m starting to use it soon. Your article comes in very handy. Thanks

  • Martin

    Arq is great, just the GUI needs some improvements, some elements are confusing and incomplete in the current version.

  • Michael

    You should know that JungleDisk's backup vaults upload files in 'chunks', does block de-duplication, and compression. Meaning when using a backup vault you should see it working efficiently as it can. Luckily for me I bought JungleDisk before they implemented the monthly fee so I don't pay JungleDisk anything per month.

  • Hola

    As a JungleDisk User since 8 months, I will try Arq for a free month and test the differences.
    Good new, Arq uses the RRS Amazon S3 service, JungleDisk doesn’t (for now)

  • Martin

    Don’t you have to pay a monthly fee for JungleDisk Plus?

  • Anonymous

    Do you know if this works for WordPress blogs, to back them up?