Full disclosure: macminicolo.net sponsors hosting for this website. This, however, is not a sponsored post.

I’ve been wanting to “own” my cloud backup for a while. Amazon S3 and Glacier provide solid solutions, but restoring a backup from S3 is slow, and from Glacier it’s downright painful. S3 also seems cheap at first, but gets expensive quickly. Plus, there are privacy and security issues with any third party cloud storage.

Arq 4 recently came out and added the ability to backup up over SFTP. I already have a macminicolo.net box (a service that runs my Mac mini from a rack in Las Vegas with full remote/internet access), so I purchased a 4TB Backup Plus Fast Portable Drive1, had it added to my colocated mini2, and pointed Arq 4 to it.

Arq allows you to control bandwidth usage, so if the bandwidth of your remote machine is a concern, you can throttle it. In my case, macminicolo provides more than enough bandwidth to run a few websites3 and do a full-speed cloud backup at the same time.

To set up an Arq 4 backup to a remote SFTP server:

  1. Create a public/private key pair for the remote
  2. On your remote machine, create a backup folder on the external backup hard drive
  3. Add a “Target” in Arq 4, pointed to your server/backup folder using the private SSH key you created in step 1
  4. Add local folders to the backup target in Arq

For additional peace of mind, you could mirror your backup drive, but I also back up locally and only need one remote backup storage device.

If you have storage space and a dedicated machine, there are additional options like CrashPlan, too. You can also use CarbonCopyCloner to clone a drive over an intranet or the internet, but I don’t think it provides any versioning. You could potentially combine it with Time Machine for that.

I experimented with BitTorrent Sync for large backups a bit. It’s fast, but there’s no versioning. You can combine BitTorrent Sync with Time Machine, too, but that requires even more drive space and I’m afraid I’d eventually run into issues and might not even know about them until it was time to attempt a restore. Arq handles all of the backup, versioning and restore functions, so it was a good choice for me.

Arq 4 is $39.99. It also backs up to Amazon S3, Amazon Glacier, GreenQloud, DreamObjects, Google Cloud Storage and more. You can have multiple targets if you like.

macminicolo.net has 100Mb/s connections, with plans starting at $35 per month if you provide your own Mac mini. You can purchase a machine from them starting at $599 (same as Apple prices), and add external drives, additional RAM and SSD drives as needed. You get a static IP and, depending on your plan, Remote Reboot, advanced statistics and other features. The service and support are outstanding. It might be a steep investment if all you want to do is run backups, but a single machine can do much more. Run a media server, FTP server, web sites, WebDAV services, personal bookmarking services4, wikis… anything you can do on your Mac but fully internet accessible, always-on and with faster speeds and higher bandwidth than anything comparable that you could run locally.

Compared to services like Backblaze, the monthly charges for this backup are higher. There’s a steeper initial investment in Arq, the hard drive and the Mac mini, but no monthly charge (correction, $10 monthly charge for hosting an external hard drive) for your storage space and you get the peace of mind of completely owning your backup system.

A note from Brian Stucki at macminicolo: you can also have your drive pulled and shipped to you if you ever need to do a full restore. This is especially handy if you’re using a Time Machine solution.

This backup solution is working out great for me. I’d love to hear about any other self-hosted offsite solutions you’ve tested or are using, so feel free to highlight them in the comments! Also, I spent a good 15 minutes on that post image, so feel free to validate my effort and tweet me about its awesomeness5.

  1. Despite the lack of availability from Seagate, the Backup Plus Fast Portable Drive is available from Amazon

  2. Note that macminicolo prefers add-on storage to be bus powered. You can read their review and recommendation of the Backup Plus Fast Portable drive on the macminicolo blog

  3. Side note: in the last year I’ve had a total of about 10 minutes of downtime between this site, the Marked 2 site and Marky, and 100% of it was my own fault. The network (and related tech support) at macminicolo is the most reliable I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of servers and hosts. 

  4. Point of interest: I don’t use Apple’s Server for any of this. I use MAMP Pro for easy virtual host management on an Apache/MySQL platform, and run CouchDB as a daemon for NoSQL tasks. 

  5. Yes, my neediness and attention-seeking is a personality defect. Drives my wife nuts.