I recently posted about our backup strategy to ensure we had fast access in the event of a restore as well as protection in the event of a catastrophic loss. In that diagram, we use a 2011 MacBook Pro to backup data from our RAIDs up to Backblaze. That works very well except for the physical side of it. In order to back up the drives, I have to set up the laptop on my desk and plug each drive into it individually. I have to keep an old-school MagSafe adapter plugged in and shift the MacBook from one side of my desk to the other as I plug and unplug my two drives. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s annoying clutter that gets in the way.
I made this a little easier recently by purchasing a USB 3.0 switcher which connects two computers to the same 4 USB ports and allows the target computer to be selected with a button. It’s like a KVM but for USB. It works well and I don’t need to move the MacBook Pro across my desk to connect each drive. However, it doesn’t address the space the MacBook takes on my desk and the clutter it creates. For that I decided to buy a new machine: a Mac mini.
I used to have a Mac mini on my desk in the old days when I hosted my own web server. It was an original 2005 model with a 1.25 GHz PowerPC G4 and 1 GB RAM running PHP and Apache. I ran it until it died and I transferred the site to my PowerBook G4, eventually replacing it altogether with WordPress.com in 2017. For my backup purposes I purchased a 2014 Mac mini from OWC. It’s old and slow, but it can run macOS Monterey, which is five years newer than what the MacBook Pro could run. I’ll get another year of security updates for it before the OS starts to age, and I’ll probably keep it for several years after that. By the time I need to replace it, I’ll probably be able to score a 2018 mini for a similar price.
My new backup diagram is below, showing the Mac mini in its place in section 3.
It only cost me $109, including shipping. This was comparable to the price I could get on eBay with the benefit of a small warranty and comfort in OWC’s good reputation. I could have spent 3x as much on a 2018 mini that’s much faster, but that doesn’t really matter for a machine that simply needs to upload data from a hard drive to the cloud. My mini’s 1.4 GHz dual core i5 and 4 GB RAM will handle that just fine. It’s set up on my desk next to my monitor with my laptop sitting on top in its vertical case. Unlike the 2011 MacBook Pro that took up space, the mini blends right in unobtrusively. A backup is as simple as turning it on, connecting through Apple Screen Sharing, turning on the hard drives, and starting the backup.
There are no old power cords snaking across my desk or USB cables getting in the way of everything. The USB 3.0 switcher makes it easy to swap my drives between the mini and my docking station for my 14″ MacBook Pro. I can get data onto my RAIDs easily and get my RAIDs to the cloud easily. Perfect.