Backing Up Your Server to a Fast USB Flash Drive

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Yes, you can run an entire server off a fast, high-capacity flash drive plugged into a USB 3.0 port. Set up one for regular backups from your main SSD or hard drive, and in a pinch you can remove it, plug it into a new server, and boot from it — putting your whole setup back in action literally within seconds.

Until comparatively recently, the idea of backing up a server to a USB flash drive was zany: after all, flash drives have traditionally been painfully slow, far too slow to make a realistic backup option. Nowadays, however, USB flash drives are available which, while not quite as fast as SSDs, do actually rival hard drives for speed. Plugged into a USB 3.0 port on a Mac Mini server, a modern fast flash drive is sufficient not only for routine backup purposes, it is fast enough to run your entire server, should you need to do so. Because some of them are also quite small and of course require no additional power supply, some colo facilities will quite happily plug one in for you at no additional cost (apart from the device itself, of course). Best of all, the easily removable nature of a USB flash drive means that in the event of a total server meltdown, someone at your colocation provider can physically remove the device, plug it into a spare machine, and boot from it — putting your entire operation back in action almost immediately.

In my view, this is one of the great advantages of the Mac Mini’s size and design. Try finding any other way of hosting your websites where the physical rack layout can enable the provider to let you hang an extra external backup device off the machine for free.

As of this writing, one great example is the Kingston Technology 128GB USB 3.0 DTHX Flash Drive [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK], which is both fast enough for routine cloning and small enough to fit on a rack of Mac Minis without difficulty. (Naturally, you should check with your colocation facility in advance to be sure of what physical dimensions can be accommodated.)

Belting out a whopping 225 MB/s read speed and 135 MB/s write speed when connected via USB 3.0 (much slower when connected via USB 2.0), as of this writing this tiny little bundle of flash is available in capacities up to 256 GB and serves very nicely as a bootable clone. It’s fast enough to get you by as the boot drive on a new temporary server while your own is being evaluated and repaired.

If you set it up for daily cloning with Carbon Copy Cloner, as described in the earlier article on backup and recovery, but offset 12 hours from your daily clone to hard drive, you’ll always have at least one clone which is 12 hours old or newer, and you’ll be able to withstand the complete loss of one entire clone. Coupled with regular time machine backups, you’ll be nicely covered.

(You can do something similar with a fast SD card popped into the Mac Mini as well, but as of this writing, USB 3.0 devices edge out SD cards in both price and performance.)

And here’s a bonus tip if you decide to plug a fast USB flash drive into your server… If you’ve ever wanted to put a large chunk of data from home onto a remote server somewhere else for backup purposes, just have the drive shipped to your home first, rather than to your colo facility. Fill it up with whatever you want at home, then ship it to your colo facility, and once it’s plugged in, you can use the much higher bandwidth available to your server to upload the data somewhere else — Amazon S3, for example, or another remote storage provider, or just keep it on your server — far more quickly than you could have done from most home broadband connections.

The whole house of cards could come tumbling down in the case of a severe power problem, of course — one sufficient to nuke your server and its peripherals as well — and that’s where remote backups come in. A separate article takes a look at that (“OS X Server Backups to a Remote Server”), while another takes a closer look at preserving your MySQL databases.

All material on this site is carefully reviewed, but its accuracy cannot be guaranteed, and some suggestions offered here might just be silly ideas. For best results, please do your own checking and verifying. This specific article was last reviewed or updated by Greg on .

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