How to Backup your data

We are all told on a regular basis that we should be backing up our data; but in a world of many options and setups how do you know you have a working Backup and how do you make sure you can get back and working if the worst happens?

There are many different techniques to back up your data; I will try and talk in broad brush strokes to give an idea of the main strategies, outlining the advantages of each and any common caveats.

The main thing to remember with a backup is actually how to get back to a working setup which does what you need. This really depends on how you use your computer and how critical it is to your working life. A home computer taking 5-10 days to get back to working condition will not usually result in any major problems; however a critical work Mac taking 1-2 hours might do! The only person who can effectively evaluate this is you! Once you know how important your data is then you can decide how much effort and cost is needed to create a restore strategy which works within your expected timescales.

The rule of thumb with backups is n-1; that means that having 1 backup is (1-1=0) the same as NO backups. Often you do not know there is an issue with a backup until you try to use it. With our digital lives being increasingly important (bills, photos, logons to school work etc) it is worth taking a little time, buying the right equipment and setting this up properly.

1) Time Machine.

This is Apple’s built in software which keeps incremental backups onto some form of external hard drive or the Apple Time Capsule. Apple have a really nice guide webpage which can take you through the setup and the only hardware you will need is a backup drive.

Time machine is usually a reliable solution, but gives you very little control over what is backed up and when. You can use more than one backup disk (Useful if you work away from where your Time Capsule is located as you can take a portable hard drive for backups on the road).

The disadvantages are that it can be tricky to restore specific files or if you have a file corruption or some system preference etc which is making a system unstable this can be restored at the same time.

You can use any external hard drive as a Time Machine destination. It is generally advised to use a drive only for Time Machine. We recommend at least twice the size of your storage use at the moment i.e. if you have 200 GB of data, then at least 400GB. These days this is less of an issue as even the smallest external Hard drives are 1TB in size.

A Flash Thumb drive is not a suitable drive for Time machine.

NAS (network attached storage) systems from Synology and Netgear both support network volumes which can be used with Time Machine.
The speed of a Time Machine destination is not so important, as long as it is a working drive. So do not worry about buying a fast SSD for the purpose.
We generally recommend against any special drives which have things like hardware / fingerprint / PIN encryption or their own encryption. These features tend to hamper the restore process as the migrate step usually takes place in a limited OS not the full loaded OS and the unlock software may not work.

2) Clone backup.

We use clones (using either Bombich’s great piece of software Carbon Copy Cloner or something similar such as SuperDuper or rsync) as these give you much more control. CCC can be setup to perform a clone at a chosen time each day, week or month.

A clone can be very useful – if you suffer a hard drive failure or even if you loose or break you mac – you can plug your clone drive into a replacement machine and be up and running in hours (if you have kept up to date with all the software updates you can even grab a new machine from you local Apple Store and boot from the clone). This really does minimise downtime as all your eMails, work and files are exactly as they were the last time you cloned your data.

A Clone will also let you choose files which you do not want to clone – great if you are using a small backup hard drive and don’t need your huge iTunes library as part of the backup, or have files already in the cloud which you can restore later.

The disadvantages are making sure you have a regular clone and the lack of incremental backups (i.e if you deleted a file before your last clone it will usually be gone from the drive).

Cloning is a great complement to a time machine backup; it gives you the ability to be back up an running as soon as possible; giving you time to choose when to apply a permanent fix.

A clone needs to be done to a local HDD (hard drive) or SSD (solid state drive); preferably to something easily portable to be back up and running as soon as possible. Speed of a clone drive is important as you hope to be able to use it as a startup volume if the worst happens. So think about USB 3.0 SSD or a Thunderbolt SSD which will work well externally on a modern Mac.

3) Cloud Backup. (inc Apple’s Pictures Sync)

Backup to an offsite location is an important point to consider. Protecting yourself against “worst case” scenarios like a flood or a fire at your home or office is defiantly worth considering – the truth about the “80% of businesses don’t survive an office fire” may not be referenced in detail but in our experience the stress of loosing a backup and the main machine data is not to be under-estimated. We have seen grown men cry when their data died.

iCloud backup is usually automatic (such as photos sync in iPhoto and Photos) and invisible – many people do not realize that it is turned on.

However it is also usually very slow – taking days or weeks to restore a large photo library. And it also usually only applies to specific Apps and is normally limited to Apps provided by those who provide the backup – i.e. Apple’s iCloud supports Pages, Numbers, Keynote; Microsoft’s OfficeDrive supports Word, Excel. Older versions of these applications don’t have support and you usually have to chose to use the cloud version.

4) Other offsite.

Combinations of clones stored away from the home, Time Machine drives taken away from the office or other cloud providers are very useful to mission critical data.

If you are a business; code 42 still offer a basic Crashplan version which is currently $ 10 per month and worth considering for each of your important Macs. Home users have solutions such as Back Blaze which works well.

If you have a NAS then you can often setup automatic backups to cloud servers or even similar NAS boxes on other networks (I have seen work NAS syncing to Home or to another office which works well).

5) Help; I don’t have a backup at all!

Give us a call, we offer data recovery on your old drive and can usually complete a hard drive replacement in your Mac within a couple of days, with a clean OS to get you back up and running if needed.

Leave a Reply