How to back up your Mac – Remote Backup

April 2, 2008

Easy and Secure Mac Backups

Remote Backup

If you’ve followed along this far, you know we mentioned previously why you need several styles of backup, you’re rocking a solid clone backup, and you’ve got Time Machine covering multiple versions of at least your most important files.

That should be enough, right?


What could possibly happen to your Mac that could also affect the backups sitting next to it (or even in the same office or home)? Wait — let’s not cite potential specifics and jinx anybody; surely you’ve thought of some ugly possibilities.

That’s why we need the remote backup.

Materials Needed

Broadband Internet

If we’re going to do this automatically, the only practical way to do it it is via an online backup service

Similarly, this is probably only practical if you have a broadband internet connection of some kind – if you don’t, your best bet is probably to do multiple clone backups, and rotate them back and forth between home and office or something. Feasible, just not automatic.

In fact, the bigger the internet pipe you have, the more you may want to consider backing up in this manner.

Remote Backup Service

There are several of these. The one I’m most familiar with is Mozy. Mozy is free for 2GB or less, but if you’ve got less than 2GB of data to back up you’re not downloading enough movies and music you may just want to skip this and backup to a thumbdrive or something.

Even if you’ve got more than 2GB, Mozy is plenty cheap – $5 a month for unlimited storage. Peace of mind for less than the price of two grande moccachinos.

As I mentioned, there are plenty of alternative choices. Mozy was one of the early ones, and it works well enough I stick to it. If you’re shopping around, however, here are some factors to consider:

  • Security – Are your files encrypted before they’re transmitted and stored?
  • Cost – There may be better alternatives than “all you can eat for $5”, but only if what you do eat is less than $5 worth.
  • Client software – As usual, Macs were not the first target market for these services. Double check places like Versiontracker and Macupdate to get opinions on how nicely their client software plays under OS X. One particular peave is how much bandwidth and CPU they take while they’re running, and how well they limit themselves when the machine is busy. I don’t want my backup to get in the way of my doing work, by hogging all of the CPU and/or all of the internet connection.
  • If a catastrophe happens, and you need all of your files faster than you can download them, is there some option to get DVDs or something overnighted to you?

Dot Mac

I’ve always been inclined to think of .mac as a poorly priced mail and limited web hosting service, which never interested me much (since I’m in the web hosting business), but all that changed when I went from having one Mac to having a couple.

In particular, I discovered the joy of syncing to .mac. While syncing isn’t quite backup, it may be the most convenient way of being sure that things like keychains and preferences are kept up-to-date remotely, in addition to stuff like contacts, calendars, etc. This is stuff that’s close to the heart of OS X, and .mac syncing is far more likely to do that properly than an OS X backup client from a company whose customers are 80%+ Windows users. I don’t know if I’d recommend buying it if you have no other use for .mac (I’m lying, I would), but if one of the other features is something you want, it’s a no-brainer.


The details of the setup are going to depend on what service you use, but the basics are deciding what you want backed up, and when you want it backed up.

It pays to remember that these things are slooooooooow… Even if you’ve got a fat connection to the internet, you don’t want it to use a whole bunch of the bandwidth. Also, doubtless there’s stuff that’s easier to recover than downloading it from a remote backup — reinstall the system to get system files, reinstall applications, etc.

Focus instead on what is REALLY important — documents, financial application data, maybe photos, etc. Just the stuff that would let you get back running if you lost everything else. If you’re using .mac, that may be an even shorter list.

In my case, that runs about 8 – 10GB.

Again, be prepared for this to take a real long time to get started. It takes days and days for my 8 – 10GB to get sent up to the Mozy servers (and I’m on a pretty darn fast connection). But remember that that only has to happen once. After it’s done, the backup just fires off when it sees something’s changed, and usually when the machine is sitting idle. I seldom notice it now that the initial sync is done.

Except for the peace of mind.

Are we done yet?

Yes, and thanks for your patience. Go forth and be inadequately backed up no more.

If you came into this in the middle, you may want to look back at these previous sections:

  1. How to backup your Mac – Easily and Securely (Introduction)
  2. How to back up your Mac – Clone Backup
  3. How to back up your Mac – Time Machine
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3 Responses to “How to back up your Mac – Remote Backup”

  1. mahijiru on December 3rd, 2008 9:18 am

    Thanks for these easy how-to articles on backing up my Mac, Chuck. I’m looking to pick up my first external HD to clone my hard drive. Do you have a specific recommendation for external HD/enclosures? What do you use and like, and why? I’ve been looking at OWC, since they seem to have a good rep and good customer support.

  2. Chuck Lawson on December 3rd, 2008 9:54 am

    Hi Mahijiru;

    Actually, there’s not a lot of difference between most of the external drives — for the most part, they use chipsets from 3 – 4 different manufacturers, and drives from another 2 or 3. The prime differentiators are probably warranty and looks. OCW does have a rep for good support, and you probably wouldn’t go wrong with one of their units.

    About the only really big question is whether you have a Mac that has a Firewire 800 port. USB 2.0 and Firewire 400 run at roughly the same speed, but Firewire 800 is way faster, and if your Mac supports it, then you’ll want to spend a couple of dollars more and pick up a drive that supports it as well.

    As for me, lately I’ve been leaning more towards the “docking stations”, like the Thermaltake Blackx — these are USB “sleds” that you just plug a bare SATA drive into the top of. They’re not much for looks, but they are very convenient and allow you to cheaply upgrade as the price continues to drop on high capacity drives. They’re also very useful for archival purposes — put a drive in it, fill it up, put it on the shelf and plug in another one.

    Good luck!

  3. Vinny on January 4th, 2011 6:26 pm

    I am a t-shirt artist. I have many many files that I want backed up.
    Mostly artwork files.

    I tried another place and I was told I need an Intel-based Mac.
    I do not have that. Can you still help?
    Seeing that I have huge files (mostly Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop) is
    this something you can handle?
    Does it cost more?

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