How to backup your Mac – Easily and Securely

April 2, 2008

Easy and Secure Mac Backups
I used to be a “real men don’t back up, they learn data recovery” kind of guy. After a few trips through the canyon though, data recovery begins to lose it’s appeal.

Over time I’ve gotten a lot more religious about backups, and have came up with four rules that have to be followed before I feel like my stuff is actually secure:

  • Backups have to be automatic
  • Recovery needs to be simple
  • Some stuff needs to be recoverable from older backups
  • Important stuff needs to be backed up off-site

Automatic Backups

If it depends on me to remember to do it, sometimes it won’t get done. That’s why my cats have learned to inform me that they need fed. Worse, Murphy’s law says that the day you don’t do a backup is the day before the disaster. Backups have to be automatic.

Recovery needs to be simple (or why Time Machine isn’t good enough)

If I’ve lost a drive, or even a whole computer, I want to switch to my backup and go on. That’s why incremental backup systems (like Time Machine) aren’t good enough — stories of people recovering whole drives or systems from Time Machine are plentiful and painful. Also, Time Machine excludes files that you may assume are being backed up.

Some stuff needs to be recoverable from older backups (or why you need Time Machine)

On the other hand, sometimes I do something stupid (delete or irretrievably change a document) and don’t realize it until backups are done. I want to be able to recover a file from the day before yesterday – or the week before last. Time Machine is brilliant at this.

Important stuff needs to be backed up off-site

Some disasters (lightning strikes, fires, theft, etc.) can be bigger than just your hard drive or your computer. If your only backup is next to your computer, you could lose both.

As a result, I keep three kinds of backups —

  1. Clone Backup – Every night, a clone backup of my system drive is generated. One of the reasons Macs are brilliant is most any Mac can boot from most any system drive. If my main machine threw a shoe, I could boot my notebook (or any other current generation Mac) from the backup of my iMac, and be back to work with all of my stuff
  2. Time Machine – Every hour, Time Machine looks for changed files, and updates a second backup drive. If I need a file from a few days or a few weeks ago, it’s there. Also, if something happens to my clone backup, it’s my fallback option — my backup has a backup.
  3. Online Backup – Online backups are slow, but they’re safely located away from my desktop. All of my important stuff is backed up to online storage whenever my machine and network are sufficiently idle.

Over the next few posts, we’ll look at how simple it is to set this up, and to have the peace of mind that comes with knowing your stuff is secure:

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

  1. Clay on October 21st, 2008 8:32 pm

    Not sure I agree with your take on Time Machine. I hosed my iMac after a botched install of Windows using Boot Camp.

    As a long time PC user, I had NO idea where to start to recover. So, I booted from disk 1 of OS X – one of the options available from disk was to recover from Time Machine.

    In order to do a full recovery – I had to format the disk using Disk Utility which was also on the CD.

    Long story short – Time Machine took 2.5 hours, but it recovered EVERYTHING as though it never happened. This happened on a Sunday morning around 8:00 AM. By Noon, I had reverted my iMac back to 7:00 AM that morning.

    Time Machine works as the name implies. That was three weeks ago – if it excluded files, I’ve yet to find them.


  2. Chuck Lawson on October 27th, 2008 4:59 pm

    Hi Clay;

    Glad it all worked out for you. As detailed in the post I linked, the issue with Time Machine is that some applications (often for good reason) keep Time Machine from backing up their files. If you had no problems, then you probably didn’t have any applications that fell in this category, although many of us do.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with Time Machine (I use it myself), it’s just that it may not be a complete solution in and of itself for many folks.

  3. Brad on September 22nd, 2009 10:15 am

    I had to use a little bit of a different strategy to make sure all of my Music/Movies/Photos were safe and accessible quickly in case of a failure. My setup can be seen here:
    .-= Brad´s last blog ..Dropbox: Easy Backups, File Sharing and Data Portability =-.

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