Backing Up Your Mac

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Developing a Good Backup Strategy

There's an old saying when it comes to hard drives: "There are two types of hard drives, those that have crashed and those that are going to crash." The easiest way to protect yourself from a hard drive crash is to have a solid backup strategy. That means having multiple copies of your data in multiple locations.

A good rule to develop a useful backup strategy by is the "3-2-1 Rule". Have 3 copies of your data on 2 different types of media with at least 1 offsite backup.

In developing a backup strategy, decide what data is most important to you. If you only want to save your user files, then a file-level backup is a good place to start. If maximizing up-time (or minimizing recovery time) is most important, a bootable clone should be part of your backup strategy.

Many backup programs will already have user files selected, but here are some important files to consider when backing up:

  • School Documents
  • Tax Documents
  • Work Files
  • Photos
  • Home Movies
  • User Library

File-Level Backups

A file-level backup is a great way to back up user-generated files and settings. Compared to a System-Level backup, a file-level backup only includes data specifically selected by the user. Most commonly, file-level backups should include the /user folder, as this is the default location where documents, photos, movies, music and settings are stored.

Local Backups

Burn a DVD

Platform: MacOS X, Windows, Linux
License: Free
iOS App: No
Supports external/ NAS Drives: Yes

If you only have a few important files to back up, burning a DVD is a cheap, easy way to make sure that you have an additional copy of your data. One advantage of optical media is that it is read-only. Data written to an optical disk cannot be overwritten. Create a second set of optical media and send it to a relative for an easy offsite backup as well.

CrashPlan

Platform: MacOS X, Windows, Linux
License: Commercial
iOS App: No
Website: http://www.crashplan.com/
Supports external/ NAS Drives: Yes

The free version of CrashPlan allows you to back up your files to an external drive or NAS.

Network Attached Storage (NAS)

Platform: MacOS X, Windows, Linux
iOS App: Varies

More advanced users might want to build a NAS to handle local backups. A NAS most often refers to a small, dedicated box with two or more bays for installing hard drives that is attached directly to a home (or office) network.

Drobo, Synology, QNAP and Netgear are just a few manufacturers of NAS devices. Devices can be sold with or without hard drives. Many NAS devices include custom software that allows the user to install multiple disks and combine their capacities to appear as a much larger single drive.

Many larger manufacturers also include the ability for a NAS device to be used as a Time Machine destination.

In addition to the local storage, many manufacturers also have iOS apps that allow the user to access data from their iPhones and iPads.

Cloud Storage

Cloud storage has its place in a backup solution, but should not be fully relied on as a backup. The cloud storage providers listed in this section all provide live access to one's data. Any corruption or accidental file deletion will also be reflected in the cloud copy as well. However, in the event of a hard drive failure, any data stored in the cloud should be safe.

Box

Platform: MacOS X, Windows, Linux
Included free space: 10 GB
iOS App: Yes
Website: http://www.box.com/

Dropbox

Platform: MacOS X, Windows, Linux
Included free space: 2 GB
iOS App: Yes
Website: http://www.dropbox.com/

Dropbox gives it's free users 2GB of space, with the possibility to earn additional free space through referrals and other promotions (up to 18 GB). Deleted files are retained on Dropbox's server for 30 days. Even if you accidentally delete a file, you have an opportunity to recover it. Dropbox also keeps snapshots of your files, so you can recover a previous version if you need to (also within the past 30 days).

Dropbox also offers a Pro tier of its service, with 100 GB of storage starting at $9.99/month. Pro users also are able to upgrade to the "Packrat" feature, which gives you unlimited deletion recovery and revision history.

Google Drive

Platform: MacOS X, Windows, Linux
Included free space: 15 GB
iOS App: Yes
Website: http://drive.google.com/

SkyDrive

Platform: MacOS X, Windows, Linux
Included free space: 7 GB
iOS App: Yes
Website: http://skydrive.live.com/

Online Backups

Backblaze

Platform: MacOS X, Windows
License: Commercial
iOS App: Yes
Website: http://www.backblaze.com/
Supports external/ NAS Drives: Yes

Carbonite

Platform: MacOS X, Windows
License: Commercial
iOS App: Yes
Website: http://www.carbonite.com/online-backup
Supports external/ NAS Drives: Yes

CrashPlan +

Platform: MacOS X, Windows, Linux
License: Commercial
iOS App: Yes
Website: http://www.crashplan.com/
Supports external/ NAS Drives: Yes

Mozy

Platform: MacOS X, Windows
License: Commercial
iOS App: Yes
Website: https://mozy.com/
Supports external/ NAS Drives: Yes

System-Level Backups

System-level backups create a copy of all files on your computer, including both user files and system files. This can be helpful if a complete system restore is necessary. While all of the options in this section are capable of restoring a machine to it's saved state, CarbonCopyCloner and SuperDuper! also create a bootable clone.

Time Machine

Platform: MacOS X
License: Commercial, Included with MacOS X
Website: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1427
Supports external/ NAS Drives: No

Time Machine allows for incremental backups of files that can be restored at a later date. Integrated into Finder, Time machine shows a timeline which allows the user to move through the history of all backups on the disk. The user can also use Spotlight to perform searches for specific documents and iPhoto to find deleted photos.

Time Machine can back up to a secondary hard drive (either external or internal) or server (including Time Capsule). Some NAS devices are also able to be used as a Time Machine destination.

Time Machine backups cannot be used as a bootable backup (like CarbonCopyCloner and SuperDuper! backups can), but a clean installation of MacOS X will offer the user the opportunity to restore from a Time Machine backup.

Main Article: Time Machine

Carbon Copy Cloner

Platform: MacOS X
License: Commercial, $40 USD
Website: http://www.bombich.com/
Supports external/ NAS Drives: No

SuperDuper!

Platform: MacOS X
License: Commercial, $28 USD
Website: http://www.shirt-pocket.com/SuperDuper/SuperDuperDescription.html
Supports external/ NAS Drives: No

BootCamp Partition Backups

Winclone

Platform: MacOS X
License: Commercial, $30 USD
Website: http://www.twocanoes.com/winclone/

Testing Backups

A good backup strategy includes periodically testing your backups for data corruption.