Best practices for OSX backup strategy?
April 9, 2014 10:57 AM   Subscribe

After another data-loss scare, I'm trying to actually get a system in place for backing up a couple home computers.

I thought my Hard drive shit the bed, but it was just a defective cable. It put the Fear™ into me (we had a pretty significant data loss a couple years ago too and ended up paying a stupid amount of money retrieving the data at a forensic recovery place…but we didn't have backed up copies of photos of our kids birth and stuff…worth every penny, but I'd like to avoid that bill again). Now that we have a kid, this kind of thing is a bit more valuable to the family, so I'm trying to get serious about it. So. Backups are good, and cheaper in the long run. Awesome.

As it stands, we have 2 computers; both macbooks of different eras, both refurbs. One is our media-box because the screen shit it's pants and it's out of waranty, and the other is our get-shit-done machine. We have another macbook waiting for a SSD and new battery to be used as a backup machine. I backup important folders every month or so, and keep work documents on an external HD. I only back-up the folders manually, I don't really care about OSX's settings or saving programs or system preferences or anything. This stuff would be nice to have backups of. I also have a small cache of work documents backed up on a free dropbox account. This is not enough to ease my mind. I oftentimes skip a month here and there.

My current plan is as follows*:
1. Continue to backup vital folders locally on an external HD each month.
3. Open a dedicated backup account with Crashplan or something similar (suggestions welcome!) for offsite backup.
3. Expand my drop box account to be able to cover my photos folder and have those live on the cloud.
4. By a time-capsule and let Apple's time machine do it's thing.

Does this sound like a pretty legit strategy? I'd really like my photos to live in two different places, and $100/year is pretty cheap insurance just to have those live on another company's servers.

1,2 and 3 are for certain. But the $300 dollar price tag on the smallest Time-Capsule is a little hard to swallow. I'm willing to pull the trigger, but I'm wondering if there's a cheaper option that is just as hands-off and just as reliable? I'm all for buying Apple products because they play so nice together, and they're well engineered…but honestly, for what it is, it still seems on the expensive side to me. Is there some amazing feature i'm missing here? Are there any alternatives out there?

*Oh, and I'm not willing to do the whole 'HD at work that gets swapped out every month' or something; I won't remember to do this. I'd rather pay another cloud service to do a double backup of my entire system for off-site needs. This is the kind of thing i'm trying to avoid entirely.
posted by furnace.heart to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
You can run Time Machine on any external hard drive, presumably including the one you've got, no need to buy the one from Apple. The main benefits are that it whines at you when you haven't run a backup in a while and it doesn't require you to do anything once you've set it up but plug it in.
posted by asperity at 11:02 AM on April 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

I find Time Machine to be all that I need. (so far)
posted by humboldt32 at 11:03 AM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Time Machine plays perfectly well with any USB hard drive. The trick to using external disks is figuring out how to keep thieves from taking the disk when they break into your home and steal your computer. I had mine in a beefy metal box bolted underneath my desk. Disconnecting the disk and hiding it is another possibility, but the inconvenience factor might keep you from doing the backups.
posted by ryanrs at 11:13 AM on April 9, 2014

I have a Mac Pro, and if you look back at some of my Ask history, you'll see some questions from me going back years on this issue.

This is what I do:

1) Time Machine: I use Time Machine for daily incremental backups. I think it backs up every hour or half hour for the past week, and then whatever are the defaults. Time Machine has saved my bacon a few time. As noted above, ANY hard drive (internal or external) can be configured as a Time Machine disk. This saves money versus the Apple Time Capsule. In addition, if you're inclined, you can get a bare internal 3.5" drive and an external enclosure and save some additional money that way instead of buying a pre-made external drive (WD Mybook or whatever).

2) External Clone: In addition to the daily backups with Time Machine, I use Super Duper! to make a full bootable clone of each drive (and I have, like 5 drives I use daily, so I have 10 drives total between the disk and the related clone). It's a great program. What I like about this is that the clone, effectively allows me to take my computer anywhere. Time Machine ensures that I don't delete something accidentally. The clones mean that I could take the drive to another Mac, boot from the clone, and I have everything on that disk and the other computer looks and feels like it's mine. The Time Machine is an archive that would have to be uncompressed--you don't see the file structure.

3) CrashPlan.
In addition to Time Machine and the clones, each drive is mapped to CrashPlan so that I can have off-site storage. I think I uploaded about 2.5 terabytes, including lots of RAW photos and MP3s; it took about three weeks to do it. It would not be easy to get that data back, but it's out there somewhere as insurance in an absolute worst-case scenario.

Together, these three approaches give me great peace of mind.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:19 AM on April 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

Which is to say, I do what you're planning to do, and it's time consuming to stay current across all three, but it's a great idea, and you can do it for not too much money.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:20 AM on April 9, 2014

I have just switched off Time Machine and started using Carbon Copy which makes a bootable external copy of your drive.
posted by kenchie at 11:24 AM on April 9, 2014

If you've already got some spare hardware laying around, you can create your own Time Capsule-a-like:
posted by chazlarson at 12:31 PM on April 9, 2014

Seconding Super Duper! combined with Time Machine.
posted by alms at 12:37 PM on April 9, 2014

We have a time capsule, but I also wanted an 802.11ac AP for future laptops/phones. We've also used non-ATC solutions in the past.
posted by Mad_Carew at 12:41 PM on April 9, 2014

I'm lazy and need things to be automatic. I'm not going to remember to take backups off site. Here's what I do:

Time machine to an external HD. I think I have a 2tb USB 3.0 drive that can back up my entire system in a couple minutes. I back up everything here. This is in case my computer crashes.

Crashplan to back up my documents, photos, home video and anything else I can't easily replace.. I don't bother with stuff I can replace, like music or purchased TV shows. This is in case my house burns down.
posted by bondcliff at 1:15 PM on April 9, 2014

Admiral Haddock above has the canonical "correct" strategy.

(1) You want daily incremental backups via Time Machine, because Apple makes that easy. You can use any external disk for this, you don't need a Time Capsule - just point Time Machine at the disk. You can even alternate two external disks and these days Time Machine does the right thing with both. (I think.) Note - you don't need to keep the disk plugged in all the time - I plug mine in once a day and manually force a backup.

(2) You want static snapshots on a regular basis. Super Duper! comes highly recommended, and its incremental update to snapshot mode is particularly useful. I use it to make clones on a semi-regular basis (every few months) for each of our machines.

(3) The gold standard is an offsite backup, and something like CrashPlan or BackBlaze is great for that. On my to-do list. For now I rsync important folders to my work server.

A single backup is better than nothing (far, far better) but really not that great. I have personally had a laptop disk die on me *during* the Migration Assistant run to clone it to a new laptop (makes sense - it was old, and Migration Assistant hits a disk hard), at which point the Time Machine backup would have been my only copy of precious data. That would not be a great moment to find out that the hard disk had actually been failing for a while and corrupted the backup! (Apple's HFS+ is notoriously awful at ensuring data integrity.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:21 PM on April 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

My Mac backup strategy is this:

1) All machines back up to a WD My Cloud unit via Time Machine. Time Capsule is crazy expensive, the WD NAS unit is pretty nice. It's good for all sorts of internal file sharing.

2) The really important computer also has CrashPlan running. I have a PC backing up via CrashPlan as well so I end up having a multi-compute license and the price is pretty reasonable. CrashPlan has been a great service so far.
posted by GuyZero at 1:27 PM on April 9, 2014

If you're just going to backup to a hard drive, I'd recommend using two, and swapping them occasionally (and keeping the other one off-site)... fires and theft will render them pretty useless otherwise.

I use Time Machine + a paid Dropbox account for all my work stuff + Flickr for my photos.
posted by backwards guitar at 1:31 PM on April 9, 2014

Just came to say that my Time Capsule died after a couple of years, so there's that.
posted by Ochre,Hugh at 1:31 PM on April 9, 2014

Current versions of OS-X allow for more than one Time Machine drive to be in rotation. I keep a Time Machine drive at home and another in a drawer in my desk at work, and I just have to remember to plug them into my laptop occasionally at one place or the other. For a home situation you could have one that you have offsite (neighbor?) and one at home and you swap them every now and then.

Really, if something catastrophic happens, the fact that your offsite backup drive is a couple of weeks out of date will not bother you much.

Best is a system that requires no thinking (or remembering at all), but there are degrees of "automatic".

Oh yeah, and if you encrypt the drive (easy within Time Machine) no one can poke through the contents of the drive no matter where it is.
posted by BillMcMurdo at 1:49 PM on April 9, 2014

For a while I had a kludged together fake Time Capsule running on a Linux box, and it worked great, but I eventually decommissioned it and bought a real (refurb) one from Apple instead. This is so that if a member of my family who doesn't know how to deal with the Linux fileserver box has a computer emergency while I am at work or traveling, they can just unplug the Time Capsule, take it to the Apple Store along with their busted computer and say "fix it."

Making sure you've got a valid backup is an important consideration, but don't overlook the importance of having a valid backup that can be expediently accessed by anybody who might need it.
posted by contraption at 2:02 PM on April 9, 2014

What I do:

For our Macs:

TimeMachine to a local linux server. If you use a laptop, then using a backup target on the network is preferable to using an external drive because it is more likely to be available.

I wouldn't forgo TimeMachine, as some have. It isn't perfect, but it is pretty good, it is built in, and it does frequent incremental backups. A cloned disk isn't going to give you that.

CrashPlan to back up my home directory to both their cloud service and another linux server.

For non-backup data on our linux server:
Rsnapshot backup to my second linux server, which then gets backed up to the Crashplan cloud

For my virtual server:
Rsnapshot to my home backup server 4 times a day. Rsnapshot also runs mysql backup dump.
posted by Good Brain at 5:52 PM on April 9, 2014

My current plan:

(1) Time Machine to a 2 TB external drive attached to a Mac Mini server. I'm backing up 2 Mac notebooks to it, and the advantage of a Time Capsule or server is that you don't need to remember to connect any cables; configured properly, the backups just happen automatically. I find it useful when I idiotically delete a file, or edit an original rather than a copy. (For the first, 200+ GB backup, I connected my notebook to the server via 1000Base-T Ethernet, which was a lot faster than backing up via WiFi.)

(2) Daily Arq backups of my entire home folder to Amazon Glacier. Glacier is cheap, and while it can be a number of hours before you can retrieve data from it, any scenario where the only copy of my data is on Glacier is by definition a disaster, and getting instant access to those data won't be my top priority. S3 is getting a lot cheaper than it was, and Arq allows you to backup some folders to S3, for quick access, and others to Glacier, for cost savings.

(3) A 100 GB Dropbox account (2-factor authentication enabled) where I keep most of the files I'm working on or want remote access to. Since I'm sometimes working on a 15" MBP and sometimes on an 11" Air, Dropbox lets me have all those files on both machines without needing to remember complicated sync arrangements. It also makes sharing individual files with colleagues fairly easy.

(4) Google Drive via my employer's Apps installation, and my employer's WebDAV service. Technically, these aren't part of my backup strategy; I use them to store files that my employer considers to be sensitive or confidential and that I shouldn't be keeping on Dropbox or a personally owned computer.

(5) Occasional Time Machine backups to an external hard drive I keep in my office at work.

(6) Occasional bootable clones of the entire hard drive of my 15" MBP to one external hard drive (encrypted) at home and a second (also encrypted) at work.
posted by brianogilvie at 11:52 AM on April 10, 2014

Backblaze is my tool that has saved me with a HD crash.

Though, it probably would be cheaper/better to self-use Amazon Glacier.
posted by wcfields at 12:53 PM on April 10, 2014

wcfields, isn't Backblaze $50 or $60 / year for unlimited backups? That's about the same as Glacier pricing for 500 GB for a year.nim really partial to Backblaze; they're really smart about their technology.
posted by reddot at 12:57 PM on May 27, 2014

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