Every once in a while, my day-to-day computing adventures manage to coincide with something that’s reverberating through the Macintosh Community at large. This last week was just such an example.
Over the last week or so, there have been a number of discussions in a number of forums regarding backups in general, with a focus on Time Machine in particular. Oddly enough, about this time last week, the boot drive on my work machine crashed.
As you may have guessed, I am a huge proponent of regular backups. I’ve written articles about it. I’ve given presentations at Macworld about it. Now, I’m blogging about it. You could say I have a bit of a fixation on backing up. Fortunately, this fixation meant that I was able to keep working while a new drive was procured and was running at full speed again within a couple hours.
After dealing with that then seeing the unusual jump in articles discussing backup, I figured it may be prudent to explore some common backup methods.
Personally, I use Time Machine fairly frequently, as I have the unfortunate habit of emptying my Trash almost reflexively. It’s hard to say how many times Time Machine has enabled me to retrieve a file I just trashed. That protection is well worth the cost of a decent external drive.
Time Machine is incredibly useful and effective, except in one instance: when you need to be back up and running quickly. That’s where a “clone” of your drive comes in handy.
Effectively a “clone” is a file-for-file copy of your boot drive. That means that if your main drive goes down, you can boot from your cloned copy and pick up at the last backup point. Unfortunately, everything you did after that point is lost.
Cloning software is easy-to-find. A copy of the popular Carbon Copy Cloner is included with every OWC and Newer Technology Storage Solution. You can even automate the backups to be as frequent as you want.
Of course, if you want to always have a completely up-to-date “backup” that works automatically, then you may want to look into a RAID of some sort. The easiest to use would be the NewerTech Guardian MAXimus, which is an all-in-one Mirrored RAID (RAID 1). If one drive fails, there is an automatic copy which you can run off of until you can replace the failed drive.
A little more advanced is the OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro Qx2, which can provide more advanced RAID setups and larger capacities.
Its instantaneous nature is both a strength and a weakeness. Because it copies file information without an intermediary, if a file is corrupted on one disk, it is corrupted on the backup as well.
Additionally, you are limited to the speed of the bus you are connected to. If you have eSATA capability on your computer, this won’t be a problem – the total bandwidth available is higher than the physical drives can output. Otherwise, you’ll need to use FireWire 800,400, or USB 2.0. Those busses, however, will be saturated by the drives, potentially slowing the system down.
This is exactly what it sounds like: a combination of two or more methods. This helps offset the weaknesses of one method with the strengths of another. In my instance, I have one drive dedicated to Time Machine, and another that is a fully-bootable clone, which I update daily. When my drive went down, I was able to boot to my clone, and retrieve any new, non-cloned files I needed via Time Machine.
Another option would be to run your system off of a RAID 0 (or RAID 5) and use another (single or RAID) drive to hold Time Machine backups. The variations are only as limited as your imagination and budget.
Backing up is something you don’t think about until your hard drive fails. Unfortunately, it isn’t a matter of “if” but of “when.”
Do you have a plan in place for when the inevitable happens?