Synchronicity

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.

Time Machine

A lot has been written about Time Machine. I, myself, have written a couple articles on the topic: one when it first came out and a wider-ranging one a couple of months ago.

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.

Cloning

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.

Hardware redundancy

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.

Combinations

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.

Don’t Delay

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?


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  • Ryan,

    As far as Time Machine goes, eSATA may be a bit of overkill. Generally, the only lengthy file transfer is the initial one. Subsequent backups would only be for files that changed which is a considerably smaller portion.

    I’ve used FireWire for most of my Time Machine disks, and even a couple of USB 2.0 disks, without noticeable slowdown.




  • I like to use Time Machine, but have the following comments:

    1) It takes too long and uses a brute force method – if a file changes, then no matter how big it is it gets copied to the backup the next time it runs (everyone knows what I am talking about when you use Parallels or VMWare Fusion). ZFS would solve this because it would have support for snapshots and the idea that if a file changes, only the the changed bits, not the whole file, are backed up.

    2) Not sure why it is so hard to run a backup to a network location. Does anyone have a good set of instructions on how to do this? Either way it is not an official option unless you have a Time Capsule or an Airport with an AirDisk attached, or OSX Server sitting somewhere on your network. You should just be able to take some crappy old computer and stick it on your network and have it receive TM Backups.

    3) I am looking into increasing the speed of TM backups by getting an external eSata drive. This would mean replacing my external exclosure and getting an eSata card for my Mac Pro. Any recommendations on what hardware would be good for this? Is it even worth moving to eSata as opposed to using my existing FW800 setup?




  • The very first article I wrote for MyMac.Com was about hard drive failure.

    http://www.mymac.com/showarticle.php?id=2777

    OWC has the best solutions, but don’t get caught with a dead drive and no back up.

    Rich Lefko
    Columnist-MyMac.Com




  • I don’t have a backup plan. My theory is that if the universe decides to erase all of my work to date, there must be a reason for that. It is refreshing and liberating to start over!




  • It’s also nice to be able to firewire into a 2nd Mac and take a clone of that machine, if you’re running pretty much the same stuff.