How to set up a complete backup strategy for your Mac: Time Machine, cloning, and the cloud!
Make sure to have multiple backup strategies to make sure you never lose a file
It's one thing to back up your Mac. It's another thing to have a coherent backup strategy that includes local and off-site components. That makes sure you're never more than a few minutes from recovering in the event of a critical failure or problem. In this how to, we'll look at how to set up just such a routine using a combination of backup strategies .
In my second job at an Apple retailer, I'll regularly get customers who proudly tell me they've never backed up their Mac. "Seven years without a hitch," crowed one customer a few weeks ago.
I diplomatically suggested she consider a Time Capsule or external drive to back up to, but she thought I was trying to upsell her to something she didn't need, and left without making a purchase. Inside, I wanted to scream.
Look, I love my Mac. But as good as Apple is, it and its equipment are not infallible. Equipment failures are going to happen. It's just part of life. The best thing you can do is to be prepared for when they do, so when failures happen, they're as non-disruptive to you as possible.
First, let's cover the fundamentals. If you haven't already gotten started, here are some links to get you familiar with the basics of backing up your Mac:
- How to easily back up and restore your Mac with Time Machine on OS X Mavericks
- How to easily clone your Mac using SuperDuper! or Carbon Copy Cloner
- How to easily backup (and restore) using Backblaze or CrashPlan
If you're using any of these individual techniques to make sure your Mac is backed up, you may be wondering why you have to combine strategies at all. The main reason is redundancy: You don't want a single point of failure in the system to keep you from gaining access to the files that you need.
Time Machine — your first line of backup defense
Time Machine is arguably the best solution to make sure you always have recoverable files close at hand. Time Machine will work with an external hard drive or a Time Capsule, providing you with immediate access to your entire hard drive's file system. In fact, you can recover your Mac using a Time Machine backup, too.
But over time, Time Machine backups can fail. Hard drives sometimes stop working, including the one built into your Time Capsule. You can ameliorate this by using more than one drive for your Time Machine backup. It'll take longer to rotate through each backup, but it'll also reduce the likelihood that a single point of failure will ever hose your backups.
Cloning — a good backup strategy for your backup strategy
Cloning using SuperDuper, Carbon Copy Cloner or another tool further reduces the risk. Periodically — and let your workflow be your guide here when it comes time to decide what the period should be — you can use a cloning app to create a perfect replica of your hard drive, which you should then put away in a safe place until the next time you haul it out.
Again, bear in mind my previous guideline about avoiding a single point of failure. If it's possible for you to budget two drives to rotate between for your cloning, you'll be better off. That way, if anything goes wrong with one, you're never more than the previous backup on the other from restoring your drive if and when you should need to.
One last thing — if you're rotating your clone drives and it's safe for you to keep one of your drives away from where your equipment is (in another place entirely), it's not a bad idea. Perhaps your desk at the office, or a relative's house is a good place to store a clone drive. Rotating a clone offsite makes sure you'll be able to recover from a disaster.
Cloud storage — Your final line of backup
Time Machine and cloning with rotation sounds like a pretty solid backup strategy, and for a lot of people it's more than enough. If time or budget has already limited you, you're welcome to stop here.
But there's a case to be made for using a cloud-based backup solution like BackBlaze, CrashPlan or Carbonite, or even one that depends on Dropbox or Apple's forthcoming iCloud Drive. Because something can always happen to your local equipment. If a fire or natural disaster strikes your home, for example, you can lose all of your equipment in a heartbeat — then no amount of local backup is going to save your bacon if you need to restore.
If you travel, cloud-based backup can come in handy. If you need to restore files while you're away from your Time Capsule or away from your clone drive, you're out of luck. Using a cloud-based backup service, you can restore as long as you have a network connection.
Whatever you do, make sure to back up
Regardless of whether you employ a one, two or three-tier approach to backing up your data, one way or the other, make sure your data is backed up. Because recovering data off a broken drive is expensive and time consuming. A small amount of planning, a bit of budgeting and a sound recovery strategy is all you need to make sure you never have to worry about whether your data is safe.
Hopefully I've given you some ideas for what you need to do to make sure you absolutely, positively can get your hands on your files regardless of what happens not just to your computer, but to the other devices and services you rely on in the event of a crisis. If you have questions or other ideas, let me know in the comments.