Mac users have many, many backup plan options. These range from Time Machine to iCloud, from synchronizing files and folders between Macs, to creating a bootable backup clone. Far more important than a particular backup scheme is, well, a backup plan that gets used. Why is a backup important?
On the surface we all know why we need a backup. Consider this scenario. You turn on your Mac and it does not turn on. It’s dead. Motherboard. CPU. SSD or hard disk drive. Whatever it is, it’s dead. That means Documents, Music, Movies, Photos, email, and everything else of irreplaceable value is gone; possibly forever.
A backup plan helps you get through that catastrophic scenario quickly and almost painlessly. Here’s what I do to keep my Macs backed up.
The Bootable Clone – First, I clone my Mac. Disk drives and even SSDs are cheap these days. Each of my Macs has an external disk drive which is used to create a bootable clone. The bootable part is important as it allows all your files to be backed up and the backup disk can be used to startup on another Mac. Apps to consider: SuperDuper! ChronoSync. Carbon Copy Cloner. Get Backup Pro. All are affordable, relatively easy to setup and use, and each features an automated, unattended backup scheduler.
Time Machine – Second, I keep Time Machine running on each Mac. Apple’s idea of a built-in backup system works and does not require much effort, but it has a hole or two. Restoring and entire Mac, as per the aforementioned catastrophic scenario, is slow and painful. But Time Machine is very good at backing up individual changed files and making them available to be restored with a few clicks. Time Machine’s hole is the one hour interval where it waits, finds changed files, then saves them as backup files. That means if you lose or delete a file you may have to wait to find (or, never find it). Fortunately, there’s a simple, seamless, automated way to fill that hole.
DropSync – This backup and sync app has a number of useful features, and it’s relatively geeky to setup and use, but the one that I like the most and use the most is the automated backup of a specific folder. A ‘watch folder,’ if you will. DropSync can watch a designated folder on your Mac, and if a file is added to the folder, or a file within the folder is changed, it will automatically sync the changes to another folder; to an external disk, elsewhere on the Mac, or even to another nearby Mac on a local network.
Those three methods work together to ensure that files do not get lost, or, if they do, they’re easily retrieved. And you get a bootable clone so if your Mac dies, the cloned disk drive can be used to boot up on another Mac so you’re back up and running within minutes after a catastrophic problem. Oh, by the way. Those bootable clones need to be tested from time to time.
Still, those three backup methods have one glaring hole. The personal catastrophe where the Mac is stolen, or destroyed– along with the backups– by storm, flood, fire, earthquake. After all, if your Mac’s files are all in the same room and that room is destroyed, so are all the Mac’s files.
What to do?
Cloud Backup – I’ve tried some of the ‘full backup’ online services and been disappointed. First, it takes days to a week or more to get a Mac’s entires disk drive cloned online. Second, those backup apps have problems of their own. So, I’ve worked to use online cloud storage in a piecemeal way. iCloud gets photos and music, obviously. Google Drive gets Documents and other important files. Microsoft OneDrive is used to backup other files. And, I use the cleverly designed Arq utility to backup files to Amazon’s S3 cloud backup service. There’s plenty of duplication there, and a retrieval will be cumbersome, but I just don’t trust any single cloud backup system to store all my files.
The reason I go to so much trouble to setup multiple backup methods is because many of the files stored on my Macs cannot be replaced. Photos, music, and videos go back decades. Many documents simply cannot be replaced. And, through the years, I’ve had a Mac or two die on the vine, but thanks to the backup schemes in place, I could get back up and running within minutes.