How many ways can you back up your Mac? Clones. Time Machine. DVDs. iCloud. Amazon S3. RAID array? NAS (network attached storage)? The methods to back up your Mac’s files are many and varied and few of them are inexpensive over time. Some are straightforward and simple. iCloud and Time Machine come to mind.
Others are performance-based, including RAID arrays and NAS servers. In between are the clones and various cloud services for off premise backups. The answer to, “What’s the best way to back up a Mac?” is the same as, “What does it cost to build a house?”
The answer is, “It depends.” How big does the house need to be? Likewise, how mission critical are your Mac’s files?
Through the years I’ve gained a measure of experience in cloud storage, network attached storage systems, and various RAID arrays. What I settled on may surprise you for its simplicity, elegance, low cost, and ability to bridge local storage with cloud storage.
Locally, I skipped NAS and RAID arrays and went to a low cost, low maintenance option with external storage devices; one disk drive at a time. I use the Voyager external disk docks to house disk drives. Each Mac gets a couple, and I use ChronoSync and SuperDuper! to handle cloned backups from each Mac, and to mirror sync critical files between Macs.
That means each Mac has at least one cloned disk which can be used in an emergency situation, and at least one disk with mirrored critical files (Movies, Music, Documents, etc.). All those files are stored locally using the NewerTech disk docks. No RAID array. No NAS.
As you can see, these devices are not pretty. The dock stores a bare naked disk drive in either 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch, hard or SSD. Just plug it into a Mac, drop in the disk drive– fully unclothed; no case– turn it on, copy files. Both ChronoSync and SuperDuper! have a built-in scheduler to automate the process.
The naked drives have advantages, especially during a catastrophic problem. Cooling is not a problem. There’s no case wrapped around the drive. They’re easily transported and swapped out. Both dock and disk drives are inexpensive. The negative is that there’s no wireless solution which many new NAS systems have these days.
Local back ups still don’t cover theft, fire, earthquake, floods, or failures, so there needs to be an online backup component and for that I use iCloud (for Photos and system settings for each device) and Amazon S3, specifically with the Arq backup app.
Again, I’m trying to balance cost and automation with critical requirements (some files I cannot afford to lose; but my life doesn’t depend upon keeping them). Amazon S3’s cloud storage is among the best available (even Apple uses Amazon). In a decade of use I’ve yet to have a NewerTech Voyager die or lose a file on Amazon. Storage costs are based mostly on how much storage you use, and the Arq app does the backups in the background; and once they’re set up, subsequent backups are incremental and much faster.
This back up method helps to keep costs down, duplicates files to multiple on-premise and cloud storage, and is mostly automated.
Why not follow the NAS trend? Or, invest in RAID arrays? Or, just use Time Machine? NAS and RAIDs can get expensive and have maintenance issues; both with set up and ongoing management. Time Machine is good for finding misplaced files, but is a horrid restore system (cloned Mac disks are faster and more accurate). For me, the KISS method rules.