This week’s backup reminder comes to you from Howard Greenstein, one of the many who answered my call on HARO in July. Howard is a Social Media Strategist and President of the Harbrooke Group. He’s been blogging for more than 10 years—which means he used to do it all manually, back before there were blog engines like Blogger and WordPress—and he recently started a blogging column at Inc Magazine’s Startup Blog, where he helps small business understand technologies they can use to better market their businesses. He’s hoping that the advice below will save someone a headache in the future.
Backing Up your Mac
As a small business owner with a laptop Mac, my business travels with me wherever I go. That is both convenient and dangerous. It is great to have all my mail, presentations and files at whatever client location or conference I happen to be at on any given day, but dicey to realize that I’m one cup of spilled coffee away from losing all my data. So, I’ve set up a few ways of ensuring that even if my MacBook goes south on me, I have a way to recover everything that’s important to me with just a few nail-biting hours of time. As a Mac owner, there are several choices, ranging from “free” to a few dollars a month for a service to a couple of bucks for purchase of backup software. I’ll review a few choices I’ve made, and reference others that are available for readers to pursue.
Back to the Future
Apple’s OS X 10.5 introduced Time Machine, a built-in way to store not only a copy of your hard disk data, but multiple copies, each from a different day or week. While Time Machine is a great utility for keeping a ’running backup’ of your disk, you may need a large amount of storage space. Each time a copy of a changed file is saved, it takes up more disk space. I bought a Western Digital My Book 1 TB drive to use partially as a Time Machine backup disk. My Mac has a 160GB drive, and about 135GB is used. I have Time Machine Backups going back 5 months, and I’m currently using 270GB of the 360GB I allocated in a hard disk partition to back up drive.
Time Machine is easy to use – set it and forget it. You turn it on, tell it which hard disk to use for backups, and every hour the Mac will check for changed files and back them up. Time machine keeps more files from the last few days, and check points for each week going back as far as it can before it runs out of room.
To restore, just go back to the right time in your “history” (see the diagram), click the file to restore, and hit the big “Restore” button. One downside of Time Machine is that it is not a bootable copy of your data. So, if your hard disk breaks, but the rest of your Mac is working, you can’t just boot up and get back to work. But there are several programs that will allow that.
I think I’m a clone now…
I’ve used two different programs over the past few years to create bootable, exact copies of my hard disk. Both effectively “clone” your hard disk to another disk, making the copy almost indistinguishable from your current drive. One is Carbon Copy Cloner from Bombich software. CCC version 3.1.1 is Donation-Ware, so it is free for you to try. I used it for several months with good results, but for some reason, about the time that Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5) was released, I switched to Super Duper from Shirt-Pocket software. Super Duper also has a free version that will make an exact copy of your disk. For $27.95 you get an upgrade that allows “smart updating”—in other words, the backup program only copies the files that have changed, making your exact backup fast and efficient.
On another partition of that 1TB drive I bought, I created a space slightly larger than the 135GB hard disk, and I run Super Duper weekly to make an exact copy of my hard drive. Once the initial copy was made, each “smart update” takes an hour or so. Every Sunday night, Super Duper turns on and automatically runs that process. In the morning I have an exact copy of my drive. If you want an all-in-one drive plus wireless access point solution, Apple’s Time Capsule is an easy to purchase, set up and forget solution.
It’s all fun and games until someone loses an iMac…
Recently, my 1 TB drive had some sort of glitch, and I got worried about its reliability. I couldn’t see the drives on the desktop, but Disk Utility saw the drive as empty—no partitions. Long story short, I bought ProSoft Engineering’s Data Rescue II over the net, downloaded it, and copied a bunch of data from the 3rd partition on my 1TB drive. Somehow all the checking of the disk “brought it back,” but I still wasn’t satisfied.
I took two steps to ensure my data would be safe. The first was getting a second large hard disk, and making another Super Duper backup. (The drive actually came courtesy of Blogger Robert Scoble, who held a contest with Seagate in NY’s Times Square, and I was one of several lucky winners. I consider it fate that I won a drive the same week my other drive went flaky—don’t let this happen to you!) I use this drive once a week in the middle of the week to make a Super Duper copy, so now I’m never more than 3 days away from an exact copy of my data.
Put it in the cloud
The second thing I did was look into online backup solutions. Even though I have 2 exact copies of my hard disk now, they’re both still in my home office. If I had a fire or theft; I’d be very much out of luck for backups or a computer. A friend had recommended Mozy, which is a service from storage vendor EMC. Mozy is a small download that you install, and it searches your drive to show you files you can back up.
You can select your Documents folder, or only Excel, PowerPoint and Word documents, for example. The free backup holds only 2GB, which is fine for many people. If you want to back up more than 2 GB of data, say the 17.3 GB of iTunes I have in the picture, Mozy allows unlimited data storage for $4.95 a month. Yes, UNLIMITED, for HOME users. If you’re a business, you’re supposed to use Mozy Pro, which is $3.95 a month plus $.50 per Gigabyte for a desktop, $6.95 + .50/GB for a server. For those of you playing along, that would be about $55.00 a month for my 135 GB hard disk, assuming I backed up about 100GB (and not system files or programs). So, for Mozy’s purposes, I’m a home user. (Also, there’s no final version of Mozy Pro for Mac yet, only for PC, so I’m not feeling guilty here).
I find that Mozy, on my Cable Modem, seems to upload about 1.0 Mbits/second, so the initial upload will take several days. Then, at night or when my computer is idle, Mozy will update any changed files so I always have a good copy of data “in the cloud.”
There are other online backup solutions, including Sugar Sync which promises you not only backup, but access to your files (such as your music) from any computer with a browser or to some files via your iPhone. The 100GB I’d like to back up would cost $14.99/month from Sugar Sync. Since I don’t need that kind of access, I’m not using it, but it has been well reviewed and for those who want any time/any place access to files, Sugar Sync could be well worth it.
Mac and Me
Another choice for online storage is the old .Mac account, now known as Mobile Me, which allows backup and sync between several computers. It also allows access to files via browser wherever you are. It also provides an email account that can be accessed from many devices, or via browser. A 20GB storage plan, enough for most people, is $99/year.
Other tips and tricks
There are other things you can do to keep your data safe and secure, and out of the house or office. You can upload all your contact data to Plaxo, which will sync with your Mac’s address book and provide a convenient online storage for that data. If your contacts are on Plaxo and they change their information, your address book gets the updated information automatically. Gmail from Google lets you store up to 7GB of email on their servers for free. Using the IMAP protocol, you can get that mail on your desktop or in a browser, and the online mail is always up to date. It is an excellent way to keep your mail backed up. Google also allows you to store documents in Google Docs, which can be edited and shared. If you need more room for mail and documents, you can even run a small company on Google Apps for Domains. As a small business, I have 2 accounts for $100 a year, and that gives me 25GB of mail and documents.
To store your photos, Google’s Picasa allows you to upload several GB of photos from iPhoto. Yahoo’s Flickr.com Pro service allows unlimited storage of photos, and sharing with friends, for only $24.95 a year. Your first 100MB of photos are free.
One other sharing solution is DropBox – you can sync files between multiple computers and access the information online. 5GB of file storage is free, so you could consider dropping some critical files and have them stored on your brother’s hard disk, and have his stuff on yours, or save files between your work and home computers. It works on Mac or PC.
There’s no excuse to lose files with all these choices. The only thing keeping you from being fully backed up is a few dollars, and inertia. But nothing’s a harsher lesson than figuring out what is and what isn’t backed up when a hard disk fails.
Thanks to Howard for that ounce (or two) of prevention for Mac users. Almost any backup solution costs less than losing your data. And I have tons more of them to write about in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.
Howard B. Greenstein says
As a follow up to this article, the Mozy software has turned out to be inconsistent at best.
I got one full backup from my machine after days and days of uploads, but could never get a consistent incremental backup.
I was instructed by techs to remove all the software and reinstall it. This generated a full re-backup of the machine, and after almost a month with errors in the log files and back and forth with support people, it never worked.
In the meanwhile I am testing Sugar sync and Carbonite for mac.