Your Mac and Backing Up Your Data
Let’s get this out of the way straightaway: Your Mac is not infallible. Though it may seem like it is, it can fail just like any other computer. When it does, you want to have a bulletproof backup scheme in place to save your butt. Most people learn the hard way. Hopefully you haven’t gone through the hard way yet and we can get you set up with a safety net before things go bad. This is a long post so strap in.
What should I backup?
Well, there’s a few different views. Backup everything or just backup what you absolutely need. There’s a give and take:
- Backup everything: Literally, get it all. Your operating system, applications, data… all of it. The pros? Mainly that should something happen, you’ll be back up and running in the least amount of time. Cons? It takes the most time to back up and you’ll need the most amount of space for this kind of backup. Thankfully, space is cheap these days.
- Backup just what you need: Basically, just back up your data. This usually is just your home folder on your Mac because by default, this is where everything lives. Pros? Faster backups and less space needed. Cons? If something goes wrong, it’ll take you longer to get things back to where they were. You’ll have to install your OS, update it, install your software, update it, then put your data back. Depending on how your machine is, this could take an entire day of solid plugging away at it.
Where should I back my stuff up to?
- The easiest thing to backup to is an external hard disk. If you have a desktop machine, it’s easy because it’ll likely always be connected. If you have a portable machine, you may not be always connected to your backup drive, especially away from home or work. In that case, I’d look into something like a Time Capsule which is basically an AirPort Base Station with a hard drive in it just for backing up over your wireless network. It’s pretty slick and I use a setup like this myself. The added bonus is that you can use the Time Capsule for multiple machines on your wireless network so you’ve got everyone backed up in one spot. By using Time Machine to backup your entire hard drive, you could boot from your Mac OS X install disc, plug in your Time Machine drive (or point to your Time Capsule) and tell your machine to restore itself. With not too much time required, your Mac is back in business.
- There’s also backing up across the internet. There are services like Iron Mountain and Carbonite that for a fee will back up your Mac no matter where you are, across the internet. They keep it safe and secure. They aren’t terribly expensive either. Restoration can be more complicated however.
- There are other methods like tape and DVD, but they get very time consuming. I’m concentrating on methods that are “fire and forget.”
How often should I backup?
Ideally, as often as your data changes. The solutions that I’ve mentioned above are just about always backing up your data. So, it should catch everything when it changes or shortly after that.
Should I have more than one backup solution?
Ideally, YES. Let’s say you have Time Machine set up on your Mac. It’s using a connected hard drive to your iMac. This is great because all of your stuff is backed up incase your hard drive decides to go belly up.
What about a fire?
Obviously, getting yourself and others out is your first priority. But what about your data? That backup is no good if both the iMac and the hard drive go down in flames. What do you do about it?
This is where having an “off-site” backup comes in. Occasionally, you should take a backup of your Mac and place that somewhere safe. Friend’s house, relative, bank vault. (seriously)
Take a look at how often your data changes. You can usually add an off-site without too much hassle. I’d bargain that for most folks, a once a month off-site is about what you’ll need. So, make a habit of the first of the month going to the bank, get the hard drive out of the safe deposit box and run Carbon Copy Cloner to duplicate your drive to it. Then, put it back in the vault.
This way, you have a solid backup plan for when your drive goes belly up or if the thing going up is your house… in flames.