No Safety Net?

There are circus performers around the world that pride themselves on being able to successfully walk across the tightrope in the Big Top without having a safety net under them to catch them should they fall. They get paid well for the risks they take. Are you using your Mac without a safety net of a backup plan? If so, perhaps you should consider backing up your Mac’s data before it’s too late.

When I first got my Mac in 1989, I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, this Mac has a 20 megabyte hard drive! I’ll never fill that up!” Nowadays, I have
individual data files that are 20 megabytes or larger in size. We sure have come a long way in the amounts of hard drive storage space available to us on our Macs. Not only do we have space for many programs, we have lots of space for those things that are near and dear to us: our photos, our music, and our videos. Can you afford to lose these? For many of you, the answer is probably no and this is why you should consider a backup plan. This blog entry is for those of you who answered, “No.”

“Backup” defined
Merriam-Webster defines “backup” as “3 : a copy of computer data (as a file or the contents of a hard drive); also : the act or an instance of making a backup”

Some considerations you should make when developing a back up plan for your Mac(s): How many Macs do you want to back up? Are the Macs networked? If so, are they on a wired (i.e. Ethernet) network or a wireless network or a combination of the two? Are the Macs desktops or laptops or a mixture of both?

My personal experience has been that all
successful backup plans should be ones that you don’t have to think about or do anything beyond the initial setup. If you have to think about doing a backup, you’ll probably procrastinate doing it...I know because it is human nature to want to put off onerous tasks like data backups.

I’m often asked how one should backup their Mac(s). The answer depends on what you’re hoping to accomplish. There are many ways to backup data on a computer. I’ll only touch on a few ways here. First, there are “full backups” and “incremental backups.” Full backups are complete backups of your data. In other words, if you do a full backup of one drive to another, the second drive should be identical to the first drive (although the second drive may not necessarily be “bootable” - more on that later in this blog entry). If you do an incremental backup to another drive, it will only back up the data that has changed since the previous full backup. Full backups can take quite a while depending on the amount of data that needs to be backed up. Incremental backups generally are much faster. The most important thing is to find a backup routine that works for you and one that you will continue to use.

Time Machine

Time Machine is a backup application installed on every Mac that is running either 10.5 “Leopard” or 10.6 “Snow Leopard.” The default location for the Time Machine’s icon is in your Dock so it’s probably still there. If not, check to make sure it’s in your Applications folder. When you first configure Time Machine, you indicate which drive it should use to perform backups. Once configured, Time Machine will keep hourly backups for the past 24 hours, daily backups for the past month, and weekly backups for all previous months. When the backup drive gets full, Time Machine will automatically delete the oldest backups. Time Machine does a full backup the first time you configure it and then incremental backups afterwards. It is important to note that Time Machine backups are
not bootable.

As an aside, for Mac laptops, I wholeheartedly recommend the combination of a Time Capsule (a wireless router with a built-in hard drive made by Apple) and Time Machine. Once configured properly, backups occur wirelessly and, most importantly, in the background. You don’t have to think about anything...it just works. In my humble opinion, this combination is the most convenient and easiest backup method for Mac laptops. Should your Mac’s hard drive mechanically fail and need to be replaced with a new hard drive, you’ll have to reinstall the operating system and then use Apple’s Migration Assistant to restore the Time Machine-backed up data to your Mac. You could potentially be dead in the water until you replace the hard drive and install the operating system and restore the Time Machine data. You can also use Time Machine with your Mac laptop and back up to external hard drives as well but the backup process may not be as convenient and easy.

SuperDuper!

For desktop Macs, I usually recommend SuperDuper! It’s an inexpensive, shareware application that completely automates the backup process and tells you, in plain English, what is going to happen the next time the backup begins. By purchasing the software, you can also schedule backups to run by themselves even when you’re not at your Mac. It can also create bootable backups which not all backup programs do. What that means is that should your original drive stop functioning, you can actually boot your Mac from the backup drive. SuperDuper! can create full and incremental backups, too. You can run SuperDuper! without paying for it but you cannot schedule backups which, in my humble opinion, is not the easiest or more effective plan. If you have to think about doing a backup, you probably won’t so I respectfully suggest that you help the software developers at Shirt Pocket software buying paying for and registering your copy of SuperDuper! The software works with both internal and external (i.e. FireWire 400/800, USB 2.0, and eSATA) hard drives. So whether you have an extra internal hard drive in your Mac Pro tower or an external hard drive connected to your iMac or MacBook, SuperDuper! has you covered! Trust me, SuperDuper! is worth every penny of its $27.95 price tag. Please note that you can also use Time Machine with desktop Macs and back up to external hard drives but the backups will not be bootable.

Final Thoughts
Regardless of which methods you implement, implementing them is half the battle. The other half is to occasionally test your backup drives to ensure that they are really backing up the data you think they are. You don’t want to wait until it’s too late to discover that the backup plan you thought was in place and working, was, in fact, not working.

If I can be of service in developing an effective and efficient backup plan for you and your Mac(s), please don’t hesitate to
contact me as I will be glad to assist you!