While the Time Capsule is great, there’s an even better solution and alternative, and that’s to use a Drobo instead. I currently use a Drobo 5N2 for automated Time Machine Backups and as a private and redundant cloud drive. Automated “Cloud” Computing Backups. Unfortunately, relying on one backup is not the best backup plan. An online solution to back up your stuff, CrashPlan is excellent software. It is an easy to use software in which you just have to install this application and start backing up the files or folders you mean to do.
I’m somewhat paranoid about backing up my data files. And by “somewhat paranoid,” I mean “petrified.” If you’re not of a similar mindset, you should be. Consider what it would mean to lose some irreplaceable photos, for instance. Or the please-let-me-keep-my-job presentation that you’ve been pulling together for months. Or your financial data. Being paranoid in every waking hour isn’t a great way to get through life, but when it comes to backing up your data it’s nearly impossible to go too far. Here’s the multi-level plan I use to keep my paranoia at bay.
Level 0: System Setup
My backup plan begins with my basic system setup, which may be different from yours. I keep very little data on the internal boot drive. My user’s folder is on that drive, along with my most-used applications. But that’s it; everything else is saved elsewhere. I even go so far as to use aliases (or symbolic links, if necessary) to move large data files off the boot drive for programs that don’t let me specify a storage location. As a result, my boot drive is typically fairly empty—I’m using just 75GB of the 256GB SSD in my Retina iMac, for example.
So where does everything else reside? On an external RAID setup, complete with a spare drive in a drawer (in the event of a drive failure). This strategy protects my files well enough while I’m working. But as you’ll often hear, RAID is not a backup solution. So how then do I back up my files?
I use a multi-drive, multi-location backup strategy, with the goal of ensuring that I won’t ever lose a critical file due to equipment failure or natural disaster. (It’s still quite possible to lose data via user stupidity; even the best backup plan isn’t completely foolproof in that regard. But I take steps to minimize that risk as well.)
Level 1: Time Machine
Time Machine is my first line of defense, and the only aspect of my strategy that includes support for older versions of files. It’s the first place I go if I’ve accidentally deleted a file (user stupidity), or need an older version of something.
In order to keep the deepest version history possible, I skip a fair number of file types from my backups. You can have Time Machine skip certain files or folders by clicking the Options button in the Time Machine system preferences panel, then clicking the plus sign to adding those files you’d like Time Machine to skip.
Tip: If you add an OS X-owned folder—such as the top-level System folder—Time Machine will ask you if you’d like to skip all system files. I reply yes, because Level Two of my strategy takes care of my system files. When you say yes, Time Machine shows “System Files and Applications” as being excluded from the backup.
In addition to the system files and applications, what other types of things do I skip? I don’t back up any ripped DVD or Blu-Ray movies, again because there’s no need for versioning, and they’re backed up at other levels of my strategy. I also exclude any Parallels or Fusion virtual machines as both apps include their own snapshot features for versioning, and I back up the full virtual machines elsewhere.
By not using Time Machine for these types of files, I’ve freed up hundreds of gigabytes of space that can be used for multiple versions of my data files. I do, however, have Time Machine back up my iPhoto and iTunes libraries, along with all my work and personal data files. These are files that I want to be able to get back quickly, or access older versions with a minimum of hassle.
Level 2: Boot clone
A boot clone is not a perfect copy of your favorite pair of cowboy boots. Rather it’s a perfect copy of the hard drive that boots your Mac. Having a clone is critical—if your boot drive ever has a fatal error, you can connect the clone drive and reboot, and be back where you were with a minimum of disruption.
There are many ways to make a boot clone. I use Carbon Copy Cloner 4 (CCC4 from here out), which I recently reviewed for Macworld. Creating a clone with CCC4 is a simple point-and-click operation.
As I don’t like leaving a clone drive connected all the time, I have a bare drive that I insert into a Sabrent 3 drive dock on a regular schedule. (See my Migrating away from FireWire hard drives article for more on this drive dock and how I put it to use.)
I update my clone about three times a week. Because the vast majority of my files live on the RAID, it’s not critical that the clone is current to the minute. Using CCC4, I created a clone task that’s set to run on disk mount. Updating the clone is as easy as dropping the bare drive into the drive dock; CCC4 sees the drive mount, and starts updating the clone. Typically the whole task takes about five minutes, as only changed files are updated. (The initial clone takes much longer, of course.)
When the clone is complete, I remove the drive from the drive dock and put it back in its storage box for a couple of days. If my boot drive ever fails, I know I can get back up and running in a hurry, and probably not be missing anything other than some modified preference files.
Level 3: Paranoid backup
I call this level my paranoid backup, because I always think something can go wrong with my backups. My paranoid backup is another full backup of my files, to supplement both Level 1 and Level 4 backups. I use the Sabrent drive dock and CCC4 for this backup as well; when I insert the Paranoid disk, CCC4 fires off the backup task.
One very useful feature in CCC4 for the paranoid backup is the ability to “chain” backup tasks. Because this is a full backup with files from both the RAID and internal hard drive, I have four separate backup tasks in CCC4. The first task is set to run on disk mount. The following tasks are set to run when the prior task completes.
So my paranoid backup is just as simple to run as my boot clone: I insert the
Paranoid disk, and the magic just happens. When it’s done, I remove the drive and return it to its storage location. I usually do this once a day, though sometimes twice if I’m creating a lot of new files.
I’m so paranoid that I even back up my cloud services’ files here, even though they reside on every Mac and in the cloud. So yes, I’m paranoid about backups!
Level 4: Offsite backup
The best backup strategy in the world is no good if all of the backups are stored with the computer. You need to keep a set of files in a separate location in case your primary location is visited by fire, flood, theft or other disaster. In my case, that means sending a backup disk to my wife’s office.
Our offsite backup is also done on a bare disk, inserted into the Sabrent drive dock. As with the Paranoid backup, it runs via CCC4 on drive mount, and chains together a number of separate tasks to perform a full backup.
My wife brings the drive home once a week, I update the backup that evening, and it goes back in the morning. So yes, we have one night’s exposure to a disaster while the disk is home. But I keep the disk elsewhere that night, so at least it’s nowhere near the computer.
To remind my wife to bring the drive home, I rely on a simple AppleScript application:
Obviously you’ll need to change the script’s email addresses to contain valid To and From addresses, and you can change the subject and the text of the email to suit your needs.
I run this script once a week, using a launchagent. (Yes, she could put a repeating reminder on her calendar, but I like to make sure she gets a reminder from me, too.)
Level 5: Double-paranoid backup
This is an automated backup to our Time Capsule of critical work and personal files that runs four times a day via a scheduled task in CCC4. It’s fully automatic; I see the OS X notification when the backup finishes, but that’s the extent of my involvement in it.
In addition to copying to the Time Capsule, I also copy from the Time Capsule. I use a set of scripts to back up our web sites to the Time Capsule. These backup files are then copied to a backup folder on my RAID three times a day, so that they are also backed up. (These backups of backups eventually wind up on some of the other backups as well.)
I cannot fathom having to use this extra-extra redundant backup, but it makes me comfortable knowing it exists.
Level 6: Cloud backup
If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably wondering why I don’t just back up everything to a cloud drive somewhere and be done with it. There are a few reasons why I don’t it my primary backup target.
I have a lot of data—at nearly 3TB, getting the initial backup done would take forever. I also don’t like the thought of using my upstream bandwidth to update a backup on a regular basis. There’s also a trust issue: This data is mine, and I don’t want to rely on a third party to stay in business in order to get my data if I need it back. Finally, if I do have a major crisis, waiting hours (days?) to download 3TB of data to get back up and running is not my idea of a good way to spend my time.
Despite my general disinterest in a full cloud-based backup, I do back up some key files to the cloud. That way they’ll be in yet one more place in the event of a major problem.
Although the cloud services encrypt your data, I’m still a bit uncomfortable trusting that there won’t be an exposure somewhere along the line. So before I back up any files to the cloud, I first copy them to an encrypted disk image and then copy that image to the cloud (using a CCC4 task). That way, if someone does get a decrypted copy of what was on the cloud, my data will still be protected, as it was encrypted locally first.
Perhaps in the future when cloud drives are all 4TB+ in size, and our upstream connection speed is measured in gigabits per second, I’ll be more comfortable with a primarily-cloud-based backup solution. Until then, I view the cloud as an additional element in my backup strategy, not a primary destination.
Although we have more than one Mac in the house, all of the key files reside on my primary iMac. The other machines have their data files backed up to our Time Capsule via Time Machine. Critical files are then copied out to a cloud drive on a regular basis (and encrypted first). However, I don’t bother with a boot clone for the other Macs. If one of them were to have a disk failure, it’d be an inconvenience, but no single disk is so critical to us that it needs to be up and running immediately.
The final word
I’m probably an outlier in terms of backup strategy; I don’t expect nor preach all to follow what I do. But you should have some kind of backup plan for your data, and that plan should involve redundant backups, with at least one of them being stored offsite.
You can accomplish this with Time Machine and an offsite backup, or Time Machine and a cloud service backup, or some other combination of here and there schemes. The important thing is to have copies of your data files in multiple places.
In addition, your backup plan must be as simple as possible to implement. If it’s complicated, you won’t keep up, and an old backup isn’t much better than no backup. After years of trying various solutions, I’m incredibly happy with the amount of automation in my current plan. All I have to do is drop disks into a drive dock and CCC4 and some scripts do the work.
With any luck, you’ll never put your multi-site, multi-copy backup system to use. But if you do, you’ll be very glad you went through the trouble of creating a comprehensive backup plan!
Regularly backing up data should be at the top of every Mac user's to-do list (Windows users, too). Don't delay; tomorrow may be too late.
A quick word about the free apps: some of the selected apps are indeed free, such as Apple’s Time Machine, which is included with every copy of OS X. Other apps are a free/paid composite. They will operate without issues as a backup app, but the paid versions have additional features and niceties that are usually well worth the price.
If you don’t currently use a backup app, it is highly recommended giving one of these Mac backup apps a try. You're going to feel a lot better knowing that, should something happen to your Mac’s storage system, you can quickly retrieve any lost data and get right back to work.
What We Like
Integrates seamlessly with Apple Time Capsule.
Lets you 'go back in time' to see what a file looked like in the recent past.
What We Don't Like
Less secure than cloud storage.
Doesn't archive data; old backup data is eventually replaced by new data.
Time Machine, which is included with OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and later, is the backup app of choice for many Mac users. And why not; it's easy to set up and easy to use. It's also easy to forget about. Once you set it up, you can go about your daily business without giving backups a second thought; Time Machine will automatically take care of everything for you. Time Machine also works with OS X's migration assistant, making it an effective choice for moving data to a new Mac as well as performing backups.
While it offers a number of attractive features, Time Machine isn't perfect. We recommend using Time Machine as the core of your backup strategy and relying on other backup apps for additional capabilities, such as cloning or remote/cloud backup.
What We Like
One-step restore process makes it easy to retrieve backed up files.
Simplistic UI leaves little room for user mistakes.
What We Don't Like
Cannot choose specific folders or files to back up.
Slower than other solutions, backs up everything each time it runs.
SuperDuper is a backup application that supports the traditional full and incremental backup approaches many of us are used to, but it's also capable of creating bootable clones of a startup drive. This is one feature that Time Machine lacks and which SuperDuper performs quite well.
SuperDuper's core features (creating clones and backups) are free. The paid version of SuperDuper includes additional features, such as the ability to set up schedules to automate your backups or clone creations; Smart Updates, which are incremental versions of a clone and greatly reduce the time it takes to update an existing clone; and user scripts, so you can create your own backup routines and schedules.
Carbon Copy Cloner
What We Like
Lightning-fast backup speed.
More advanced features than other solutions.
What We Don't Like
Restore speed is significantly slower than backup speed.
Interface may be confusing for novice users.
Carbon Copy Cloner is the granddaddy of Mac cloning software. It has long been a favorite of the Mac community and is a must-have app earning a place in my list of applications we always install on our Macs.
Carbon Copy Cloner is widely used for creating bootable clones, but it can also create full and incremental backups, schedule tasks, and back up to any networked share that your Mac can mount on its desktop.
What We Like
Automatic encryption keeps your backup data safe from hackers.
Less expensive than Carbon Copy Cloner.
What We Don't Like
Doesn't provide a data log of backup activity.
No cloud support.
Get Backup from BeLight Software is available in free and paid (pro) versions. The pro version has some nice feature enhancements that are worth the small additional charge, but the free version has all of the basic features that many Mac users will ever need. This includes the ability to create full and versioned backups, exclude files and folders, synchronize files and folders, and create bootable clones of a startup drive.
One thing to note: The Get Backup app is available from both the Mac App Store and from BeLight Software's website. The Mac App Store version of Get Backup doesn't include the cloning capabilities because Apple doesn't allow apps that require administrative privileges to be sold through the Mac App Store.
Mac Backup Guru
What We Like
Packs an impressive number of features into a single window.
Incremental backups save time and space.
What We Don't Like
The user manual is just an infographic rather than detailed text.
Graphic notifications during backup are annoying and consume CPU resources.
Mac Backup Guru is another backup app that specializes in cloning, that is, creating an exact copy of a selected drive. So exact that if the target drive is the one you use as your startup drive, the resulting clone will also be bootable.
Of course, in today's backup market, cloning a drive is nothing new, and most backup utilities can perform this service. Mac Backup Guru has a few additional tricks it can perform. Besides cloning a drive, Mac Backup Guru can sync any selected folders, and create incremental clones, which cuts down on the time it takes to keep a backup clone current.
It also has a full scheduling system so you can automate your backups.
What We Like
Reliable documentation, customer service, and technical support.
So lightweight you'll likely never notice it running.
Best Backup Software For Mac
What We Don't Like
Frequent updates and requests for user feedback are slightly annoying.
Slower than other alternatives.
What Is The Best Backup Solution
Formally known as CrashPlan, Code42 is primarily an off-site backup application that uses the cloud for storage, however, there's a free version of Code42 that lets you create your own local cloud, so to speak.
Best Backup Solution For Mac Os X
You can designate any Mac, Windows, or Linux computer on your network as the destination. Code42 will use this computer as the backup device for all of your other computers. You can even backup to remote computers that aren't your local network, say the computer of a good friend who lives next door. In this way, you can easily create off-site backups without trusting your data to the cloud.
The free version of Code42 supports full and incremental backups, file encryption (a good idea if you're backing up to a computer that you don't control), running automatic backups on a daily schedule, and the ability to back up any external drives attached to your Mac.
What We Like
Restore Wizard feature lets you restore files indefinitely.
Excellent bargain for what you get.
What We Don't Like
Only yearly premium plans are available.
Free version includes annoying pop-up ads.
IDrive is another online-based backup service that can be used with your Mac. Besides your Mac, IDrive can backup your PC as well as your mobile devices.
IDrive offers a free basic level, allowing you to backup up to 5 GB of data from any device. If you need more backup space you can choose the Personal 2 TB plan which, as of June 2019, is $69.50 a year.
IDrive goes beyond basic backup service: It also allows you to synchronize files between devices, and files can be marked for sharing.