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Backing Up Your Data / Apple Computer

Article ID = 65
Article Title = Backing Up Your Data / Apple Computer
Article Author(s) = Graham Needham (BH)
Article Created On = 4th November 2011
Article Last Updated = 10th September 2014
Article URL = http://www.macstrategy.com/article.php?65

Article Brief Description:
information on backing up your data / computer

Backing Up Your Data / Computer

Some related articles to backing your computer up that you might find useful:

What Is A Backup?

There is a lot of misconception about what constitutes a "backup". For example, just having a Time Machine hard disk or using a RAID system on its own is not backup. It is just one part of a backup strategy. Backup strategies are all about your data i.e. data that needs to be quickly available, data that can be accessed if required or if your primary backup is not available (dies, corrupts, is stolen) and ultimately the safety of the data "offsite". So a backup strategy consists of three data points all of which should be used:
  1. Online backup - a system that creates incremental backups/snapshots of your data and is easily accessible when required e.g. Time Machine.
  2. Near-line backup - a system that keeps copies of data onsite with the ability to be restored as required. Automated backups e.g. an automated system that copies all your date/clones your system disk nightly.
  3. Offline backup - a system that copies data to media that is then stored offsite. This can also be integrated with your "archiving strategy" where you should make full archive sets of data on a regular schedule e.g. weekly, monthly, quarterly and/or yearly.
A good way to think of this is the 3-2-1 system:
3 different copies of all your data (the data on your computer + the online/near-line backups + the offline backup)
2 should be onsite (the data on your computer + the online/near-line backups)
1 must be offsite (the offline backup)
But what about "cloud" backups?
Cloud backups are an amalgamation of near-line and offline backups. It's great for small amounts of data but large amounts will impact your ability to restore quickly and may also conflict with any ISP data caps you are subject to plus will you have a fast enough internet connection (or any internet connection at all) at your secure location after a disaster? Will the cloud be online when you need it (storms in the USA during June 2012 knocked out a high profile cloud storage/backup system for many hours)? Do you trust the cloud company to keep your data safe/private (in June 2012 Dropbox allowed anyone to login to any account for four hours)? If your data is sensitive you also need to consider encryption options.
But what about RAID?
RAID is simply a redundancy system. It only helps mitigate against data loss due to a disk failure and has better availability (as it can stay in service while a disk rebuilds) - it is not a backup strategy. For instance a RAID system will happily copy corrupt files or data with mistakes in it and it will happily do this across two or more disks. However, if certain hardware fails data can be lost and in some cases total data loss can occur! Hence, a proper backup strategy can help you recover from scenarios such as these because your data won't just exist on the RAID system.

Implementing A Backup Strategy

First, ask yourself these questions:
  1. How quickly and easily do you need access to your primary/secondary/tertiary backup?
  2. How much data do you have to backup - just gigabytes, 10s of gigabytes, 100s of gigabytes, terabytes?
  3. Do you want to backup just your current files, all your user data or the entire system/hard disk including installed applications?
  4. How often do you want to backup? How much data can you afford to lose (e.g. can you lose one hour, one day or one week's worth of emails)? This is best answered dependent on how often you use the computer e.g. if you use it everyday you should be backing up at least once a week if not every day or even every hour!
  5. Do you need to able to get a whole computer up and running again quickly i.e. the whole system including installed software or do you simply need access to the data. So you may have one computer and if it has left for repair and been returned/been stolen/been replaced you need to be able to restore all the data and applications. If you're in an office/multi-computer environment you might be able to go to a different computer with a similar setup/software applications, retrieve just your data/files and continue working.
  6. How important is your data? No, seriously, how important is it? Will you be okay with losing all your email, music, (family) photos, work if your house/office burns down or a thief steals all your equipment including your backup drive? Thus, in this day and age, it really doesn't matter who you are, your data is important so make sure you have a backup strategy!
  7. Does the backup data need to be encrypted?
  8. NOTE: OS X 10.7 Lion or later allows you to encrypt hard disks/storage devices.
    NOTE: OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion or later allows you to encrypt Time Machine backups.
Secondly, consider these points:
  • Don't keep your data on a single hard disk/device i.e. the hard disk in your computer - have at least one backup for goodness sake.
  • Don't rely just on a RAID system (see above).
  • Don't rely just on offsite/internet/cloud backups - you're screwed if you have no internet access or the third party loses your data.
  • Don't keep all your data/the backups in one physical location - you can easily be victim to fire/theft/disaster.
  • Test your backups/archives (especially booting from clones) regularly - this helps you avoid backing up corrupted data and/or a non-booting clone.
  • You should always backup before you install software especially Apple system/security updates - make sure your primary backup is easily available and online.
Using the above information you are now ready to implement a proper backup strategy.

Step 1: Online Backup

Get an additional hard disk, RAID or NAS system and use backup software e.g. Apple's Time Machine which is included with Mac OS X 10.5 and later. If you don't like Time Machine use cloning software to clone your hard disk with incremental backups. If you don't like cloning software automate your manual backups with file/folder synchronising software. If you don't have lots of data at least consider a cloud backup but don't rely on it as you only backup.
  • Don't use RAID 0 but other RAID systems such as a simple RAID 1 system are ideal for this type of backup especially those that use (hot) swappable bare hard disks.
  • Don't rely just on offsite/internet/cloud backups.
  • If you use a laptop consider getting a small, mobile type drive for backups if you need to take it with you when you travel - remember the online backup drive should not be the only backup you have especially if you carry it around.
  • You need to keep your data safe so don't skimp on the price of the backup drive. Buy a well known, quality brand desktop hard disk e.g. Hitachi, G-Technology and buy the biggest capacity you can afford (but avoid RAID 0 products).
  • A backup drive connected via USB will be cheap but it will be slower than other types of connection. If you can add an internal drive e.g. in a Mac Pro (Silver) that will be cheaper and faster, externally connected drives with FireWire 800 are faster than USB, eSATA faster still and Thunderbolt possibly even faster.

Step 2: Near-line Backup

This is all about having a regular backup (different or in addition to your online backup) which can be accessed locally as required. Get an additional hard disk (a different one to your online backup!) and regularly either clone your system disk or backup your required data. Do this type of backup based on how often you use your computer and/or important your data is. For example you could automate cloning/backups to occur daily or weekly say on a Friday night, after the working week.
  • If you don't have a lot of data optical discs or offsite/internet/cloud backups could be considered for this type of backup.
  • RAID systems are not ideal for this (due to their expense) unless your business really needs high redundancy access to near-line backups.
  • You could use file/folder synchronising software to backup data to another drive or use a Backup Server / NAS.
  • If the data is important enough you might consider storing this type of backup in a (fireproof) safe.
  • You could rotate two or more Time Machine backup disks (OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion directly supports using more than one Time Machine device making this easier - when asked whether you want to backup to both disks click "Use Both").
  • Multiple Time Machine Backups

Step 3: Offline Backup

Offline backup is all about having regular, full sets of data backups and archives but physically locating the data offsite to your current location. This helps protect against fire, theft and disaster. Again, just how important is your data? The simplest way of doing this is to archive data to storage media and then transport it offsite. You can even do this cheaply using a docking station and bare hard disks. However, for this type of backup you need to consider storage capacities of the media, resilience and longevity of the media used, (safe) transportation of the storage media, security and the final storage location. A family member's house may be okay for a backup of your music and photos but for sensitive company data a secure location with a fireproof safe may be a better choice.
  • You could rotate two or more Time Machine backup disks (OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion directly supports using more than one Time Machine device making this easier - see above).
  • Tape - although the media works out relatively cheaply and it can store large amounts of data it is slow and the initial systems to set up can be cumbersome and expensive.
  • Optical storage e.g. DVD-R - may not be reliable especially cheaper brands, has small capacity and is slow.
  • Hard disk drives = cost per gigabyte is low (current inflated prices due to Thailand flooding notwithstanding), data transfer can be very fast if using the right connection, easy to use with automated software.
  • Use a simple docking station setup for hard disk media.
  • Rotate and update rewritable media i.e. plan/budget to replace the media with new, larger storage and copy all the data over every 2-5 years.
  • Consider implementing your offline backup strategy in conjunction with an archiving server or strategy.

Backup Products

Client backup software
Cloning Software
Manual backups > file/folder synchronisation software
Server based backup software
Offsite/internet/cloud backups
Large capacity desktop hard disks with FireWire 800
NOTE: Special information on using drives that are larger than 2TB.
Large capacity desktop hard disks with Thunderbolt
RAID SYSTEMS
Basic RAID 1 boxes with 2 hard disks and FireWire 800/eSATA
NOTE: Special information on using drives that are larger than 2TB.
Basic RAID 1 boxes with 2 hard disks and Thunderbolt
2 bay RAID 1 enclosures with FireWire 800 and/or eSATA
NOTE: Special information on using drives that are larger than 2TB.
2 bay RAID 1 enclosures with Thunderbolt
4 bay+ RAID enclosures with FireWire 800 and/or eSATA
NOTE: Buyer Beware - you may need to confirm that the 4 bay+ RAID enclosure products listed above are compatible with 2TB+ drives, AFT and/or SATA III.
4 bay+ RAID enclosures with Thunderbolt
DRIVE DOCKS
3.5" SATA Archive Drive Docks and Connectors
NOTE: Special information on using drives that are larger than 2TB.
Universal 2.5"/3.5" PATA/SATA Archive Drive Docks and Connectors
NOTE: Special information on using drives that are larger than 2TB.

Article Keywords: OSX Backup backing back up back-up strategy scheme

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