Are you backed up?

Time MachineWould you be concerned if your hard drive crashed today? Would you lose any irreplaceable data, like photos, work projects, or vital documents? What if you dropped your laptop on the kitchen floor or into the tub? Without a good backup, everything that is not backed up will be gone forever.

Thankfully, there are lots of easy solutions to keep all your electronic data safe from disaster. The easiest solution for me is the one that does it automatically, without my input. Out of sight and out of mind means that backups will happen without any actions on my part. This is good because if I have to do it manually, it won’t get done. Here are some quick, cheap, and simple ideas to keep your most important things safe. This post is Mac centric, but the principles can be applied to almost any OS.

To be clear, there are different kinds of backups. A true backup would be a copy of my data on another hard drive that isn’t in the same location as my computer with all the original files on it. Why? Because if there is a theft, fire, or flood, both copies would be wiped away. With offsite backups residing in a different location from my computer, my data is truly safe from both hard drive failure and from the threat of flood and fire. The problem is that offsite backups are not as convenient at replacing data on a failed drive than an onsite backup is. The simple solution is to do both, offsite and onsite backups. Not to worry as both are easy to setup and cheap to do.

Time Machine. It is my best bet for always running in the background and keeping changes to my files backed up. It comes free on every Mac. As I update pictures or work on a new project, it keeps the iterations backed up. If I accidentally delete a file, I can go back in time and retrieve it. If I decided that all my edits over the last few days are junk and want to go back to the original file, I can restore that file, too. Time Machine backs up to a hard drive connected to my computer. It can also backup to a network drive somewhere on my LAN (or local area network) but that can be much slower and flaky if my network isn’t fast. So, Time Machine is great for hour to hour backups, but because it makes backups locally, the data there isn’t protected from the very real threat of theft, fire, or flood. Also, its backups are good for retrieving individual files, but not a complete restore of a failed hard drive in my computer. It can do a full restore, but it would take hours, if not all day to do so, and only after I had replaced the bad drive in my computer. If I don’t have a “hot spare” drive at my house, I’m out of luck if my computer drive actually fails.

CCCCarbon Copy Cloner. Enter the bootable clone. CCC will backup anything from an individual file or folder, all the way up to the entire contents of my internal hard drive. With a total backup to another drive (or volume), I can yank the failed hard drive out of my computer, put in the “cloned” backup made by CCC, and pick up where I left off, in under five minutes. This is great for a failed hard drive situation but is a little over the top for an accidentally deleted file. So CCC combined with Time Machine makes for a very robust backup strategy.

CCC is a very powerful but easy program to work with. I keep an external drive connected to my computer and automatically have a backup scheduled to take place every night at 2:00 am. To protect against theft, fire, and flood, once a week, I rotate out that backup drive with one that is stored offsite. I can store them anywhere from a safe deposit box to a relative’s or friend’s house. CCC will even encrypt the backup if I’m worried about the drive falling into the wrong hands.

Even deeper into the techie side, CCC will use rync over SSH and can backup to a network drive or even a computer across the internet. I send backups to my dad’s computer half way across the country. If you live in a hurricane/earthquake zone, where relatives or neighbor’s houses would be destroyed along with your own house, sending backups to a remote location is a great idea. Extra special is that CCC will even run while I’m logged out of my machine, so I can leave my computer safe and unattended by being logged out, and not worry that the backups won’t happen. This feature alone makes CCC better than its competition, SuperDuper!, another decent backup program.

Time Machine and CCC combined together make for a great backup plan that takes no action on my part and is done in the background, consistently, automatically, and is out of sight and out of mind. If I need a lost file, into the time machine! If my drive fails, I can boot from my clone in two minutes. All I have to do is remember to swap out my CCC backup drive with the offsite drive about once a week. No biggie.

BackblazeBackblaze. Online backups are all the rage these days and Backblaze is a great option in this arena. For roughly $4 a month, I can backup to the cloud, knowing that my data is safe, no matter what happens to my computer. Cloud backups are nice in theory, and are certainly convenient, but they have a lot of pitfalls too. (For the record, I do NOT currently use online backups). Backblaze, and others, act a lot like Time Machine, where a file or folder can be restored fairly quickly if they get deleted or edited incorrectly. The benefit is that the cloud backup is also protected from theft, fire, and flood, unlike Time Machine’s drive that must reside in the house with the computer. Some of the downsides to cloud backups, and there are several, are as follows.

Cloud backups require a very fast internet connection to upload and restore files. With a slow connection or with a lot of data to backup, the initial backup could take months to finish, all the while not having protection during this time. If you have a data plan where you pay for internet usage, forget the cloud. Another big downfall of the cloud, and the reason I don’t use it, is because a hard drive failure can take days to restore because everything backed up has to be downloaded to the computer’s new drive. With a bootable clone, I can be up in minutes after a failure, instead of days with the cloud backup. Cloud storage also doesn’t provide much, if any, “history” to my files. Time Machine can restore files that are years old and cloud storage won’t come close to this feature. Finally, there is a monthly subscription to pay for (Crashplan has some alternatives that are so-so but free), and I’d rather buy a good program like CCC and forget it. However, people using Windows, who don’t have access to programs like Time Machine, should look into cloud backups as a decent alternative.

If nothing else, cloud backups are better than nothing, but the combined use of Time Machine with a cloning program provides the best of both worlds.

To sum up, make sure you are doing something about backups. When all the wedding photos are gone is the wrong time to start a backup plan. Also, regularly check backups to ensure they work (boot) and enter Time Machine to see that it really is doing its job. If you need to buy some backup drives, I highly recommend buying from OWC. They have the highest reputation and make great drives. Don’t cheap out on your most valuable files.

Start your backup plan today!

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