Thursday is Worldwide Backup Day, when we celebrate taking precautions so as not to lose data (well worth celebrating). The best backup strategies take a layered approach to provide different levels of protection. I’m going to focus on three layers for protecting your Mac: online, nearline, and offsite backups.
Online backup refers to copies of files that are directly accessible. Some examples of online backup would be copying files to USB thumbsticks or an external hard drive, and cloning a drive with Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper. Online backup is convenient because you don’t need any additional software to get access to the backup files and you save the time that would be spent on restoring files from some other type of backup archive. Cloning is particularly good for system drives because you can boot up your computer and get to work right away instead of waiting to reinstall everything or restore files from a backup archive like you would with Time Machine.
- USB thumbdrive
- External hard drive
- SuperDuper! clone
Nearline backups are usually saved in an archive format that is saved to storage that is directly attached to the computer, or available on the same local area network. Nearline backups use additional software to manage the copies and provide some additional benefits like compression, incremental updates, versioning of files, and maybe even centralized administration and security. The disadvantage of nearline backups is that you can’t boot from them if your startup disk is down and you can’t directly access the files if you take the backup drive to another machine. Time Machine is the most familiar example for Mac users, but other software like Retrospect can be used this way too.
Offsite backups are simply copies that are stored in another physical location from the computer. The purpose of offsite backup is to protect you in the case of fire, theft, or some other disastrous event like a lightning strike or flood that would destroy both the computer and the backup storage next to it. Offsite backups, by nature of being physically removed, take time to recover and restore and are really only there for catastrophes. You can rotate physical drives offsite, use cloud backup service like CrashPlan or a filesync service like Dropbox.
These different layers can be combined to provide you with the right amount of protection for your needs. Here are three ways that a casual, moderate and hardcore user might implement online, nearline and offsite backup for their important files.
- Copy your most critical files to a USB thumb drive. Repeat this process every quarter.
- Buy an external hard drive and turn on Time Machine.
- Take a second USB thumb drive with critical files to work.
- Get a free Gmail account and email an encrypted disk image (use Disk Utility) of your files to yourself (don’t forget the password!).
- Get a free Dropbox account and copy up to 2 GB of files.
- Clone your system drive to an external hard drive with SuperDuper! Update your clone at the beginning of every month.
- Use Time Capsule for automatic network backup. If you have a laptop, don’t underestimate the convenience of having Time Machine just run while your computer is on without having to remember to plug anything in.
- Buy more storage from Dropbox or…
- Sign up for CrashPlan, possibly the best cloud backup service for Mac users
- Clone your system drive to two different external hard drives with SuperDuper! Take one clone off site and rotate them every week.
- Time Machine with Time Capsule.
- Dropbox in addition to Crashplan
- Second cloned drive
- If you’re really, really hardcore, set up a second Time Machine drive and rotate that offsite as well. You will have to manually switch drives in Time Machine preferences each time you rotate the drives.
Whatever your level of preparedness (or paranoia), there’s a backup strategy for you. Take a little time this Worldwide Backup Day to choose one and implement it before you have a reason to regret putting it off any longer.