Blog Post

Mac Backup Strategies for Worldwide Backup Day

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(s aapl): online, nearline, and offsite backups.

Online Backup

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.


Nearline Backup

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 Backup

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 (s goog) 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.



  • CrashPlan
  • 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.

9 Responses to “Mac Backup Strategies for Worldwide Backup Day”

  1. 1. Time Machine for Local
    2. ChronoSync
    3. Arq Backup by Haystack software, the best $30 I ever spent on software. It backs up flawlessly to my S3 and the cost is much, much less per month to store on S3 then the various other services.

  2. What a fun coincidence. I just upgraded the disk drive in my MacBook. The Time Machine restore has been running now for about 44 hours! I should have paid more attention to the speed of that 1 TB Western Digital MyBook I purchased a year or so ago.

    My backup strategies are Time Machine and Soonr (cloud). I’m looking forward to trying out the Mac backup capability in Windows Home Server 2011 when released. I currently use WHS for all the PCs in the house and would like to simplify.

    I used CrashPlan for awhile but opaque backup files not supported by the OS vendor scare me.

  3. Hamranhansenhansen

    I have 2 Macs and they each have their own giant Drobo for Time Machine backups. Each Drobo has 4 disks, so when one goes, you slot in a new one and continue on like nothing happened. When a backup gets close to being full, I swap in a new bigger drive into one of the slots of that Drobo. Time Machine is too good. One Mac is on its 4th hard drive, and each time Apple replaces it, Time Machine puts everything back where it goes within a couple of hours. It is actually pretty magical. Last time the hard drive blew, I just laughed. A couple of days later, it was back from Apple with a new disk and indistinguishable from its pre-crash self.

    Each Mac also has its own BackBlaze account for offsite backup. The software is awesome, it runs as a System Preference and is very much like having a second Time Machine that uses a cloud instead of local disk. The speed is awesome, the price is awesome. The only bad thing I could say about BackBlaze is they happen to be in the same metropolitan area as me, so if California falls into the sea, my Macs and Drobos and BackBlaze all go under at once.

    My 3rd backup is when a disk comes out of a Drobo, I write a compressed, encrypted backup to it and send it to my brother in Canada. He has a pretty good collection now. After The Big One, if I can swim to Arizona Bay then I could start over in Canada. Canada has very few earthquakes, and when they do, they are like baby earthquakes.

    Good automatic backups are so important. Time Machine is reason enough to get a Mac. Drobos are fantastic, infinite disks. BackBlaze is just painless. I love the peace of mind that comes from a few layers of backup, because I make content. I have many terabytes of unique data that represents years of work. Cannot lose it. I’ve crashed probably 20 disks over the past 10 years, I’m under no illusion that these things are permanent storage. You have to have the data on multiple disks, like the multiple tires on the axles of an 18 wheeler. You should be able to look at any single disk and say, “if you blow right now, no problem, the truck will stay on the road.”

  4. Chris Wolf

    My strategy is to use both Time Machine with a Time Capsule for nearline backup and CrashPlan+ for offsite backup. They work together just fine. For minor disasters I have fast and simple recovery from Time Capsule and for a major disaster I have the additional safety net of an offsite backup without the hassle of rotating drives. Plus by using two entirely different apps am hopefully protected against bugs in either backup solution.

  5. Thanks for the great reminder about backing up. Backblaze is a sponsor
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  6. Correction – I use Synchronize Plus, not Pro! Pro offers bootable backup and I dont have that, but it is a superb backup solution. I’ve tried many others, but always stick with this one.

  7. My Backup Goes:

    1. Time Machine on all my machines
    2. Synchronize Pro to backup/synchronize my documents folder between all my machines and my departmental drive.
    3. Mozy as the cloud backup solution for my home machines documents and media files (photos and music).
    4. Superduper to make bootable backups of my office Macbook and Desktops.

    I always think back to when I was a graduate student in England circa 1993. A fellow student (also a Mac user) came running in to my office in a total panic because his baby daughter had crawled across his keyboard and erased a large chunk of his dissertation that was sitting open in Microsoft Word 5.1a (remember that one? The best version EVER!). There was nothing I could do to help, but I became a religious backup maker after that!