What makes your Mac different? Your personal and business stuff! This includes your pictures, documents, emails, music, and movies… Information and memories you don’t want to lose. That’s why it’s important that you backup your data regularly.
Aside from regularly scheduled backups, you should always backup before making any changes, such as software or OS updates. Our suggestion is to backup with the frequency that corresponds to your tolerance for loss. For example, if you don’t mind the idea of losing a month’s worth of work, photos or music, backup monthly. If you can’t stand the thought of losing a moment’s worth of emails, documents, etc. then it’s wise to backup constantly. The wonderful part is that your Mac has built in software that does this for you, as long as you are connected to an external hard drive.
Getting started with Time Machine
Time Machine comes with Mac OS 10.5 and later, and it’s so easy to use, it’s practically fool proof! Time Machine schedules hourly backups of your hard drive contents to an external hard drive. Use it with an external hard drive or a Time Capsule to keep constant, complete, incremental backups of everything on your hard drive. If you want to backup multiple computers on your network without having to connect an external hard drive, then the Time Capsule is necessary.
We recommend that every Mac user take advantage of Time Machine as a primary backup. If you combine this with a complete Cloud backup, you have a rock solid data safety plan that will protect you against hardware failure, malicious destruction, natural disasters and anything else the world might throw at you!
If your whole hard drive needs to be restored from Time Machine, it would be a complete, functional restore of your programs, settings and data. Sometimes people forget that they have spent many years on their Mac and the way that it is setup is very personal. Do you remember all the software you have installed and setup to your personal preference? What does it take to find all of that information? You could be at it for days! A restore from Time Machine will put all that software, data and preferences back where they belong. You can even use your Time Machine backup to transfer your personal setup to a new Mac. Please note that some software licenses (such as Office 2011) will not transfer, so please make sure to keep track of your license codes and purchase info. We’ll discuss that in our Password and Info management post later in this series.
To get started, you just need to get an external hard drive. You can pick one up for less than $100. Considering that data recovery starts at $399 and can run well into the THOUSANDS of DOLLARS, this is a pretty reasonable investment. Also, know that the average lifespan of a hard drive (where all you precious stuff is stored) is about 3 years! Even though most Macs perform solidly for many years, you don’t want to gamble with your data.
For the second part of your backup plan, you’ll want to setup a full backup of your data with a Cloud service, too. It’s important to have BOTH. Although Time Machine is the fastest way to get you back up and running quickly in the event of a hard drive failure, it won’t do you any good if you have a house fire, theft or other disaster in which your external drive gets compromised along with your Mac!
We recommend Backblaze (see article at right) We’ve been very happy with their service and have been able to perform a number of successful recoveries from Backblaze backups. This is not the case with some other popular Cloud backup providers.
Why iCloud is not a great backup plan…
Many of our clients mistakenly think that when they sign into iCloud on their Mac, it backs up their data. It is not a complete backup when it comes to your Mac. However, you can do a full backup of your iOS device to iCloud.
First off, “cloud” is just another word for the World Wide Web and the data that is stored there. When you use iCloud on your Mac, think of it as a cloud service that allows you to keep certain data the same on multiple devices. When you first connect to your iCloud account, there is data that iCloud wants you to “sync”, like contacts, calendars, and Safari bookmarks. iCloud becomes the primary storage place for the stuff you are syncing, then you can connect any device and copy your info from iCloud to that device. This is a continuous process. For example, when you add a contact to your Mac, it communicates with iCloud to see if it needs to add a new contact or update an existing contact in the cloud. iCloud creates or updates the contact. When you open your iPhone’s Contacts app, it compares what is on the phone with iCloud and then copies the new contact to your phone or updates the existing contact on your phone.
Apple keeps adding more items that you can sync to iCloud like all you digital music, all your photos and pretty soon, your entire desktop! With Apple constantly putting more things in the Cloud, it starts to resemble a backup. Depending on how you have your iCloud syncing setup, though, the amount of data protection iCloud provides can vary wildly. Alternately, it’s inexpensive and easy to get a service like Backblaze that does perform a complete backup so we recommend doing so.
Click this link for a deeper description of the capabilities of iCloud:
Double checking your backups
Here are a few things you can do to make sure your backups are in good shape:
- Keep an eye out for any errors. Time Machine is pretty good at alerting you when it has failed to backup so that’s a great place to start. If you get an error, address it right away rather than letting it sit for months on end!
- Check your external hard drive regularly. You can use the built in Mac Disk Utility (Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility). Select the external drive you use for your backup and then select the volume beneath that, and run First Aid. This will verify that your drive is working well. It’s important to check the drive because external drives are just a likely to fail as the one inside your Mac!
- Get a second backup drive and maintain a bootable clone. A bootable clone is an exact copy of your internal hard drive. In the event of an internal hard drive failure, a bootable clone can be used to startup your Mac and you can go on working (temporarily)! If you really want to be extra safe, this is a great option. If you choose to make a bootable clone you’ll need a second external drive and software such as Super Duper or Carbon Copy Cloner. This is also great extra insurance against losing your data to malware, including ransomware!
- Restore a few random files to see if they restore properly. This seems simple, but it’s actually a pretty good way to test your Time Machine backup. Select the Time Machine icon in the menu bar and choose “Enter Time Machine”. Once inside the Time Machine interface, use the timeline on the right to navigate through your backups. Pick file and click the “Restore” button. When it asks whether to keep both file or to overwrite the existing, keep both. Repeat with a few files from random backup dates. If the files open successfully once you restore them, chances are that your backup is working well.
- If you have a network backup (like a Time Capsule), use network verify. Hold the option key down and click on the Time Machine icon in the menu bar. Choose verify backups.
As always, if you need help with setup, or if you need advice about your backup strategy, the Mac-O-Rama team is here to consult with you to get everything figured out for your specific needs. Let us know if we can give you hand!