A sound backup strategy is crucial for any computer user. There are countless bad surprises that can make your important data suddenly inaccessible. Stay ahead of the game by implementing a solid backup strategy to save your data before you need it.
Backup Strategy: The 3-2-1 Method
A single backup is better than zero backups, but it isn’t enough to keep important data safe. That’s why we recommend using the 3-2-1 method. The numbers in this method stand for 3 backups of important data across 2 different storage mediums, with 1 backup stored off-site.
Hard Drive Backups
Copying your data to another hard drive is the easiest way to protect it. You might even be doing something like this already. It’s an excellent first step, and it should be practiced by every computer user.
Apple’s built-in backup app, Time Machine, make saving your data to another hard drive virtually painless. You only need to connect a hard drive and tell Time Machine to use it. The system will then make hourly backups of your system. After that backups will be archived until the disk begins to run out of room, and then the oldest backups will be removed to make room for the newest ones.
This automatic management makes Time Machine extremely powerful. However, there can be some downsides. First, accessing files from Time Machine requires the use of a Mac. Secondly, recovering files requires you to use the Time Machine app, which isn’t great. Finally, there’s the possibility that a Time Machine backup could become corrupted, making it completely unusable.
This might be enough to make you worry. Fortunately, Carbon Copy Cloner is an excellent secondary choice. With a little setup you can use the app to create automatic backups of your system as frequently as every hour. It’s not as simple as Time Machine, but it’s still very easy to use.
Whether you use Time Machine or Carbon Copy Cloner, you’ll need to store your backup data on a separate physical hard disk and update the backup on a regular schedule. It’s also best to start with an empty, freshly-formatted drive to avoid any potential problems. And don’t try to use your backup disk for your movie library as well – that can cause problems for both Time Machine and CCC.
Your second backup should be on a different storage medium than your first. It should also be stored in a remote location to protect against environmental damage and theft. An online backup utility like Backblaze is perfect for this. The system automatically backs up your computer’s drives to the Backblaze servers. It’s reliable, cheap, and dead simple to set up.
Online Backup does have its detractors. You’ll need a stable and fast Internet connection for it to work properly. If you lose your connection for a few hours and don’t realize it, that could spell trouble. And if your online backup company goes out of business, you’ve just lost all your backups.
That said, the ease and convenience of online backup tends to mitigate these concerns. If you’re against it, you can also use DVDs or a second hard drive that connects to your computer with a different interface than your primary backup. Just make sure to store any physical storage at a separate geographic location to protect against environmental damage or theft.
Advanced Backup: RAID and Bootable Clones
If you’re familiar with the backup game, you might have already implemented the above recommendations. Advanced users can go further.
Tech-saavy users might use a RAID 1 setup as part of their backup strategy. It’s important to recognize, however, that RAID 1 is not backup: it’s redundancy. RAID 1 mirrors all of your data to protect against disk failure, but it doesn’t protect against data corruption or user error. If you want to learn more about setting up RAID on your Mac, we’ve prepared a post just for you.
Bootable clones should also be part of any advanced backup strategy. While other backup systems will save your files, a bootable clone will save your entire operating system. Users can also mount a bootable clone to retrieve individual files. If you don’t like the system lock-in of Time Machine, a regularly-updated bootable clone makes a great replacement or companion.
Different folks have different levels of tolerance for backup procedures. Those with little patience for setting up a complex system can use Time Machine and Backblaze, while those seeking more control can add on bootable clones and RAID systems. Just don’t underprotect your data!