OS X Backups – A complete Solution

I wrote about backup once before but figured it’s been long enough that it’s worth revisiting, especially since my systems has a few minor modifications. While this may seem like going too far to some home users the fact is I use my computer for business. I’ve got crucial client files on here and if I loose them I not only loose billable time recovering them I loose billable time that I had already done while I try to catch back up for which I can’t charge the client.


Any proper backup system really combines a few different items not just one solution.

  1. Instant backup of critical files
  2. Longer term on site backup of the whole machine
  3. Offsite long term backup
  4. Bootable copy of the system

Instant backup with DropBox

Dropbox Site
Dropbox Site

Dropbox has made backup and sharing of files easy, like it should be. All it takes is installing Dropbox and then anything you put in the Dropbox folder is automatically synced online, it even keeps versions and lets you restore deleted files up to a certain point.

I use Dropbox for most of the files for my current clients. If the system dies those are the things that I’ll need access to quickly so I can keep working. I also keep DMG files of all of my crucial applications here. I don’t have room for CS5, iLife, iWork…CD’s when I travel but I want to make sure I’ve got the software I’d need in an emergency. Even outside of not having room for all that physical media it’s way faster to install them from a DMG file. For CS5 we’re talking 20 minutes saved. It’s also way faster than visiting all the sites and downloading the DMG files to install them. Restoring a system with the DMG’s on your hard drive already will save you hours.

Storing the DMG’s in Dropbox also gives me the option of just stealing the wife’s laptop and grabbing my DMG’s to install the software on her machine. All I’d have to do it download them from the Dropbox site all in one place.

As I said above, most of my current client files are in Dropbox which obviously means that some aren’t. My local databases and code is not in Dropbox, it sits in the normal htdocs folder inside MAMP. The databases do contain some information but really nothing crucial so I don’t worry about them all that much. The bigger thing that needs to be restored is the code I wrote for a client site. All of my code goes in to Git which I push off the laptop before I close the lid (and multiple times during the day). Sure I could loose a bit of code but typically we’re talking about an hour at most half a day, certainly nothing that’s too terrible.

Sure Dropbox has recently had a security scare but the fact remains that if you’ve got something online that’s sensitive you shouldn’t have trusted the security to someone else. If my Dropbox was accessed someone would see PSD files for clients and my normal contract for work which I published online anyway. All sensitive information is kept on my hard drive and caught in my other backups. If I were to keep sensitive information on Dropbox I’d setup an encrypted sparsebundle and not worry about it. Anyone that’s whining about the security of Dropbox missed the first crucial step in data security, trust no one but yourself.

Longer Term Onsite

OS X comes with Time Machine which is pretty dang awesome. I figure most people are familiar with Time Machine so I won’t go in to detail on what it is. The bad part about time machine is that it wants to backup every hour by default and provides no way of modifying that schedule. Updating my files every hour is a waste of time and system resources so I use Time Machine Editor to set a new schedule for my backups.

I’m currently sitting in Ontario with my Time Capsule in BC so while travelling I do loose the versioned backup from Time Machine but with the little bit of versioning available in Dropbox I’m covered enough, and I’ve got 3 backups with me still.

Offsite with Carbonite

In my last post on backup I was using Mozy. Recently Mozy changed their unlimited policy to 50GB which made it all but useless to me. The funniest part of this switch is that it was just after they had major problems with their OS X client. Weeks of issues followed by a policy change turned me off of a service that I’d been a customer of for years. I literally just cut my losses and lost cash (since I had paid for a few years) and switched over to Carbonite for my online backup for 3 computers.

Carbonite Preference Pane
Carbonite Preference Pane

Carbonite works pretty much the same as Mozy does. Download their desktop client and set the items that you want backed up and Carbonite will send it all up online. I’ve found that the Carbonite client is way less CPU intensive than Mozy was. While Mozy was crunching away figuring out which data needed to be sent online your computer would be pretty dang slow, no such issues with the Carbonite client.

One caveat with Carbonite is that it doesn’t backup your movie files by default. In OS X you can simply get info and tell Carbonite to always backup that type of file. I do wish there was simply a preference in the regular Carbonite preference pane but there isn’t.

Bootable Backup

This was the final piece of the puzzle that I was missing till recently. Using Carbon Copy Cloner or [Super Duper!}(http://www.shirt-pocket.com/SuperDuper/SuperDuperDescription.html) and a portable hard drive (affiliate link) I’ve created a complete bootable backup of my machine. This means if the internal hard drive dies all I’ve got to do is plug in the backup copy of my machine and I can be up and running. I even purchased an external that is a laptop sized drive so I can simply swap in the bootable backup if I have to and keep going. Since I keep all my current client work in Dropbox all I have to do is let it sync up again and I’m off to the races.

Super Duper!
Super Duper!

I started off with Carbon Copy Cloner and was quite happy with it till I got a few clone cycles in and the 350GB partition was full. While I have a 500GB drive in my MBP it’s only got 320GB on it so I was a bit puzzled. It seems that things weren’t getting deleted. I tried a few times to get the settings right and just wasn’t able to so I purchased Super Duper!. I’ve talked to many people that get CCC working fine, I just wasn’t able to. Certainly give CCC a go if you’re looking for a free solution.

This extra piece is great for traveling since you essentially bring two copies of your computer. I carried my laptop and checked my hard drive in my luggage. That means if my laptop got stolen I’d simply have to purchase a replacement and restore my data. While this doesn’t cover me if the plane goes down but I assume I’d either be dead and thus not care or if I lived I’d have way more important things to concern myself with.

Don’t Learn Yourself

I’ve heard stories from many friends about data loss because they didn’t have a backup solution. Stop right now and setup your backup solution, don’t learn the lesson yourself.