Backups – Part II – My Modern Era

In part one I covered my “formative years” where backups were little more than creating multiple copies of the files the best way I could. Since I always got my files back when I needed them I could claim it worked, but there was luck involved too. My move to using a Mac as my primary desktop a couple years ago was a good opportunity to examine my backup strategy.

Backups for the Mac ended up being easier than I expected. At the basic level I could simply buy a external firewire or USB drive, hook it up, and clone my disk. There were several options to do this. Carbon Copy Cloner and Superduper were common at the time, Carbon Copy Cloner is donationware and Superduper is now $27.95. Superduper has a free trial and the basic cloning feature is not time limited.

So I got a firewire drive that stacked with my Mac Mini and downloaded a trial copy of Superduper. I picked Superduper to try because of it’s advanced features and it seemed slightly easier to use. At he time CCC didn’t include a scheduling ability and SD did. I ended up buying Superduper and my backup routine simply became a nightly scheduled task to clone my disk. Superduper also had the ability to clone to a disk image rather than a physical hard disk which allowed me to do additional backups when I needed them.

Under windows I had classified my data into importance so I could concentrate on regular backups for my critical data. By cloning the entire disk I eliminated the need to do this. But all my data was still stacked on my desk all cabled together. For awhile burning to CD seemed like a acceptable option but it still had the flaw of requiring me to actually do something to get the backup done.

So I looked into and eventually purchased a .Mac subscription (if your considering .Mac look at or another seller to save money over the Apple direct price). I decided to get one, primarily to be able to use Apple Backup to back up my critical files to iDisk. But being paranoid I didn’t trust iDisk security to protect the files. That led to purchasing a copy of Suffit since it had the ability to create encrypted archives.

Once all that was combined I ended up with a process where Stuffit create a full (all files) encrypted archive of the directories I want to back up on a weekly basis. Then on he following days it creates an encrypted archive of the files that changed. Then Apple Backup backed the encrypted file up to the hard disk.

The main benefit of this setup was that I didn’t actually have to do anything to get the backups (well, I had to leave the Mac turned on), everything was scheduled. While I’d had problems using Apple Backup to backup to CD my test restores of these backups always worked.

Then in January I got a new iMac and it was time for another change. All I was using Stuffit for was the scheduled encryption, they had released two newer versions and I didn’t the point of upgrading. Besides the cost (eventually I’d be forced into an upgrade) Stuffit just seemed to add too much to the system and I didn’t want it on my iMac. So I switched to using the built in OS X encryption to create a encrypted disk image which could then be copied to my iDisk. The downside of this is the entire disk image was copied each time which can be time consuming since my upload speed is rather low. But those files only changed once or twice a week so an automator action meant it was easy enough to kick off the update. All-in-all it was a workable solution.

Then I moved away from cloning the HDD and simply used Apple Backup to backup my home directory to an external drive. I also began using Mozy instead of my iDisk. At first (when Windows was the only option) I copied the encrypted disk image to my Windows machine so Mozy could back it up from there.

Right now my backup process is:

  • Nightly Apple Backups of my home directory (minus iTunes library) to my external drive
  • Nightly Apple Backups of my iTunes purchased music to my external drive.
  • Backup my important files (the ones in the encrypted disk image) to Mozy using the Mac beta
  • Copy the encrypted disk image of my important files to my iPod which is away from my PC when I’m away from my PC. This is set up as an automator action so it’s fairly simple and quick. It’s the only part of my backup process that’s not scheduled.

I’m not completely happy with Apple Backup so I’m hoping Mozy or something similar will prove to be a suitable replacement. My gripes against Apple Backup are:

  • It has issues running a scheduled backup when a computer wakes from sleep.
  • The first backup is a full backup. Every backup after that is incremental. This means I’ll eventually run out of space on the target disk. I then have to manually delete the files and trigger a new full backup. If I don’t manually trigger the full backup it will do another incremental even though the earlier files are gone. (When using iDisk there’s an option to delete the iDisk backups which will automatically do a full backup the next time, just no such option when the target is a external drive.)
  • Having all those incrementals makes me nervous that one in the middle will go bad and I won’t be able to restore. But this could just be my paranoia.

In the interest of full disclosure, the link to Mozy is a referral link. If you use it to sign up for a free Mozy account I get another 256MB of backup space added to my free account when you do your first backup.

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