Home Technology A Robust Backup Strategy

A Robust Backup Strategy

by Kerry Dawson

Backup. We’ve all heard the refrain. Are you backing up your system and if you are backing up your system how are you going about it. This is probably the most critical thing to sound system management. No matter how much proactive preventitive maintenance which you may or may not be doing nothing can beat a good backup strategy. No matter how messy your file system is, a sound backup strategy will prevent the worst from happening. The potential loss of all your critical and generally valuable data. For some, like pictures of a wonderful holiday or that book they’ve been so diligently writing, the data will be safe and sound no matter what happens to your Mac.

At a minimum, backups can ensure that files that become corrupted or accidentally deleted can be easily recovered. At a maximum, volumes that become irretrievably damaged will ensure that you can recover to the point everything was working fine. Hard drives can fail and should they fail your data will be protected elsewhere restorable to a new drive. If you have a robust backup strategy, you’ll ensure that you’re data is truly protected and should the worst happen you can be back and running in short order.


The intent of this article is to outline a sound backup strategy that will protect you should the worst happen. I’ll actually go a few steps further and outline the backup strategy that I use and if you so feel inclined I would encourage you to go the extra mile and put what I refer to as a vault level backup strategy in place. Yet, if you implement a sound strategy, feel comfortable that you’ll be able to recover your critcal data. For further details on creating a solid backup strategy reference Joe Kisell’s book Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac.

At an Absolute Minimum

At an absolute minimum, you should be creating at least one solid backup daily. Although this is not enough for a sound backup strategy it‘s better than nothing and nothing is what you might end up with if you don’t at least have one daily backup. From that you will at least be able to revert to the last good backup you had of your data when you last backed up preferrably, again at a minimum, once a day. There are numerous solutions to accomplish this but I’m just going to present one.

A Sound Backup Strategy

As I mentioned, this article is about at least providing you a sound backup strategy and more if you’d like to go with it. The idea of this is its based on redundancy. Rather than just employing the minimum as outlined above, to have a truly sound back up strategy and one that you can be certain of requires:

  1. At least three different backup solutions
  2. Some of the backups need be versioned, frequent and exist in three or more places.
    1. The physical media needs to be mulitple
    2. The software needs to be multiple as one might not be doing its job
    3. Versioning or as I’ll explain, incremenenting incidences of your backups is required so you can go to some past date for a good backup of you data
    4. Frequent
      • the more frequently the backups occur the less likely you are to loose data as you can go back in time hopefully to a close backup and retrieve a good version of you data file

The Solutions

There are solutions that meet both these criteria and solutions in the minimum backup strategy that meet some of the requirements of A Sound Backup Strategy. Let me assure you that these require little work and money on your part.

Little Effort

  • some effort at the beginning to put the system in place
  • but this is a self operating system and should in no way require intervention on your part other than checking every so often that everything is just nicely running in background

Little Money

  • not a lot of money and this is a truism
  • the value of your data in some ways in inestimable so this is going to be a rather modest investment for something of maximum value


One or more disk drives will be required to meet both our minimum and sound approaches to backup. A sound backup approach though requires two or more drives as you don’t want your data sitting on just one drive as that could fail.

An internet connection of fairly sufficient speed to backup offsite. Should something happen onsite of a distratrous nature you’ll want to know your data is still safe and sound at another location.


As with hardware, at a minimum you’ll need one backup software system. In our robust backup solution you’ll require at least two and preferrably more software packages backing up so that if one fails another will likely be operational.

Time Machine*

Time Machine

As I previously said, at an absolute minimum you need at at least one backup system. The best of these is the one that comes from Apple and is built into OSX and that’s Time Machine. It not only will provide you with a ready to go, out of the box solution but it meets our other requirement of frequent backups so you can retrieve a data file across time by simply going back in time to find the file you’re looking for.

There are two simple ways to implement Time Machine. You can either connect a USB device to your Mac directly ensuring its at least the same size as your Mac’s internal hard drive. However, and there’s always a however, if your drive is nearing capacity double the size of the backup drive you get for the back in time copies Time Machine will make.

My preferred approach to Time Machine hardware though is Time Capsule. This will provide two things:

  1. A wireless router for your other Mac and iPad devices should you have them them
  2. Backup for more than one Mac

Cloning Software

Now we’re entering the realm of our robust software solution. If there’s, at a minimum, one other thing to add to your backup solution it’s cloning software. The primary reason for this is it will get you back up and running in no time as it is an exact duplicate that is bootable of your internal Mac HD. To provide a cloning solution you will need two things:

  1. Another dedicated hard drive
  2. Cloning Software

As far as the drive goes get a large USB drive at least the same size as your internal drive and preferably twice the size as our third solution will require it.

However, first back to the cloning software. There’s a variety of software for the Mac that creates clones. As an example there’s:

  • SuperDuper
  • Carbon Copy Cloner
  • Chronosync

and the list really goes on. However, there are only two that I really like and that’s the first two as they provide incremental backup to your clone. That is, they will only backup that which has changed since the last backup saving a lot of time.



This is my preferred cloning solution from Shirt Pocket. It is an inexpensive solution but it is so worth the money. It has saved my bacon, so to speak, more than once. There are a number of benefits to SuperDuper but briefly:

  • exact bootable duplicate of your internal HD
  • boot from SuperDuper and continue working
  • drag and drop a backed up file lost or damaged from the clone to your internal HD
  • in the event of catastrophic failure, reclone your drive back to your internal HD or your new internal HD.

The one thing you’ll definitely appreciate about this solution is that you can boot into and be up and working right away. Or should you need to run something from a separate volume from your internal HD just boot to SuperDuper and away you go.

Almost There

With the above in place, you’re almost to the point of having a sound backup strategy. There’s two disks in place and two software solutions. At this point, you’re probably thinking I need more? Well yes if you want a sound backup solution. Either of the above can fail and possibly both. We’re going to add in two more solutions that I think are essential for a sound backup solution which is really a robust backup solution and then if you want to go the mile and do what I do you should be fully covered off.

Data Backup***

Data Backup

Decision time. This isn’t as hard as its going to sound. I’m going to proceed based on the idea that you have a Time Capsule and a large USB drive (do know that USB drives are inexpensive relative to what they used to be so go for broke on this one but I’d suggest a 2 Terabyte drive). Partition the USB drive into two or three partitions (three if you go with my approach and two if you stop here).

SuperDuper will go on the first partition and be bootable. You’ll install Data Backup on the second partition and this partion should be larger than the SuperDuper partition. The reason for that is this software provides versioning something which is a good thing. Again, you will be able to go back in time and choose from previous versions the data file that you feel is the least problematic. You’ll probably want the closest one to your last edit nevertheless some people prefer to go farther back for editing reasons.

Using Data Backup you have many choices as to what to back up as its very flexible. I would recommend at this point for efficiency sake that you just back up your user folder where your critical data resides. You already have two backups that are taking care of the entire system so there is no need at this point to go to that extent.



As I mentioned, in the inevitability of something really disastrous happening, such as fire or all your computer equipment is stolen, you definitely will want an offsite solution for your data. My recommendation for this is Crashplan which is an award winning backup solution for the Mac. It meets all our requirements. This is a solution once you get it going you just leave it running and never pay attention to it. Backup your entire user folder and expect that this is going to take some time on the first backup depending on the size of your user folder and the speed of your internet connection. However, once backed up it only does incremental backups which take no time. Do check occassionally that it‘s running as it‘s so non-intrusive you might forget you even have it. Crashplan is:

  • continuously backing up all the time to an offsite storage site
  • it is fully versioned
  • the versions go substantially far back in time as you set them

I feel so strongly about this solution I’m going to say, along with a clone piece of software, Crashplan or something like Crashplan is a must have solution.

The Extra Mile

You’re probably saying to yourself about this point in time there’s more. But of course! However, only if you want to. What I’m going to propose here is the best but the most complicated of anything I’ve presented to you so far and I won’t detail the workings of the solution other to say its the Granddaddy of backup solutions for the Mac.



Finally, this is your nice to have, if everything else fails solution. In essence, its your solution of last resort. It is the most accurate and robust of the products but it is at the same time the slowest and most complex. It provides versioning and you can choose any number of days you’d like backed up. Backup your entire disk as you can rebuild your disk from this one to the precise moment of its last backup. I have it set to groom (in Retrospect speak) the backup at 10 backups. Again, these are versioned then incremental backups so only the first backup is slow.

This is where your third partition will come into play if you created a third partition on your USB drive. This software is actually now more intended for the small business person but is very suitable for an individual backup, for a family of more than one Macs and that of multiple Macs. This is a solution though that once you have it going you just leave it and let it do its thing. In the references below I indicated a time for each of those products to run overnight starting with Data Backup. I’d set Retrospect to run at say 5 am.

In Conclusion

As you can see, in all our solutions they do not interfere with anything you do. They either just operate in background, non-noticeable, or overnight when you’re likely sleeping. The peace of mind this will bring you though cannot be underestimated. Some feel that as long as you have a sound backup strategy pro-active maintenance of the Mac is not required. I am not of this philosophy but it is the absolute best way of ensuring that disaster will not be disastrous. Bear in mind, you’ve gone to a lot of effort to collect your photos, music, movies, books or data. They’ve all in the end cost a fair bit of time and money to collect, buy, organize and store. Don’t let a file corruption, volume failure or physical hard drive failure wipe all that out. Put into place at least a sound backup strategy and possibly go that extra mile and put in place a robust backup solution.

* Runs Continuously
*** Start at 3 am and set for wake from sleep
** Start at 4 am

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.