Home OSX When All Backup Systems Fail but One

When All Backup Systems Fail but One

by Kerry Dawson

System Failure

Mistakes are made. Data is lost if it’s not backed up. And I’ve made a few mistakes over the years but nothing too, too serious. One thing happened that really wasn’t my fault last Winter. A maintenance utility I was running, designed to optimize your disk and prevent data loss and warn of disk failure absolutely torched the data on my drive. This is called a catastrophic failure. At the end of the operation my disk was no longer referred to as the MacIntosh Hard drive but rather now had the generic name the manufacturer assigns the drive. Let me assure you, there is no recovery from this. Your data and in fact everything on your drive is toast.

In my article A Robust Backup Strategy I outlined not only the importance of having backups but the value of having a robust backup strategy. In the case of the incident above, I had the basics of a robust backup strategy that saved the day. I had SuperDuper clone of my drive. I simply cloned the drive back and I was up and running in thirty minutes.

When a Robust Backup Strategy Pays Off

The incident from back in the winter was easy to recover from. However, the other evening I made a slight mistake that did require absolutely a robust backup strategy. I had just finished reading a couple of books from the Take Control series and in my new found enthusiasm for the products I had read about I made a very stupid mistake.

One of the books I had read was one on Backups by Joe Kissell titled Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac, Second Edition. I had actually read this in the past but decided to explore it again.

The second book I had just finished reading was recently released by Kirk McElhearn called Take Control of LaunchBar an excellent book that revealed a lot about a program I had used for years but had not taken anywhere near the advantage of its power.

New Found Enthusiasm

I had a new found enthusiasm for both Launchbar and altering my backup strategy. In the first case, I was so impressed with my new found powers that I had released in Launchbar I of course wanted these powers available equally and fully on my MacBook Air.

What I’m about to discuss has nothing to do with anything the books had taught me other than I decided on a couple of things that could have potentially lead to a disaster. Fortunately it didn’t.

A Simplified and Optimized Approach to Backup

In reading Joe’s book on Backups I realized I was using a lot of products to do backup. I decided I could eliminate everything but Time Machine and Crashplan with Chronosync. I decided I’d have Chronosync do my bootable backups instead of SuperDuper. That I’d have Chronosync do my versioned backups of my home user folder and eliminate Data Backup.

Now instead of 5 backup products, I had three. Chronosync is an excellent product. It can sync your computers and backup a machine. It’s actually incredibly powerful. For years though I had solely used it to sync my computers. I had not used it for backup.

Chronosync is fast. It works beautifully for bootable backups and it works nicely for versioned backups. However, I noticed that the versioned backups were in archives of the replaced file. I felt a bit uncomfortable with this. I thought if I need an individual file recovered that wouldn’t be a problem. However, what if a full folder required a restore and possibly more. I felt just a little uneasy and thank goodness I did.

Just to UnSimplify my Approach Somewhat

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Although I was shooting for a simplified approach, which I had achieved, I decided to put one thing in place that I’ve always counted on over the years. I loaded Retrospect and had it back up my home folder only as opposed to an entire disk backup which in Retrospect can be slow. Retrospect is a complicated but tried and true backup system that can be counted on.

Just a little Mistake that could have been a Disaster


With my newfound enthusiasm for simplified and optimized backup and my desire to take advantage of Launchbar on both my computers I decided to migrate the support files from the Library to do this. All the support files could easily be done by Chronosync except the plist file for Launchbar. To sync Chronosync needs the files in a folder.

Without thinking and I was really tired from a long day I decided why not just sync the whole Library folders. So I did. As it was running, which of course took a while, I began to think that I’m sync’g two very different machines together. I thought Apple hid the library folder for a reason. The reason is what I’m doing you do not do. Sync’g a support folder in applications support or a plist file is perfectly fine but the entire library folder is definitely not fine as my results perfectly demonstrated.

When Enthusiasm should be Tempered with Conservatism

In my newfound enthusiasm for optimized sync and Launchbar’s powers I was fortunate that a little conservatism prevailed. After the sync of the library folder, curiously enough my MacBook Air was acting strangely; very strangely. The iMac seemed to have somehow survived this torture I inflicted upon it but the MacBook Air definitely did not.

I realized rapidly that a recovery of the library folder on both machines was required. However, on the MacBook Air I decided for a full recovery from Time Machine of the disk prior to the backup.

I booted into the recovery partition of Mountain Lion and found what seemed to be the time prior to the sync of the library folders or to put it another way one of my greatest mistakes. I booted into the recovery partition of Mountain Lion and began the restore.

It worked. It did take time as this was operating over my WIFI network but it did work. The MacBook Air was back to normal. A big sigh of relief I decided I’d do the same with my iMac.

When a Critical Backup System is Unavailable


Sitting down at the iMac I began the same process as I did on the MacBook Air. However, I was quickly stalled cold in my tracks. For some reason there was not recovery a partition on my iMac. Why, I have no idea but it wasn’t there. Trying to run it from another bootable partition lead me now where.

I backed out of Time Machine and decided I’d do my Christmas trick. I’d just re-clone the Chronosync bootable backup back to my hard drive until I realized that a backup of it had occurred after the sync. The bootable backup was no good. Bootable backups are not versioned.

I then decided on restoring just the library folder from the Chronosync home folder backup that was done prior to the now dreaded sync. Although I had booted into an independent volume for some reason the system would not let me copy the library folder as it kept saying the copy agent was installed. Probably at this point, had I just deleted the target Library folder it would have copied over but i wasn’t thinking quite as clearly as I should have been.

When all Systems fail but One

I now had only one option and that was to give Retrospect a try. I decided to restore a versioned backup of the Library folder from 24 hours prior. I restored the folder to an independent volume and then attempted a copy. Again the copy would not work as the copy agent kept saying it was in use. What was going on was simply impossible as I was operating from an independent boot volume but sometimes what should not be is.

I decided, with nothing to loose, to delete the library folder on the iMac and then do my copy. Success. The copy of the home folder succeeded.

All my systems had failed but one in this case and it was my Retrospect backup. In hindsight, had I thought about deleting the target library folder, the Chronosync Home Folder backup would probably have worked. However, I didn’t until I got to Retrospect, my final and only destination to save the day. Fortunately, it did.

In essence, it was good to temper this optimized approach to a Robust Backup Strategy with the deployment of a tried and true system. Yes, it’s a little bit more complex and yes this isn’t a mistake most users would make. However, with enthusiasm glazing my vision and a touch of fatigue affecting my thinking I literally brought myself to a very serious ending. Fortunately, all ended well.

Enthusiasm Continued Undeterred but now with a little more Caution

With both machines now back up and running properly I still was determined to have Launchbar running identically on my MacBook Air as it was on my iMac. I accomplished this with Chronosync. Now both machines are running Launchbar with identical functionality.

With disaster behind me, I was now able to engage my newfound enthusiasm for Launchbar. This is a powerful program and capable of doing a lot more that the name implies. Chronosync made it possible to engage both machines so that they ran identically.

I never want to be so close to the edge of a disaster again. I do a lot of testing though so anything is possible. However, I doubt I will ever make this mistake again.

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