Updated 1-15-19 with our latest recommendations…Backups and Preventing Computer Disaster

What is the # 1 thing computer users don’t do that could save them a lot of pain? The answer is: Backup. Although the Macintosh has almost no issues with computer viruses, it is still a computer with a hard drive that is prone to failure. In addition, backups will protect you in the case that your computer is stolen.

If you’re not much into reading, what follows is the “Cliff Notes” version of this backup article. The summery of backups you need in the order I would implement:

  1. Backblaze or CrashPlan for Small Business – Offsite backup, individual file restore, absolute emergency full recovery of a system
  2. SuperDuper on an external hard drive – Quickest full restore of the system. Have at least two copies you rotate with one hard drive offsite.
  3. Cloud Drive – Include important documents in Dropbox, Google Drive, or iCloud Drive so you can quickly share and restore individual files.
  4. Time Machine – Quick individual file restore…secondary full restore of system to a DIFFERENT hard drive.

If you think all these backups are not necessary…be prepared to be frustrated and lose time when when something goes wrong. And now on to the full article…

A few years ago, I was called for the first time to help an organization access a database that held all their critical business information including thousands of contacts and donation amounts over several years. I went through many troubleshooting steps in an attempt to recover their information. Unfortunately, the database they needed was nowhere to be found on any of their computers or any of the CDs they had labeled as backups. I did extensive work to attempt to recover the files but they were really gone. To this day, I don’t know if the files were intentionally destroyed by someone or if they were deleted by accident.

In any case, more than 5 years of information was gone for good! They had no reliable backups. I felt awful for them. Usually, I get to play the hero when I go in to solve a technology problem. In this case I could do nothing and so I sadly delivered the bad news “Everything is gone. About all I can offer you is a hug… and possibly some counseling. I truly hope you’re able to keep your job.” I can do amazing things with technology, but I couldn’t perform this miracle resurrection of data from nowhere.

I share this story as one example of how backing up can help to insure that your business or personal documents are not at risk. You should have a healthy fear concerning the loss of your computer documents because there are two kinds of computer users: Those who have lost information and those who are about to. Every week over 140,000 hard drives crash in the United States.

Fortunately, for myself, even with great backup procedures in place, the most I’ve ever lost was a few hours of work. The scenario went like this… I couldn’t find the critical file. My hands started to sweat. My forehead got hot and then the bottom of my stomach fell out. “No…No…No!”…or if you’re not so self disciplined…swearing follows. I’m not being overly dramatic. That’s what happens.

The fact is that computer hard drives fail. Most hard drives are still mechanical devices. It’s a question of when, not if. If you are trusting all your family photo memories, music collection, homework, or the information used to run your entire business to one computer in your home office without backups, prepare yourself to be more than disappointed when you lose all the information in the future.

How much are you willing to lose? You should backup as often as you can afford to lose all your work. For me, losing even a few hours of work would be completely unacceptable. Just last week I was able to recover data for a client after a major computer crash because I had been involved in planning and setting up a reliable backup system from the start. With the instructions that follow, you can do this for yourself. I’ll outline here what I consider to be best practices for Macintosh backups.

The Plan
Here’s the good news: You’re using a Mac and Apple makes some excellent tools for making your backups as quick and painless as possible.

Hard Fact: You NEED to spend money on backups. For full protection, the cost can be almost as much as your computer. This includes a Time Capsule, 2 extra hard drives, and a yearly fee for offsite backup in “the cloud”.

You should have on-site and offsite backups. In other words, you have some immediate backups in your office that are quickly accessible and then you have additional backups stored at another physical location preferably far away that will protect you in case of fire, tornado, or theft.

Follow these steps to implement a reliable backup plan. Do them in the order here for the best protection:

Online Backup Service
1. Invest in an online backup service for disaster protection. This service costs a few dollars each month and will automatically backup all your files off-site in some safe environment in “the cloud” of the internet.How to Migrate from CrashPlan to Another Backup Solution

Setup CrashPlan or Backblaze to backup to their central offsite location for “backup in the cloud”. It’s secure and simple. You can set these backup services run at night so they don’t slow down your computer during the day. Then leave your computer on at night so it can do it’s backup magic. You may need to leave your computer on several days at the beginning if you have a lot of data or a slow internet connection.

SuperDuper! on Hard Drives

2. Use SuperDuper! and two external hard drives to make full backups of your computer system and store one off-site at your office, your parents’ home, or at a friends house in a different building. Rotate the drives about every month. Each time you make a full disk copy with SuperDuper!, rename the backup drive to include the date. For example: “Tim MacBook Backup 11-8-18”.superduperIcon

Purchase two hard drives that are big enough to hold all the info the computers you want to backup. I recommend getting drives with FireWire and USB3. You can find other hard drives for less money, but these drives are very reliable, fast, and have a great warranty. Get them from Other World Computing (OWC).

Drives usually come formatted for Windows and this is not ideal for the Macintosh. Once you have your new drive follow these steps to set it up correctly:

A.    Connect it to your Macintosh with the FireWire or USB cable.
B.    Open Disk Utility in the Utilities folder in Applications.
C.    Click on the icon for the attached disk drive.
D.    Repartition the hard drive in Mac OS Extended (Journaled) format.
E.    Click on the Options… button and choose GUID as the partition scheme so that you can boot your Intel-based Mac from this drive. If you have an older PowerPC Mac, use the Apple partition scheme so it is bootable that way.
F.    Click on Apply. (Warning: This will destroy all data on the drive…which is OK if this is a new drive with nothing on it.)
G.    Quit Disk Utility.

Purchase SuperDuper! from Shirt Pocket Software for about $30. As with most backups, the first time you run it, it may take a long time. Register the software after purchasing and subsequent copies will be much shorter because they will only copy the items that have changed.

If you ever have a crash or computer emergency, you can go to the SuperDuper! backup first because it is a bootable disk image. Then you can get the most recent changes from your CrashPlan, Dropbox, or Time Machine Time Capsule backup.

Backup Cloud Drive or Thumb Drives
3. Store important files on Dropbox, Google Drive, or iCloud Drive for another safe backup option.

DropBox allows you to share files with multiple computers and provides built-in backup. A 2 GB account is free.

Time Machine
4. Use an external hard drive with Time Capsule for another on-site backup. This protects you against a computer hard drive failure that could happen any time.

Other tips:

  • For bullet-proof backup you need at least three separate locations or types of media for your documents stored on-site and off-site. Following these recommendations will do that for you. Don’t skimp on this.
  • Use an application to identify large files on your system that may be more difficult to backup.
  • Make the first of each month “backup day” and mark it on your calendar. Check to make sure you’ve got good backups. (Try restoring or accessing a file or two.) It will take 15 minutes and will be time well spent.
  • If you’re using only your e-mail application to store critical business information like contacts you need to seriously consider getting a database or contact management system for this (fmIgnite is a good option). Email can be a dangerous place when you are storing 1000s of messages. I’ve had people lose messages when they reach the limit of their mail server.
  • Make sure you’re not using Microsoft Entourage or any version of Parallels prior to 6.0. Entourage stores its mail in a super huge file that is difficult to backup. It’s a similar case with older versions of Parallels that store the entire PC hard drive in one large file.

So there you have it. This plan should keep you computer safe in the case of an emergency and give you peace of mind. Please take this seriously. You’ll be glad you did. If you need assistance with implementing any of these ideas, contact us through our Project Request Form.

Check out this excellent article about backups as well…written from a perspective of stupid backup strategies.

Tim Cimbura – CEO and Software Engineer

Tim is an expert in creating custom business solutions that make businesses more effective, productive, and profitable. He specializes in rapid application development with FileMaker (certified in all versions) for macOS, Windows, iPad/iPhone and web app integration with WordPress. He also knows Apple technology inside and out.