How I Backup My Macs: December 2013

Oh no, not this shit again.

DAMN RIGHT I’M GOING HERE AGAIN.  Why?

  1. Backups have saved my bacon yet again.
  2. I have something new in the system.
  3. You got new stuff for Christmas, and now is the time to start backing it up so you can quit worrying about it.
  4. A pretty young woman and I had a conversation about this at the Apple Store earlier today, and she wanted to know more about it. This is published because of that conversation; I’ve been hacking away at it for a while now.

So hi, nice young lady whose name I didn’t get!  I feel like an idiot right now.

Let me get a little bit of this out of the way: I have written about backups in 2009 and 2011.  In the first one, I talk about a belt-and-suspenders approach; in the second, I talk about belt-and-suspenders supported by close air support.  Now I have belt, suspenders, close air support, and Navy SEALs.  Or something — I don’t know, I’m an Air Force brat, and we don’t know crap about the real military.  [Sorry, Dad.]

I have also written about backups saving by bacon many times.  There’s the time in 2011 when my 24″ iMac needed a new logic board and I needed to be getting ready to start a new job.  There’s the time this past October when my 27″ iMac started doing Bad Things(TM) and had volumes failing; the resolution for that one comes today that 1) my Time Machine volume was just fine after all and 2) Repair Disk worked on the boot volume when booted into Recovery Mode (Cmd-R during start, if you don’t know.  And then there’s the time this December I had to format my MacBook Air’s boot volume from my booted clone.  All three of these problems would’ve wiped me out for quite some time, and there was a significant risk of data loss to my original data.  Did I lose data?  Nope.

Oh, and then there was the time that I was sitting in the floor of my downstairs bathroom on April 27th, 2011.  With tornadoes all around me, I said aloud, “Hey, at least my data is in a data center far from Huntsville.”  All of my data would be safe: photos, music, you have it.  I could rebuild my computers from the last known safe state.  It would’ve worked: the cavalry would’ve come over the hill.

So, back up your shit.  Here’s how.

I use what’s called a 4-2-2 system: 4 copies of my data, 2 of which are local, 2 of which are offsite.

  1. SuperDuper!The first local copy is a cloned backup of my boot volume via Shirt Pocket’s SuperDuper!  This gets me something that I can boot from at any time.  This was prominently featured in 2011 and December 2013.
  2. Look at all those classes that I've taken in the last six semesters!
    Look at all those classes that I’ve taken in the last six semesters!
    The second local copy is Time Machine.  I’ve written before that Time Machine Just Works, but that’s really not true.  Time Machine has lots of problems, and I wouldn’t trust it by itself.  But for A) a second local copy that I don’t have to be primarily reliant upon and B) the value that it provides in being incremental backup for file retrieval, etc., it has value.
  3. CrashPlanOne of the offsite copies is with CrashPlan+.  CrashPlan has an article on 3-2-1 systems and how CrashPlan can be a part of that.  I have been using this since 2011, and it very nearly saved my bacon when lightning struck my house.  I’m very thankful that my uninterruptible power supplies were able to handle the surge.  This would’ve also been handy during the April 27th outbreak.
  4. ArqI’ve added Amazon Glacier-powered backups that are managed by Arq.  The Haystack Software team has a fun blog post about coming up with a good backup strategy, and I suggest that you read it in addition to what I have presented here.  Why Amazon Glacier?  CrashPlan is definitely aimed at the consumer market and is priced and provisioned accordingly.  Amazon Glacier is professional grade.  Also, I trust two providers over one provider.

Seeding an online backup with either one of those services is going to take a long time.  Backing up 28GB off of my Macbook Air took the better part of a week.  It took a couple of weeks for the main boot volume on my iMac to seed, and I was uploading the first (of three) Drobo volumes when my iMac started thrashing around on the floor like an angry toddler.

Since I mentioned the Air, I want to make a point: I use Time Machine (to a Time Capsule on my network, a replacement for one that got zapped a while back) for incremental backups as well as CrashPlan and now Arq.  For some time, I said that I didn’t need cloned backup of the Air.  For one, it’s a problem on my end, because I would have to dock a hard drive1 to make it work.  SuperDuper! will backup-on-mount, meaning that it will work … when I remember to connect the drive.  I am the weak link there, because I forget to back up even though I know that I should.  However, I have a reminder in my GTD setup2 that gets me a record of when I’ve last backed up as well as a nudge to do so. I’ve generally stayed current, but not always.

So what do I recommend?

  1. First off, I recommend all four backup solutions. The two local backup solutions have different features and restoration times; the two offline backup solutions are both good, and I’ll leave it to you to pick. But I really do recommend having one local and one offsite at a minimum, and if you’re going to pick three, have both local copies. Restoring from an online backup is very time-intensive, especially if you live in a bandwidth backwater like North Alabama.3
  2. I recognize that not everyone had the resources that I had to bring to bear when I got started with this.  I recommend a cloned drive that is automated or well-maintained (but preferably the former).  You do not want to be thinking the following when you have a computer emergency: “So when was the last time that I backed up to this drive?”
  3. For desktops, you have no excuse to not have a clone attached at all times.  For laptops, you do, but consider this as well: don’t carry your clone with you everywhere.  Leave it at home.  A solid scenario for using that clone is, “Someone stole my laptop and I need to get back up and running with this replacement laptop paid for with insurance money!”  Do you feel smarter?  You should.
  4. If you have just two backups, I recommend a clone over Time Machine.  TM is convenient but can be flaky.  If I’m concerned with backup first, I’m going offsite.  Also, if you’re going to have just two copies of your data, one of them should be off-site.
  5. I recommend CrashPlan over Glacier, because most of you aren’t going to need/want something in Glacier’s sphere.  Those who do were probably criticizing me for this choice, but they probably weren’t reading this in the first place other than purely to criticize me.  Quit trying to be John Siracusa.  You are probably not John Siracusa; if you are, John, this is crazy: here’s my number4, call me maybe?

I’ve got the comment box below for comments. I’ll also be posting this to Facebook and Twitter per uzhe, so if you comment there, I’ll see it, too. You can also email me at gfmorris@gfmorris.net, and John, my number is in that footnote.5


  1. I have a spare on the floor in my office waiting for this to happen.  It’s been there for a few months. 

  2. I will write about that at some point, I promise. 

  3. Seriously, we put men on the moon and then get treated like this? “Come on!” —GOB 

  4. 256-527-8152 

  5. Seriously, my number is so easy to find. 

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