Backups, yes they’re important

I’ve always had a tendency to be anal about backing up, right back to the olden days I always had copies on at least two floppies, ideally in different buildings. I’ve carried this tendency on and have never really had to put my money where my backups were, until now.

Last week I noticed that my mac was behaving strangely, the photos app wouldn’t open, I couldn’t authenticate to iCloud, other accounts did the same. I went through the various solutions suggested on line and none of them worked. Booted into safe mode which said there was a problem but it couldn’t be fixed, wondered what to do next when it just stopped booting properly. I realised that my only option was to do a full restore, so I gritted my teeth, plugged in the backup drive and told it to restore…a couple of hours later Time Machine had finished and all was working. Apart from the fact that the problem still happened and I realised that whatever had done toys out of the pram had happened after my last backup. So I went back to the week before, which is on the same drive, restored and all was well. I had to do a bit of tweaking by restoring the files for the Thunderbird mail client from the later backup so I didn’t lose any emails, but all in all, a success. I always like to see if things like Time Machine work…just not on my main computer.

So, for anybody who thinks backing up is something they can live without, it isn’t. Time (and a few pennies) spent now will save you grief later. Just remember all the photos you’ve downloaded and the time you’ve spent post-processing them. Realising you need a backup solution after the crash is too late. By the way, I heard a data recovery professional once say you don’t need a backup solution, you need a recovery solution – good way to think about it.

For anybody deciding they need to come up with something, here’s my solution. It’s not the ‘right’ one, it’s the one which works for me, just consider the principles I’m working on when you come up with your own. Also, I’m using Apple Time Machine, but you could probably adapt these for any piece of software on the market.

Every Sunday morning, I do a time machine backup onto a desktop external hard drive which lives in a different room in the house. Don’t keep it in the same room, otherwise it’s going to be vulnerable to a whole number of things which might right off your computer. Then I do a second, encrypted, one onto one of a pair of portable external drives; one of which lives in a different room in the house and one of which goes off site (I keep it at work). Then on monday morning I take that in and bring the other encrypted drive home. The rationale is that at no time are the computer and all the backups in the same building at the same time, and if the house did burn down on a Sunday evening then the off site backup would only be a week out of date so I could only lose a weeks worth of stuff.

There are good subscription backup services out there at the moment of course which automatically take your backup off site and cloud store it for you. I’ve tried the free subscription to BackBlaze and thought it was very good, just not right for me. Two things to consider with these, if you did a physical backup as well and critically needed to get at your backup while your internet was down you could (yes, I know it’s a very remote possibility, but this is belt and braces you know). The other thing is that if you have any kind of business, or store information about other people on your computer, make absolutely sure that by putting your backup on the cloud you’re the right side of whatever data protection laws apply to you.

But, any backup is better than no backup – though a well thought out recovery strategy is best of all.

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