Backup Backup Backup Backup Backup Backup Backup Backup


Am I sounding a little repetitive? Although I am a member of the mac fan club and a believer in buying the best quality tools you can afford, I have yet to purchase immunity from hard drive failure.

Before Christmas my beloved MacBook Air had it's minature hard drive fail and though some pain I was back up running later that day. Then last Tuesday, dad's Macbook hard drive also failed, we booted of his backup within minutes and were back at work. Both instances required the hard drive to be replaced, but both were minor problems because we had proper backups.

On the Windows side of the fence I have had more than my fair share of hard drive failures. All hard drives are the same, they are made too cheaply for the value we put on them. I read a statistic once that stated that a significant percentage of drives will fail in the first 8 months, if they last beyond this, then they have a good chance of lasting for many years.

What is a proper working backup?

I consider a proper working backup to be a bootable backup contained on a hard drive of identical size and type as your computer has. This backup should not be an instant mirror (Raid1) of your hard drive, as Raid1 will duplicate any virus or problem the instant it hits your machine thus rendering your backup useless. Your backup should be a synchronised copy of your hard drive made at least daily, this way, all you will lose is one day's work.

I specify identical size and type of hard drive because you will want to swap out the hard drive in your dead machine with the backup hard drive, this is the point of my article, instant fix, back into production as quickly as possible.

How to make a proper working backup?

To make this work you will need the backup hard drive and some software to do the scheduled copy. On a mac use Carbon Copy Cloner or Super Duper, on the Win PC use Clonezilla or  Acronis True image. Use any of these programs to "ghost" your entire hard drive uncompressed or unencrypted to the backup drive. I strongly suggest not encrypting or compressing otherwise a restoration from the backup involves restoring, which on a big drive, can be many hours. Restoring means copying off to another drive....really frustrating, you want a live copy that you can browse live as if it were your current system HD.

You may be tempted to buy a huge hard drive like a WD MyBook with Raid1 so nothing ever will be lost, but what you end up doing is putting an image of your drive on it along will all your other loose muck, this will foul things up and slow down your recovery. You must use a dedicated drive for your daily back up.

In the case of dad's laptop we could have popped the backup drive out of it's case, and swapped it with the dead internal drive in minutes and been running as if nothing happened. We chose to upgrade his computer and copy the data, but even purchasing his new mac and installing the old data took two hours!

How does this differ from archiving?

Archiving is moving your files to a system of long-term storage, which may mean hard drives or cds or dvds. This article is about a working backup of your machine, not keeping those valuable files forever. A synchronised back up will not save you from deleting a file, the backup will also delete that file when it runs, it will make the backup drive identical to your working drive. You can use other utilities to do these kind of backups, but they are generally a slow solution when the fertiliser hits the ventilator.

Do all of  this and I promise you will thank me one day, no one is immune to hard drive failure.

Paul Atkins