Backing Up Your Mac — For the Smaller Business and Home User

March 17, 2012 by  

Last time, I described some of the techniques used in larger businesses to back up files, and while it may be a very efficient and cost-effective method for the corporate IT department, it’s not exactly a bouquet of roses for the user, who may have to wait two days, or even longer, to completely recover their data.

Mac users have a benefit here, as there is a mechanism to boot their machines from a network server, so if their computer is completely backed up to a network server, it may be possible to get back on line immediately with a “spare” computer. When you go home that night, your intrepid IT staff can make a clone of the backed-up data on that network drive and copy it to a fresh hard drive, which then can be plopped into either the user’s original machine or the same spare they were using. The next morning, all will be well.

That, of course, assumes you have a skilled IT staff. Today we’re talking about the home or very small business user (up to maybe five computers), and of course we’re focusing on Apple Macintosh computers.

I’m not even going to discuss Apple’s much ballyhooed backup solution called TimeMachine. This product does not create a bootable backup—effectively, it works a lot like the EMC Retrospect product I mentioned last week. It copies the latest changes and revisions to a local or networked hard disk. As it fills, it erases older stuff to make room for newer stuff. Hope you didn’t need that older stuff.

Instead, I’m going to talk about a relatively inexpensive and easy way to back up your computer without the need for an IT staff or multiple phone calls to some support number located halfway around the world. This solution is as simple as using an external, bootable (very important) hard disk drive, and one of two free software products.

First, head over to your Apple Store, a big box store, or even one of the big warehouse stores, and pick up an external USB 2.0 hard drive, preferably something about twice the size of your existing hard drive. In other words, if your internal hard disk drive is 250GB, buy a 500GB external USB 2.0 drive. Cost should be somewhere between $75 and $150, depending upon where you buy it. Then, go to one of the big online search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.), and look for either Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper. Both are equally good in their standard freeware/donationware versions. You get a few more features with SuperDuper if you buy the deluxe version for $27.95, but you don’t really need it.

Here’s the deal: connect your new bootable external hard drive to your Mac. Install one or the other of the two programs I mentioned in the last paragraph. The instructions are really easy. Basically, you want to back up your entire hard drive to the new drive, including all your system files, so that if your internal hard disk drive fails, you can boot your system and go on as if nothing ever happened using the external drive. The first time you do this, depending upon how much data you already have, it might take a few hours. The best thing to do would be to start the backup before you go home. Just start your screen saver and the backup software will do the rest. When you get to work the next morning, your computer will be ready to go. The backup software can be configured to perform follow-on backups after normal working hours, or maybe when you first turn on your Mac but before you’ve had your first cup of your favorite beverage. The backup program will quickly make a clone of anything that changed since the last time you backed up.

If you are not 100% certain the drive you are considering purchasing is bootable, get the complete model number and check the vendor’s website. Also, if you can examine the box, see if it specifically states it is bootable for Macintosh computers. If not, again, check online, or call their customer help line.

Finally, your data still isn’t completely safe. If you cannot afford to lose your data, don’t keep all the copies of your data at home or your office. Either make a copy of the copy that you can take to an alternate location, or back up the critical data (not the entire drive) to one of the “cloud” backup services like Mozy, where you can store critical files on the internet. Again, don’t make that site the only place you keep your data. The more critical data loss might be should help you determine a solid backup strategy. Search the internet for online backup solutions. There are many good choices out there.