Are your backups working?

[First published 2014-08-14]

If you haven't checked your computer backups recently at neither work nor home, then you should check again soon.

Backup apps aren't perfect and automated backups have been known to stop without notification when the app has been upgraded. So, if your backup app is has been set to automatically back up, don't assume it still does unless you've checked it recently.

In particular, Time Machine backup app can also stop for various reasons but generally will give notification if it can't do it's job. Some databases ought not be backed up till they are first quit, lest corruption of the database may occur.

Have you ever tested the backups to be sure they are useful? It can be a troublesome exercise, but ideally it should be done regularly. Unfortunately, it rarely gets done, if ever.

In the least, the most essential data should be copied back to another Mac and tested for usefulness. If the current server Mac became useless, how soon could you be up and running again?

    For restoring data to a server Mac, things to consider are: -

  • Is any special, careful and time-consuming configuration required? – Do you have all the passwords to set up things? Some apps require their licences be entered afresh after restoration.
  • Is there an alternative host Mac on-site to restore the data to? – Buying a replacement at short notice might prove expensive or impossible.
  • Is the alternative host Mac of similar vintage to prevent too much upgrading or (worse still) downgrading of apps and data? If the alternative Mac is too different, it may not even accept the restoration.
  • Is the connection type fast enough for the amount of data to restore? – Just assume that the restoration may need to be done multiple times as you work out what you should be doing.

Another backup means is to clone the server Mac nightly. This way, no new data transfers are required. Just plug the drive in and use it (eg. Even boot from it) as you would the original host drive. This simplifies the testing and live restorations considerably, and can be used in conjunction with Time Machine.

But wait, there's more! What about the data on the other Macs at work like the one used for accounting? A single Mac can act as a Time Machine backup recipient for all the Macs on the network holding important data. This way they don't need their own backup drives and all the clinic's backups can be centralised.

Need I mention to take the backups off site, or to encrypt the data, or to have multiple copies of it?

At Home
What about home? Do remember to backup your data at home. As more services and responsibilities are being digitised, your electronic info is becoming more important, convenient, and cheaper to deal with than hard copies. Think of how expensive to make and difficult to sort your photos and letters once were compared to their digital counterparts. The personal life doesn't stop there, though. Digital versions of legal documents and now even academic projects or other portfolios are best kept indefinitely. For home, it's normally not time-critical to get the data restored so a Time Machine backup alone would normally suffice. Since recent iterations of Time Machine allow for multiple destination drives and encryption, it's convenience and security is better than ever.

If you think that your home Mac is reliable enough to not need any backup, think again. Like everything else in the Universe, not only will its software and hardware naturally corrupt over time to the point of failure, so too, it is susceptible to theft or damage by any sudden physical means.

This message obviously isn't a comprehensive explanation of backup and restore methods but lists some of the most common, easiest, and cheapest ones to implement and is to remind users to check their backups for usefulness.

No Comments Yet.

Leave a comment