Chapter 9. Decide on a Backup Strategy

9. Decide on a Backup Strategy

I know a number of people who have made decisions about backing up their computers based on what hardware or software they already own. Others buy a product that's received good reviews and then figure out how to use it for effective backups. I believe these approaches are backward. If your data and your time are truly important, it makes sense to think about your needs first, then develop a strategy based on those needs, and finally choose hardware and software that fits your strategy.

When earlier versions of this manuscript were published, several readers commented that the strategy I suggest here, while perfectly reasonable, may be inappropriate for "low-end" users because it presumes a significant expenditure of money and effort. Less-advanced users, the argument went, just want a backup system that's inexpensive, easy-to-use, and effective. Don't we all! Unfortunately, there is no such thing. You know the old saying: "Cheap; good; fastpick any two." The same goes for backups. I can tell you how to do them effectively or how to do them quickly and cheaply, but the less time and money you're willing to spend, the less safe your data will be.

With that in mind, I want to begin this strategy section with a quick, high-level overview of several approaches you might choose to take, depending on your tolerance for cost, effort, and risk (see Table 1, "Sample Backup Approaches"). Later on, I describe in detail each of the hardware, software, and strategic components of these options.

Table 1. Sample Backup Approaches

Major Objective

Suggested Approach

Risks and Trade-Offs

Saving Money

  • Hardware: Your Mac's built-in SuperDrive.

  • Software: Tri-Backup ($49).

  • Strategy: Schedule weekly duplicates and daily archives, and store them on DVD-RW or DVD+RW.

  • You will not have a bootable duplicate, making it more difficult to recover after a hard drive failure.

  • You must be present when backups occur to swap media.

  • Restoring files from an archive will be time-consuming.

Ease of Use

  • Hardware: A single Maxtor OneTouch FireWire drive.

  • Software: Retrospect Express.

  • Strategy: Just press the button for instant (duplicate) backups whenever you wish.

  • No archives to protect you against file changes and deletions, unless you set up such a script manually.

  • Without redundant, off-site media, you risk data loss due to theft, fire, or other catastrophes.

  • You must remember to press the button.



  • Use an Internet backup service such as Prolifix, which provides its own software and requires no hardware.

  • No bootable duplicates.

  • Extremely expensive if you archive all your files; significant risk of data loss if you do not.

  • Your data is unavailable if you lose Internet connectivity.

Data Safety

  • Hardware: Three external Fire-Wire drives.

  • Software: Retrospect Desktop.

  • Strategy: Scheduled weekly duplicates and daily archives, alternating among drives; one drive always stored off-site.

  • Optional: Archive mission-critical and active files frequently to your iDisk or an Internet backup service.

  • Significant hardware and software costs.

  • Learning curve to set up and use Retrospect software.

  • Inconvenience of moving drives around each week.

While the approaches I outline are just a few examples of the many paths one could take to performing backups, I personally feel the importance of protecting your data trumps all other concerns. Therefore, in Table 1, I outlined the Data Safety approach in bold, because I believe it is the best approach for the majority of readers of this book. If your data is not worth some time and money to you, then you probably don't need backups. But if data safety truly matterscan you afford to lose your email, one-of-a-kind digital photos, or important documents?keep in mind that you get out of a backup system what you put into it.


There's an even more secure level beyond the "Data Safety" option in Table 1, but implementing it takes a bit of doing. Make these modifications to the plan:

  • Use hardware-encrypted hard drives (see Choosing a Hard Drive, page 121).

  • Using SoftRAID, partition each of the external drives into a volume for archives and a volume for duplicates (see Can a RAID Substitute for Duplicates?, page 92).

  • Rotate the drives more frequently (say, once every two or three days) and keep one or more of them offsite at all times.

Real World Mac Maintenance and Backups. Industrial-Strength Techniques
Real World Mac Maintenance and Backups. Industrial-Strength Techniques
Year: 2004
Pages: 144 © 2008-2017.
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