How-To: Setup a Reliable Backup Strategy For Your Mac

December 28, 2009 in How-To by Bob Faulhaber

If you have used computers for any period of time, you should have heard the expression “There are two kinds of computer users -those that have had a hard drive failure and those that will”. If you haven’t experienced a failure consider yourself lucky, but your days could be numbered. A reliable backup strategy will make recovery easier, less nerve-wracking and ensure that you won’t potentially lose days of sleep.

As more of our lives are turned in bits and stored on our computers or somewhere in the cloud, the risk of losing an important document, music or photographs increases. The purpose of a backup is to make sure you have multiple copies of your data and files allowing you to recover from a computer failure, or even human error.

The simplest form of backup is simply making a copy of your files and data to a CD or DVD, or even an external hard disk . However, if you don’t do these copies religiously or have automated software you could still be at risk.

If you want to implement a safe and secure backup strategy that will ensure that your data is available when you need it, then the optimum solution is a 3-2-1 Backup Strategy.

What is the 3-2-1 Rule?

- 3 copies of your important data
- 2 different media types or disks
- 1 copy should be stored off-site

While this sounds fairly complicated and possibly expensive, it really isn’t . Using OS X’s built-in Time Machine application, a stan-alone backup application and an offsite backup service you can meet the 3-2-1 criteria.

The first thing you should do when you get a new Mac or if you haven’t set up any sort of backup solution is to setup TimeMachine. You should use an external hard disk or Apple’s Time Capsule, which makes setup extremely simple. If you need an external hard disk, we recommend, which has one of the widest selections of disks available.

For the second “copy”, we recommend another external hard disk or storage device and setting up a bootable backup of your entire disk. Bootable backup means that if your Mac’s internal hard disk fails, you could boot your system from the external disk and still function until the internal disk can be repaired or replaced.

In order to create “bootable” backups, you will need a standalone application, such as SuperDuper or CarbonCopy Cloner.


CarbonCopy Cloner

Whichever software you use, it should be setup to do an automated, regularly scheduled backup. My MacMini does a complete backup every morning at 2:00 AM, allowing me to check the logs and ensure that the backup completed without errors when I start work in the morning.

The third and possibly most important component of your backup strategy is the off-site portion. This protects your data and information in case of a catastrophic failure or natural disaster (flood, fire, etc) at your computers location. There are several on-line services that provide backup services, these are just a sampling of three.




For these off-site backups you should really only be backing up your Home folder or any other folders that contain your documents, photos, music or any other data that you want protected. If you are concerned about the security of your data, all these services utilize encryption and allow you to set an encryption key/password that would be required to access and restore your data.

Once you setup all the components of the 3-2-1 strategy, you should always do a periodic check and validation to make sure all your backups are working as planned. Randomly select a file and try restoring from each of the backups making sure that the file is usable when restored.

If you’ve gotten a new Mac for Christmas or are a long-time Mac user, having the proper backup strategy will ensure that your data is always safe and secure and you won’t have to worry about losing those important documents or pictures that hold that special sentimental value or memories.

What is your backup strategy and how has that saved you in the past? Let us know by leaving a comment below.