How to set up a redundant backup system for your Mac

Glenn Fleishman writes for Macworld, “Thomas Staton asks about backup strategies: ‘Since I have two backup drives, should I use Time Machine on both, or use cloning hardware on one and Time Machine on the other?'”

“I’m a great fan of belt, suspenders, duct tape, and a spare belt,” Fleishman writes. “Time Machine and clones have different purposes, though you can use them to the same end in the right case. If you have a non-recoverable drive failure, you can either use a clone or a Time Machine drive to restore to the last backed-up point.”

“I like the flexibility of a clone because Time Machine can be fussy and sometimes restores will fail for no diagnosable reason. I prefer using Time Machine to restore older file versions, and clones to restore entire drives,” Fleishman writes. “I also recommend having some form of hosted online backup, so that in the event of total destruction of your equipment, your files still live on in the ether.”

Much more in the full article – recommended – here.

MacDailyNews Take: Backup, backup, backup, and then backup again!


  1. I use Time Machine (for changes at least). Then an old iMac with partitioned drives which I back up my other Macs to, then I have a few drives I alternate between and store in a fire proof box and offsite. I also use online services (dropbox, iCloud, iTunes Match etc for syncing and a backup by extension), as well as backblaze for backing up the aforementioned old mac (which has my other machines on it as well).

  2. I use Retrospect, a raid array and an LTO6 tape drive with a Sanlink TB2 to optical fibre channel interface. Retrospect clones my 1TB SSD every day and I back up the raid array to tape once each week. The initial backup took days but now it’s just the incremental backups so it’s quite quick. The tapes can go offsite and provide cheap, permanent storage. It’s a good, though expensive, solution if you have a lot of data. If it’s just financials a cheaper tape drive would suffice. I have a lot of video…

    1. I used to use (and love) Retrospect and I used it for many years, but each time it changed hands the new owners “made it better” – ultimately bringing it to the point that it became a complete and total nightmare. It was no more powerful than before for needlessly complex and unintuitive and setting it up over the network was a mess. I had it up and running for a couple of months, but then it tanked and, depsite endless tech support calls, we couldn’t fix it.
      Time Machine is less sophisticated but it gets the job done with a minimal hassle. The think I don’t like is that both my backup RAID and hot-swappable archival backup are in my office instead of being in the bunker.

  3. “Time Machine can be fussy and sometimes restores will fail for no diagnosable reason.”

    So … do NOT use Time Machine. It is a “one size fits all” solution that is not 100% reliable.

    Hard drives are so inexpensive now that various clone strategies make the only sense I can see.

    1. You’re missing the point. What the author is talking about is that Time Machine, while it works great for some things, it’s not as good in other situations as a cloned drive.

      Time Machine:
      Great for keeping an archive of files where you can go back in time to any previous version of a files and recover it. However, while it may work for entire drive recovery, it’s not best suited for this role.

      Great for entire drive recovery. Depending on the situation, you can be up and running again within minutes. However, cloning isn’t as practical to set up for being able to go back in time and recover a specific version of a file.

      While hard drives are inexpensive, the cost can quickly become insane as well as the effort involved for doing clone archiving.

      This is why as the author recommends, doing both can be a really great strategy. The author also recommends hosted backup.

    1. I’m fanatical about backing up but I think your response has merit. A person has to decide if their data is important enough to backup. Music and commonly used documents can easily be in the cloud. If that’s all you’ve got then backing up probably isn’t a priority. I’ve got LOTS of stuff I’ve collected over the years that is important to me though so I do backup.

  4. I have three TimeMachine backup drives. 1) next to the computer for maximum speed, 2) attached to an Airport Extreme at the other end of the house. In case of theft this would probably be overlooked. 3) at my backup buddy’s house in his sock drawer. This should probably be an encrypted backup but I haven’t done that yet.

  5. Some time ago a break-in resulted in the loss of both my laptop and back-up drive. Learned a hard lesson about the importance of backing up to off-site servers.

    1. Good point. I have a DROBO 5N drive set which does the backup via Time Machine for all home Macs. A second share contains my iTunes library. If the house gets broken in then the drive would be easy to pinch. I think I need to move it to a hidden location and get it hooked up wirelessly.

      1. I also have a Drobo although mine is a 5D. I use a drive dock so I can backup my Drobo to multiple bare drives. I then keep the drives in a shoe box on a shelf. Presumably a thief would not look in a shoe box (I hope).

  6. Recently, Box (of SCREWED UP my backup! I’m still ticked off from the catastrophic mess Backblaze made of my backups a year ago.

    Conclusion: Backing up to the cloud is NOT enough. Expect such backups to FAIL. User beware.

    What saved me BOTH times cloud backups went-to-hell were my local backups. Stupid Box deleted 11.71 GB of my data for no reason they could figure out, on both their cloud backup AND on both of my home Macs. GONE! 11.71 GB of my research data would be dead and gone if I hadn’t had a local backup. I connected the local backup drive and poured all my data back again to BOTH my computer drives. √ Butt Saved.

    This is another reason why its critical, when following The #1 Rule Of Computing: Make A Backup, to have BOTH local AND off-site backups. If one fails, you have the other. In my case, bless me for having local backups to make up for the cloud backup catastrophes.

    Grow up Cloud!

  7. Time Machine does have a number of nice features. For example if you want to remove something from all past backups, you can select it and use the contextual menu to do this. Also, if I just want to pull a version of a file, I can just save it without having to revert anything.
    It’s basic, but workable.

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