Data Loss Prevention and Backup Tips
“There are two types of people in this world, those who have lost data, and those who are going to lose data”
As you’ve possibly experienced personally, the risks of data loss can be high, and the effects can be devastating. Fortunately, data loss is easily preventable. Here’s a brief discussion of some of Mac Outlet’s recommendations.
While there’s not much you can do to to prevent a hardware failure, here’s a few tips:
1. If you’re seeing the “spinning beachball” a lot, or hearing unusual noises from your computer (intermittent clicking, thunking, sounding like a marble is rolling around inside), it’s very likely a sign of impending drive failure. Have the drive checked by a professional ASAP.
2. If you suspect your drive may be failing, STOP using it as soon as possible. The more you use it in a failing state, the more likely you are to lose all the data. Time is critical, and you should immediately bring it to a service shop like Mac Outlet.
3. Use a utility like SMARTReporter to monitor the health of your hard drive. While this won’t catch all hard drive failures, it’s a good, unobtrusive tool that can give you advance warning of a problem. (Side note: SMART status can only be monitored on an internal drive, for some reason it doesn’t work on external drives.)
4. Data loss is generally caused by one of two things: hardware failures, or data corruption. Monitoring SMART[?] status and paying attention to any unusual noises are good ways to try to avert hardware failure. Data corruption can be caused by improper shutdowns, software crashes, or seemingly no specific cause. It’s a good idea to run a tool like Disk Utility every month or so to ensure that your data is not getting corrupted. If Disk Utility reports a problem it can’t fix, we recommend bringing your computer in for professional assistance. When it comes to corrupted data, the earlier you catch a problem, the better your chances are for fixing it cleanly and avoiding data loss. Data corruption tends to snowball, so don’t ignore problems and warning signs!
Since we can’t always head data loss off at the pass, though, your best bet is…
The holy grail of dealing with data loss is to back up your data regularly! There are several ways to do this, but the most efficient way is to use an external hard drive, because that enables you to back up EVERYTHING with the least amount of hassle and manual labor. Part of the problem with “backing up” is that the more actively involved you have to be in the process, the less likely you’ll be to actually back your data up. So your best bet is to have a process that’s completely automated…you set it up initially, and then you’re done. An external hard drive is the best tool for this type of backup. If you’ve had Mac Outlet perform service work due for a failing hard drive or data loss, you’re entitled to 10% off any external hard drive we carry for the next 30 days. Ideally you’ll want to buy a drive of the same or larger capacity as your internal drive in your computer, so that everything that’s on your main drive will fit on the backup. Then you just need to decide what software to use to back up. There are a couple good choices, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Time Machine comes standard with Mac OS 10.5 Leopard and higher. It basically takes a snapshot of your hard drive every hour of the day, allowing you to later go “back in time” to recover a file that’s been deleted, corrupted, or lost. What it DOESN’T do is make a bootable backup drive. So if your main drive completely fails, you have to go get a new main drive, reinstall your operating system, then use Time Machine to restore everything. That works, but it’s obviously a little time consuming and results in quite a lot of down time during a catastrophic hard drive failure. For that reason, Time Machine is a good tool, but we feel it’s better as an archiving tool than as a standalone backup tool. But if it’s all you’ve got, it’s perfectly workable. With Time Machine, you generally want an external drive that’s (much) bigger than your internal drive, though…the bigger the external, the further back Time Machine can keep copies. Once the backup drive is full, the oldest files will get dropped off. (Side note: if you use Microsoft Entourage for your email, do not use Time Machine to back up your email. Because of the way Entourage stores email (in one large database file), every time you get a new email Time Machine will make another new copy of that entire large database file, which will quickly eat up all your backup space).
SuperDuper is a third-party utility available here. What it does is make an exact, bootable, copy of your hard drive at whatever frequency you specify. So, for example, you can set it to automatically clone your main drive to your backup drive every night at 2am. You just leave the computer running, and at 2am you’ve got a nice exact copy of what’s on your main drive. If you wake up the next morning and your hard drive has failed, you can simply boot from your backup drive (by holding down the Option key when you turn on your computer and selecting the backup drive) and you can theoretically be back up and running. Of course, you’d still need to replace the failed drive in your computer, but you can do that when it’s convenient for you…unlike with Time Machine, you can be back up and getting work done immediately. Once you replace your main drive, you’d simply use SuperDuper to clone the data from your backup drive to the new main drive, and you’re back in business.
What SuperDuper doesn’t do well is archive files. So for example, if you inadvertently delete a file from your computer and you don’t realize it at the time, then SuperDuper will make a backup, but because the file isn’t on your main computer anymore, it won’t be on your backup drive anymore either after SuperDuper does the backup. You’d have to realize that the file was deleted BEFORE SuperDuper did the next backup, and then you could open your backup drive and retrieve the file, copying it back to your main drive. The other problem with SuperDuper is that it’s only as recent as your last backup. If it backed up two nights ago, and you do a couple day’s worth of work and then your hard drive fails, you could lose several days’ work.
The third choice is to use some sort of online backup solution. The one big advantage to online backups is locational security. Let’s say you have a fire or a theft and all your computer equipment is lost. Even with multiple backup drives, you’re still out of luck in that situation. An online backup gives you an off-site copy of your data, and so we recommend incorporating online backups for truly critical data. One good solution is Backblaze.com, which will back up your entire drive for just $5/mo. Backblaze has Mac software that you can install and have it automate the process of backing up your files…you tweak a few settings, and it does the rest. If you have a LOT of data, it can be rather slow initially to get everything backed up, but once it’s done, it only has to back up new or changed files, which is pretty quick.
So as you can see, all of these methods have some strengths and weaknesses. In a perfect world you’d have some overlap. Use SuperDuper to make a bootable backup, and use Time Machine to keep archives, and use Backblaze to keep critical backups off-site. What’s the best setup for this? Buy as big an external hard drive as you can afford. Partition it using Disk Utility into two partitions: one the same size as your internal drive, and the other with all the leftover space. Use SuperDuper to clone your drive to the “same size” partition nightly. Use Time Machine to back up to the “leftover space” partition. And use Backblaze to keep regular off-site backups of everything. Whether you use one, two, or all three, though, we say “Use SOMETHING!”. If we had to pick one, we’d say use Time Machine. No method is going to be foolproof, but just using one of these tools will probably save you a ton of headache and hassle someday, so anything is better than nothing. When you weigh the costs of data recovery (even Mac Outlet’s pretty affordable version of it), the cost of an external hard drive will easily pay for itself when that fateful day comes when your main hard drive fails. Unfortunately it happens all too often, and what makes it all the more tragic is that it’s so easily preventable. The vast majority of computer users don’t back up frequently enough (or at all). Don’t be one of those who lose beloved photos, or critical documents. Just think for a minute about how it would feel to lose all your files, or have to pay thousands of dollars in data recovery fees to possibly get it back. Back your data up. It literally takes 15 minutes to set up everything you need. If you need assistance, or have questions, we’re here to help! Stop by or email us!