7 tips to create a safe and consistent backup strategy as a Mac user

This post is an updated version of an original post published in September 2011.

I’ve recently found myself in a very uncomfortable situation: my backup external hard drive (HDD) failed! I’ve suddenly realized my hot tea-cup was really close to my MacBook Pro. I drank my tea, put my laptop in a safe and started thinking about my backup strategy. Was it safe enough? I did a bit of research on the Internet and here are the results: 7 tips to create a safe and consistent backup strategy as a Mac user.

1. Start backing up with Time Machine

Time Machine is just great and is way more than just a backup of your data. Introduced in the Leopard version of Mac OS X, Time Machine is a great way to 1) back up your Mac on an external HDD and 2) keep an history of your file system. It is fast to set up, convenient to use, smart when dealing with storage space. If you’re a Mac user and don’t use Time Machine, just start using it right now. Get an external HDD with a little bigger storage than your computer’s and go ahead (for instance, I have a 320 Go HDD on my laptop and use a 500 Go HDD for Time Machine).

2. And back up in the cloud as well

If you’re a nomad user, you want to have your main Time Machine HDD with you all the time. What happens if your bag gets stolen? A Time Machine backup is not enough. You want another backup that you’re gonna keep away from your laptop most of the time, and that you’ll never carry away with both your computer and your primary Time Machine HDD.

A few years ago, I gave different options a try:

Now, I’m using Backblaze’s cloud backup solution to keep a remote backup of my HDD. Of course, this solution has some major drawbacks:

But it also ha big advantages:

3. Create a Media Center HDD!

With my laptop, I have a recurring problem: a lack of space in the internal HDD. To solve this permanently, I now try to keep my media files apart: music, photos and movies are on a dedicated external HDD. This strategy has many good points: you have a lot of space on your internal HDD (which is very convenient when you use your computer in a professional context), you have a mediacenter HDD you can bring to your friends’ houses or that you can plug in a TV set, you can use it with a mediacenter server… It’s very useful.

One disadvantage of this strategy is when your iTunes library is on this external HDD and you want to synchronize your iOS devices when your mediacenter HDD is not around. This requires a lot of manual work (sorting files you want to have in a minimized iTunes library and files you want to have in the extensive iTunes library). iOS 5 might help with this very soon.

4. And back up this Media Center HDD!

Now, what if this HDD fails? That’s right, here comes Backblaze again. That’s your 3rd backup so far. You may think that’s a lot but if something bad happens, you’ll be glad for the little extra-money you’ll have spent on those external HDD.

5. Forget CD and DVD

CD and DVD backups belong to ancient times. You don’t want to do that anymore. They’re fragile, require a lot of work to keep track of what file’s on which disk. Imagine you backup these files you cherish on DVD. If your primary files get corrupted for some reason, how will you remember where you stored it? How can you be sure the DVD hasn’t quietly been damaged and became unreadable? Of course, HDD fail too but when they fail, they’re not quiet. They let you know they died. HDD are a bit over-dramatic but you should be grateful they are.

6. Think of what you’re backing up

I know storage is cheap. I know people can turn sentimental. But do you really need to backup this animated GIF image that you thought was funny back in 2003? Delete it. Don’t feel sad of the lack of backup. Keep on your HDD only the things that deserve to be backed up.

7. And one last tiny USB key backup for the road

On the opposite, some files are VERY important and you really don’t want to lose them or you want them with you all the time. Just get a USB key and build a safe encrypted backup of files that really matter: password files, bank accounts files, critical professional documents…

Now I think you can feel safe about your data.