Keeping it safe

Close your eyes.

Imagine for a moment that the unthinkable happened. Perhaps your hard disk crashed. Perhaps a thief broke in and stole all your computer gear. Perhaps (heaven forbid) the house burned down. All your photos, music, scanned documents and hard work have gone. How do you feel, and how much would you pay to get it all back?

LaCie d2 Quadra

LaCie d2 Quadra

It’s a scenario that all too often happens, and almost every day someone, somewhere will have that sinking feeling. However all that’s needed to avoid this is a little planning and not a huge amount of money. Ok, I happen to have gone to quite some lengths to make sure my data is protected, but just some of these ideas will hopefully get you thinking about what to guard against and how to do it.

Scenario #1 – Hard drive failure. Actually the easiest to guard against because all that’s needed is an external disk attached to your Mac. I have a LaCie d2 Quadra 1Tb drive sitting on my Mac Pro to which I take daily backups. It’s a little expensive because it features USB, Firewire 400/800 and eSATA connectors, but USB alone will probably suffice in most cases. If you’re a Mac Pro owner like me, then a second internal hard disk to backup your boot partition to is also a good idea and dead easy to set up.

D-Link DNS-323

D-Link DNS-323

Scenario #2 – Theft. Not so great, the thieves broke in and not only stole your Mac but they also took your external hard drive sitting on the desk next to it! How about a hard disk somewhere else in the house, like in the loft? Somewhere a thief in a hurry isn’t going to hang around and search for. I have an ethernet cable running up to the loft where I have a D-Link DNS323 NAS device to which I take weekly backups. The D-Link comes as an empty case and you just add your own hard drives. For NAS devices I favour ones that ‘natively’ share disks via SMB of AFP so that you don’t need client software. There are other makes like Synology, or you could even hang USB disks off a Mac Mini (yep, I’ve got that too!). The advantage of the new Synology enclosures over something like the D-Link is that in addition to standard SMB sharing, they also offer Apple’s AFP. I used to have an old PC running Windows 2003 Server but decided to scale this down to something more eco-friendly.

LaCie Rugged

LaCie Rugged

Scenario #3 – When I was a kid our house caught fire and you quickly realise nothing is safe in those situations. Only solution to that is ‘off site’ storage. The belt and braces approach here is a LaCie Rugged 500Gb drive. Once a month I back up all my important stuff (music, photos, etc) and then I unplug the drive and give it to a trusted friend for safe keeping. The tough construction of the ‘Rugged’ means it’ll survive the odd knock when it’s transported. I also have a free 2Gb Mozy account which I’m thinking of upgrading to the full kahuna at $4.95 a month, as it seems to work really well on the Mac.

Software – I prefer to use software that gives me a lot of control and doesn’t assume I want to store files in Super Flexible File Synchronizersome proprietary format. Time Machine gives me the ‘easy to grab back that deleted file’ solution, but for my daily and weekly backups to external disks I use Super Flexible File Synchronizer. Coming from a background as a SyncBack SE user under Windows, this is as close as it gets on the Mac and the degree of control it gives you over what to back up and how, is just amazing. I also mirror my boot drive to a second internal disk in the Mac Pro using Super Duper on a three-daily basis so that if for any reason my Mac won’t boot, I can simply boot off the spare drive without losing too much work. For the odd files that might contain sensite data, like old scanned credit card statements, I store these in encrypted .dmg files using DropDMG. (If you know the passphrase, you can open an encrypted .dmg file on any Mac without needing the software installed). That way if anyone ever get hold of my backup data the financial stuff would hopefully be safe.



To go the extra mile I back up my Apple mail once a day using Email Backup Pro (it handles both and Entourage plus loads of others), as well as using MobileMe for my .Mac account, and I back my passwords up weekly from 1Password.

There you have it, I’m hoping I’ve got every angle covered. Ok I might seem paranoid, but the thing to remember is that your insurance can get you a new Mac, but safeguarding your data is down to you so please don’t leave it to luck… keep it safe!

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