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Eliminate these common Mac backup errors

Backups do not fall into the "set it and forget it" category. To ensure reliable and secure backups of your data, watch out for these common mistakes.

Backup operations are among the most critical actions any computer user performs. Whether a business user is backing up an iMac, Mac Mini, MacBook Pro or Mac Pro, and regardless whether the system is used in the office or is located in a server room or data center, it's important the data is regularly backed up.

Hard disks fail. RAID arrays corrupt. Lightning strikes. Systems are lost and stolen. Yet, backups are often installed and then forgotten.

When it's needed, will your Mac's backup prove capable of recovering from a disk failure, disaster, or other catastrophe? Ensure you avoid the following backup errors.

No backup

Often, users become so busy with day-to-day tasks they simply don't take time to implement a backup. Or, a user may pause and quickly install an offsite backup, such as Carbonite or Mozy, and assume they have the problem covered. But unless the offsite backup is properly configured, and important files and folders are selected for offsite backup and actually are transferred offsite, there's still no proper backup in place.

Automated offsite backup application settings must be regularly reviewed, too. Users frequently create new folders and directories. If the backup application isn't updated to include those new folders and directories, critical data may fail to be backed up. And, when changes are made, an offsite backup routine may require months to catch up. I've seen programs require months to move a system's updated file, photo, and video selections offsite.

Unmonitored backup

Backup operations should always be monitored. Users and administrators need to verify backup operations continue working once an initial backup completes, whether using Crash Plan, Time Machine, Carbonite, Mozy or another solution.

Disks fail, as mentioned earlier. Controllers become disconnected. Backup applications freeze. Online allocations are exceeded, prompting backups to stall.

For these reasons, Mac businesses should implement a remote management and monitoring platform to ensure automatic alerts are received when a backup operation fails. Without monitoring and verification, and without periodically recovering data from a backup set to confirm efficacy, there should be no confidence a backup can recover a failed system.

Disconnected backup

Occasionally I've encountered backup operations that stalled, sometimes months previously when the client refused systems monitoring, because a user required an additional USB port, disconnected an external hard disk that was collecting backups and subsequently never reconnected the drive. Because users live in the real world, where additional USB and Thunderbolt ports are sometimes required, backup disks occasionally need to be disconnected, but only by implementing a proven monitoring platform can businesses ensure backup operations continue uninterrupted later and that the error is discovered and an administrator is alerted.

Insufficient storage

Users and administrators alike sometimes select a backup disk or offsite backup data allocation that, at the time the computer is deployed, provides sufficient storage for collecting backups. For example, a new user may receive a 500GB external disk for backing up his or her MacBook Pro, or 10GB of offsite data storage may be allocated for a user. Over time, however, that user may require backing up 1TB of local data or need to move 250MB of critical financial and HR data offsite. Without proper backup storage allocations sufficient space may not exist for backing up important data.

It's important to note, too, that many organizations may require multiple backup sets. If backup operations rewrite themselves every week, maintaining a single set of backup media will enable the organization to only recover up to one week's worth of data. Careful thought and planning should be given to rotating additional external media, thereby making it possible to archive monthly, quarterly and even annual data sets.

Insecure storage

Backup security is easily overlooked. All backup media should be, when possible, hardened against such common threats as water- and fire-damage. Hardened disks, such as ioSafe's SoloPro, protect against temperatures up to 1550 degrees Fahrenheit for 1/2 hour and immersion in up to 10 feet of water for 72 hours. The drive's specifications also confirm compatibility with Mac OS X 8.6 and greater.

All backup media should also be encrypted. Mac users and administrators can leverage File Vault 2.0 or even TrueCrypt on Macs to ensure external hard disks are encrypted. With data backups encrypted, if an external backup drive is lost or stolen, the organization (and user) need not worry that important or sensitive information can be easily accessed by unauthorized parties.


Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...


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