Disaster Recovery

Time Machine more than capable of safeguarding enterprise data

Erik Eckel expands on best practices and limitations for employing Mac's Time Machine to protect your enterprise data. Find out why he thinks it's a win-win for administrators.

Enterprise administrators, particularly those unfamiliar with Apple's powerful but deceivingly simple features, might be tempted to dismiss Time Machine as an overly simplistic backup mechanism. That'd be a mistake. Time Machine is more than capable of protecting an enterprise's data.

Best practices

Time Machine, of course, makes it easy to not only back up data, but to create multiple archive sets. Further, Time Machine enables essentially creating image backups. Administrators need go only to the server or workstation in question, open the Time Machine application and select the files or folders to restore or leverage the Time Machine drive to recover an entire system.

Administrators should never assume Time Machine backups are completing properly, however. Time Capsule backups can fail if network or wireless connectivity fails. External hard disks can become disconnected. Disks can even fail. Enterprise administrators should regularly check and test Time Machine backups to confirm that the proper data is being backed up and can be recovered, should events require recovering from the Time Machine media.

Server Admin also enables configuring volumes to serve as backup destinations. It's important to regularly check backup folders to confirm no network or configuration issues are precluding the backups from completing properly. Such safety checks should be scheduled at least weekly, if not more often.

Limitations

Time Machine does possess limitations, and administrators should be aware of them. Time Machine cannot back up to disks connected to AirPort Extreme devices, nor can it back up disks not formatted using the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) file system. If a backup disk is connected as a network share, the network server must use the Apple File Protocol (AFP) for file sharing.

One limitation, however, is not the amount of data requiring backing up. Many administrators might be surprised to learn just how capable Time Machine is.

Enterprise ready

Large (in terms of storage) but simple and inexpensive external drives mate very well with Time Machine. 8 TB Rocstor Arcticroc and Promise SmartStore RAID systems offer very fast RAID 5 communication between servers and backup media, but for less than $1,300. The drives support HFS+ file formatting to enable simple configuration with Time Machine.

Because these devices and most Mac servers (including Mac Minis with Snow Leopard Server and Mac Pros configured as servers) support FireWire 800, data communication occurs at rates that can make USB 2.0 connections appear pedestrian. Using optional eSATA cards on Mac servers enables even faster communications speeds, as most of these relatively inexpensive external RAID systems support the faster eSATA specification.

With the ability to daisy-chain devices (such as $1,200 8TB LaCie Quadra RAID systems) together, administrators can access more than 20TB of affordable Time Machine storage, too. So it's unlikely that most organizations will realistically exceed the amount of data that can be reasonably backed up using Time Machine. All in all, that (simple backup configuration using inexpensive and fast data storage devices) adds up to a win-win-win scenario for enterprise administrators.

About

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...

13 comments
blubdog
blubdog

Personally I like to have multiple backups of my workstation. Can I format two (or more) Time Machine hard drives for one machine, and manually switch USB cables (daily/weekly/whenever) to alternate backing up to more than one device? Will TM automatically backup to the device currently connected without having to reconfigure TM? This would also allow me to keep one device off site.

SoftwareArchitect
SoftwareArchitect

Erik: Good start to an interesting topic. Given that Time Machine (TM) can support enough storage capacity for an enterprise (>5TB, by your definition), how are you suggesting TM be used in an Enterprise? Providing on-site backup of servers? workstations? laptops? Please elaborate. For instance, do you see using a large TM device being used to backup all the Mac's in an office? This could provide a significant administrative (centralization) advantage in that it is normally too time-consuming and complicated to back-up workstations (a problem that often results in forcing users to work off of a network drive or leaving local data unprotected). How would you go about using a TM-based workgroup backup? What about security concerns? (Not much point in providing granular security if users can access any TM-based spare image...) What about scalability in these scenarios? How many workstations could a TM drive reasonably support? What would be a reasonable way of capacity planning: how much TM-storage do you want per gigabyte of workstation storage? Some other readers raised an interesting point about off-site backups: they are important; and TM is not intended to address this. (I like to think that the "genius" of Time Machine is to make a first-order backup so simple and affordable that there is no reason not to use have one.) But to this point, how would you complement TM with offsite backups? Now that I have been using TM for over a year, I would hate to lose my history, and I have been considering making a periodic offsite backup of my TM drive in lieu of making a periodic offsite backup of my working drive.

arobinson
arobinson

Sorry... not off-site is not a 'backup.' It's an archive. TM is a great end user friendly archiving system, but I don't think it should be confused with an enterprise backup system. If you combine TM clients, TM server and an off site replication, then I think we are getting closer to a backup system. And unless your TM server or backup share is in a datacenter in it's offsite location, it would be hard to justify this as an enterprise system. With the deprecation of Xserve earlier this month by Apple Inc, I'm also not sure what Mac OS X Server + RAID solutions are datacenter ready.

dmenglert
dmenglert

You, and I may have a different definition of "enterprise," but enterprises in my book have to not only backup file servers, they have to backup messaging servers like Exchange and Domino, not to mention databases Oracle and SQL. What does Apple offer in the way of ESX hosts, I have not heard of Time Machine leveraging any of the API's Vmware makes available for backing up guests inside of ESX hosts. Time Machine has no place in the enterprise environments I visit. I know its fun to think Apple can do everything, but leave enterprise backup to the big boy solutions like NetBackup, Simpana, and Backup Exec.

ExCorpGuy
ExCorpGuy

Name both drives with the name assigned in Time Machine and you should be good to go. Just understand that cloned drives offer the near instant restoration of your system vs. sometimes lengthy restores via Time Machine. If you cannot be without you system for any length of time this is something to consider.

ExCorpGuy
ExCorpGuy

Understand that Time Machine is not an Enterprise Level Backup solution like NetBackup for example. I used to work in Storage Operations for a large multi national that everyone would know. You need to have offsite backups either by physical media or drives taken offsite or by a very large data pipe over a WAN. Time Machine, however, can provide restores of certain data that cannot wait for offsite media to be recalled for smaller firms or SOHO scenarios. I myself use both Time Machine added with drive cloning and other files copied to an external drive. The drive is updated on a regular basis and placed into a quality fireproof safe. While not "Enterprise Grade Backups" it does the job for my small business.

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

Time Machine is a data backup. Let's not split hairs. It's also an archive (as it creates multiple copies of files as they change). It is not an offsite backup. I never said it was. That's a different animal altogether. If you have 20TB of data that needs to be backed up off site, you need a SAN that synchronizes automatically via a large telcom pipe.

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

I think 5TB or more qualifies. Some will argue enterprise is 5,000 users or more. Others will tell you 500. I look at enterprise as being large amounts of data, in this case. But my consulting firm has worked with 20 employee companies that sync multiple TB of data using a local SAN that synchronizes with a second SAN in an off site data center. I consider that enterprise technology, despite the lack of hundreds of users.

arobinson
arobinson

As I covered in my other, longer post, the idea in my mind is that enterprise backup covers a lot more than just backing up all my Mac workstations' data, althoughmthats a great, and important part. I need data contingency for Mac OS X servers, Windows servers and Sun Solaris as well. TM isn't meant for these platforms -- not even the Mac OS X Sever. To 'back up' my enterprise, I need more than just TM. I would have loved if the article had, as I think the writer really wanted to point out, used the space to talk about how you can save money and time by integrating TM into your backup systems. That is an article I would send to my colleagues and counterparts.

Justin James
Justin James

... that's not what the point of the article is, which has baffled myself and others. Even the title of the article is "Time Machine more than capable of safeguarding enterprise data", which is clearly not the case, unless the author really means that enterprise admins won't mind using one application for some backups, and another application for the rest of the backups, which is a pretty bad idea for a variety of reasons. J.Ja

arobinson
arobinson

Erik I'm not splitting hairs but perhaps I should clarify-- your article is a good description of TM's functionality, but your premise is that it's an enterprise backup solution, and I was pointing out how I disagree. To you, enterprise equals a certain level of data to be 'backed up' onsite at an office. Okay, I guess. To me enterprise involves business continuity places, redundancies for critical systems, offsite data (and possibly application) storage / hosting... The amount of data isn't really relevant in my opinion-- it's the investment in infrastructure. But thats my opinion.? Now we've got that out of the way, back to your thesis: that Time Machine is an enterprise backup solution. If your enterprise is about local storage of data -- which in my book is an 'archive' not a backup, but let's come back to that later-- and if your enterprise consists of only Mac OS X clients -- last time I checked TM wasn't a server solution or for the Other OSs-- then I think we could say that TM could handle part of the backup. And don't get me wrong, I love TM! But for me its a first tier, end-user level access archiving method. If you deploy TM locally to arttached hdd at the desktop, you, as an enterprise admin, have some challenges -- is the drive on? Is the drive healthy? Is it getting full? Most of the business environments I know have multiple platforms and levels of backup need. A 'backup' is only a part of a continuity plan in business, but focusing on just that TM still is only part of the solution if you need to provide data contingency for your servers and *all* your workstations. I want to agree with you that TM gets short shrift if it's totally ignored. As part of a greater strategy for one's end users, I then TM has it's place. For me and my infrastructure, and for those of some of my colleagues, TM is that first line of 'go-to' for end users when they need to fix something that went wrong, and giving them that ability to address at least some of the issues first hand, has saved both them and me a significant amount of time. But I don't stop with that. I use CrashPlan Pro for desktop and some server backup to offsite storage in a datacenter. I use another product for my Other OSs servers, as appropriate, also remotely backed up offsite. So, when something unfortunate happens, my end users can attempt to address their problems immediately, but if TM doesn't do the trick-- or the TM hdd fails, or the enduser had disconnected the drive a month prior, or some other issue-- I have another contingency for my data. For me, enterprise backup is making sure my users' data is protected and available, in a variety of ways and using appropriate, effective and cost effective tools. TM is part of that toolset, but its not the whole toolbox. ??

Justin James
Justin James

Enterprise is NOT about "how much data do I have?" It's about what you are supporting. This is NOT an "enterprise" solution because it does not backup enterprise applications. I have never met an "enterprise" where file level backups covered their entire organization. You still need a backup that has the database, the email server, the CRM system, etc. That means that, at the very least, it needs to be aware of VSS or the equivalent on whatever your OS calls its equivalent. All Time Machine, as you have described it, can do it backup files on a network share or a local Mac file system. Which means that any application running on a non-Mac system won't be backed up, unless you back it up separately on the server and expose the backup via network sharing or copy it to a network share. Sorry, but my "enterprise" can't risk being put on a Rube Goldberg backup solution. Oh, and we're a 15 person company with under 2 TB of data. We just happen to run a full "enterprise" stack... Hyper-V, Exchange, SQL Server, OCS, CRM, Quickbooks... this list goes on... J.Ja

brent
brent

I have over 80TB of high speed storage that I oversee for a video production company. There are only a dozen or so employees here in the office. Would you consider that enterprise?