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.
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.
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.
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.