This Sunday, March 31, is World Backup Day, an independent initiative geared to raise awareness for data security and the importance of backing up computers and other devices that may contain important information. In light of this, you might want to consider taking the time to ensure that all of your systems are set up with a proper backup routine.
Backing up a system used to take a number of steps, and while there are many options and approaches for doing so, these days most devices include some sort of regular backup option that, if used, should be enough to get you up and running again in the event of a failure or user mishap. Unfortunately, even with these options in place, many people set up their new computers and forget all about this important safety net.
If you do not have a backup system in place for your Mac (or know a friend or two who have also not set up such a system), then what better way to celebrate this upcoming Sunday than to set your Mac up on a perpetual date with a backup drive. Apple's systems include a backup technology called Time Machine, and all you have to do to use it is attach a new external hard drive to your system. When you do this, your Mac will prompt you to use it for Time Machine, upon which it will format the drive and back up to it hourly as long as the drive is attached.
With Mountain Lion, you can set up multiple backup drives, so you can have one at a work location and one at home, or even have multiple drives in these locations for redundancy.
Choosing a drive
When choosing a backup drive for your Mac, there are many options to choose from, and most will work just fine. Drives come in different sizes, shapes, colors, makes and models, and support a number of different connection options to suite your Mac's needs. Regardless of what you choose, just be sure the drive is at least large enough to accommodate one full copy of your data. There are many suggestions about requiring drives that are 2x or 4x the size of your internal hard drive, and while the larger the drive the more backup instances it can hold, you only need one that is at least the same size as the drive in your Mac.
To determine this choose "About This Mac" from the Apple menu, followed by clicking the More Info button and then click the Storage section in the window that appears. In here you should see your hard drive, along with information about it, including its size. Now be sure you purchase a backup drive that is at least this size, and you should be good to go. Even if you only use a small amount of space on your hard drive, ensuring you have one that is at least the size of the drive will accommodate growth.
Even with a backup drive formatted and set up, it doesn't do any good if you don't regularly attach the drive. Remembering to do so can sometimes be the real hurdle, especially for portable systems, but there are several approaches you can take to manage this. One option is to set up a separate backup drive or two at each location where you use the system, and the second is to use wireless backup options like Apple's Time Capsule, or one of the myriad third-party NAS drives that support Time Machine. With these, you can take your laptop anywhere within range of the wireless network and maintain a continual backup of your system.
Security and redundancy
Backing up is not just about making a copy of your files, but is also about ensuring that your data is safe and secure when doing so. Unfortunately external hard drives are relatively small and easy for someone to nab, which can be a security risk since backing up will leave all of your personal information on the drive. Therefore, consider using encryption for every backup you use. When you set up Time Machine to use a drive for the first time, it should have an option to encrypt the backups; I encourage everyone to do this.
If you have already established an unencrypted backup, it will not be easy to convert it to an encrypted one without interrupting Time Machine's link to the drive, but you can use Disk Utility to format the drive as an encrypted volume and then set it up as a fresh drive for Time Machine to use.
Even though encryption greatly secures your backups, it does add another layer of complexity to the backup system and has the potential (albeit relatively rare) of causing access problems. If the encryption features become corrupted or if you lose your password and recovery keys, the data on the drive will be completely inaccessible to you. Therefore, while encryption is still highly recommended, consider setting up at least one more backup drive for redundancy.
Additionally, it may be wise to store your backups in different physical locations. While this is easy enough to do for laptop systems, it may be more of a challenge for desktops; however, for these systems you can make use of some online backup solutions to help fill this void.
Once you have Time Machine set up, you should not have to worry about it anymore. It will run in the background and keep your Mac backed up hourly, so if your system experiences a failure or if you inadvertently lose important data, then you can quickly access Time Machine to restore it, or restore your entire system if needed.
Time Machine will by default only back up internal drives, and avoid doing so for external drives you have attached to your system. Therefore it will not include one you might have important data on; however, you can instruct Time Machine to include a specific external drive or two by going to the Time Machine system preferences, clicking the Options button, and then removing the drive from the exclusion list.
In addition to your Mac, consider checking for and setting up backups for your smartphones, tablets, and other data-storing devices as well. If you have an iPhone or iPad, then be sure to sync it with your Mac or use Apple's iCloud backup options to save your data. This can be set up in iOS 6 by going to the iCloud section of the device's settings, where you can enable the "iCloud Backup" option.
Have a secure and redundant World Backup Day.