The Perfect Backup Strategy for Your Mac

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of a tried-and-tested backup solution. One that ensures all your data will be safe – whether you suffer a simple hard drive failure, or your house burns down. This type of system gives you immense peace of mind, and removes that guilty feeling in your subconscious caused by not backing up.

Today I’m going to walk through a few options for creating what I would consider to be an “ideal” backup solution for the Mac. This is by no means the only way to handle the safety of your data, but one that’s particularly robust and cost-effective.

Three Key Ingredients

There are three things that you’ll want to consider in an effort to reach backup-nirvana, and each is equally important:

  1. A redundant copy of all your data – You’ll want to be certain that every single piece of information on your computer is safely copied elsewhere. Not just your important documents and family photos – all the more cumbersome files such as music and video as well.
  2. A bootable backup – To get back up-and-running quickly, having a bootable backup is something to strive for. One that you can plug in, and within a few minutes be back to work as normal.
  3. An off-site backup – Storing files on an external drive is great, but what if the worst happens and someone steals everything in your house. Or something even worse. Storing files off-site, in more than one location, is important.


Another consideration that should run through any solution you choose is the level of security. The whole point of backing up is to protect against data loss, but you also don’t want anyone stealing your information. The contents of your hard drive can tell someone a lot about you, and it’s information that is best kept to yourself…

With that in mind, a backup solution should protect the various copies of your data from physical or virtual theft, and ensure security is given high priority.

The Proposed Strategy

So here’s a solution that I’d propose. It might not be ideal for everyone, but it works for me!

1. Dropbox for Off-Site Storage of Critical Files

First up, I’m going to fall back on everyone’s favourite cloud utility – Dropbox. This is particularly useful for storing a remote, versioned backup of your critical files. Not only can you access them from any computer, but Dropbox stores a copy of each individual version you save (so you can revert back to a previous file state at any point).

Dropbox is a great solution for syncing and backing up critical files

Dropbox is a great solution for syncing and backing up critical files

Why not use Dropbox for backing up your whole machine, you ask? The nature of this service is that every file is updated in real-time, as they change. This is perfect for documents that you might save every five minutes, but turns out to be a nightmare for complex system files that change very regularly.

For most people, Dropbox’s free 2GB of storage probably won’t be enough. It’s a service well worth paying for, and $10/month is a bargain for 50GB of off-site, versioned storage.

2. SuperDuper! for a Bootable Backup

Next, we’re going to tackle the need for a bootable backup that can swapped out immediately if your main drive fails. There are plenty of utilities for doing this, but the one that comes highly recommended from myself is SuperDuper!. It’s a tried and tested app, that makes creating an exact copy of your computer’s hard drive a simple process.

There's nothing better for cloning your hard drive...

There's nothing better for cloning your hard drive...

The best way to use it involves buying a hard drive that’s identical to your internal storage, then plugging it into an external “caddy” (that essentially turns it into a USB drive). That way, if your internal drive fails in your desktop or notebook, you can just swap it out for the cloned drive.

This used to work across the board, but is more difficult nowadays as hard drives become more difficult to replace. For instance, this wouldn’t work in a MacBook Air or the new iMacs, neither of which have user-servicable drives.

Still, if your internal drive fails, you can still boot from a USB or Firewire drive attached to your Mac.

3. CrashPlan for Off-Site Storage of Everything

Finally, we’re going to tackle the most difficult issue – an off-site copy of your entire hard drive. The simplest solution to this would be to to keep two bootable clones of your drive – one locally that’s backed up nightly, and another that’s stored in another location. You’d then alternate these each week, so that the off-site drive is never more than one week out of date.

This might work perfectly for you, but I’d struggle with the general “faff” involved. Another option is to keep a remote copy of your hard drive that’s backed up over the web. For this, I’d recommend CrashPlan. It’s a unique service that intelligently handles remote backups. You can either use their own servers, or backup remotely to a drive stored somewhere else (maybe at a friend’s house) – everything is encrypted, so security isn’t an issue.

Frightfully tanned woman not included...

Frightfully tanned woman not included...

CrashPlan is definitely worth taking a look at, particularly if you’ve never considered an off-site backup due to the time and frustration involved. And their prices are pretty great, topping out at $120/year for a fully-fledged “family unlimited” plan.

What’s Your Strategy?

I’d be interested to hear what you think. Does the above sound like a fool-proof plan, or would you have a suggestion that could improve it? I’d be happy to update the guide based on suggestions from readers, so feel free to voice your opinion!

Happy backing-up, and I hope that this quick guide will spur you into action if you don’t already have a fail-safe backup strategy…