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Crash Plan proofing Time Machine

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Q. We would like to use Time Capsule for back up but we may also need to store the backup off site. We have about 100 GBs of data we don’t want to lose. Can we also back up the Time Capsule and keep it off site?

A. Discussions around backup and archiving can be confusing and people often say “backup” when they mean to say “archive”. Backing up data is done to prevent loss of information currently stored on your computer. We “backup” our computer’s data to in case of disasters such as fire, flood, theft and mechanical failures. We are most concerned with backing up the information that we need for “day to day” operations.

Archiving on the other hand is meant for storing information “offline” for a long term – even permanently and stored on inexpensive media that is designed to last. A DVD is better than a hard drive or tape over the long haul because the information is burned on with a laser or permanently stamped on with commercial DVDs. All new Mac systems have dual layer DVD drives capable of writing 8GBs of data to DVDR – for long time storage and archiving. Hard Drives and magnetic tape are susceptible to magnetic corruption. DVDs can be corrupted by light and heat. Environmental conditions must be considered when considering how “archive media” is stored. I recommend that you make two copies of anything you seriously value and store one copy offsite.

The “Time Machine” runs once every hour on your Mac using a service or daemon called “/System/Library/CoreServices/backupd”. Daemons are background services that run processes independently of the users. The “Time Machine” software can use a second hard drive, removable drive or a Network Area Storage called “Time Capsule” as the destination. Apple’s “Time Capsule” runs a specialized service and is the only network device that “Time Machine” will back up to on a network. The Mac has to be “awake” in order for the backupd to run properly – and Time Machine comes with and only runs on Mac OS X 10.5 (aka Leopard).

Crash Plan Pro is also software that is installed on the Mac itself – and like the Time Machine software – runs in the background and backs up over the local network or encrypted over the Internet to a remote location. CrashPlan Pro client software is installed and runs as a daemon on the Macs. There is a software interface where you can select which files and folders are to be backed up. You can also set up the schedule which governs when items gets backed up. It can backup to another machine on the network, which must be running the CrashPlan Server software.

Companies such as IronGate in Ottawa and iT Guy Technologies offer third option of running CrashPlan Pro – that of setting the destination of the CrashPlan Pro back up to a remote “CrashPlan Pro Hosted Service”. Then you can rest assured that the data won’t lost in the case of theft, fire or flood. You also save the expense of setting up and managing a data center.

CrashPlan clients can also run on MacOS X 10.4 (tiger), Windows XP and Vista, linux and Sun clients. Apple introduced Time Machine because the majority of users never back up their data. So by making Time Machine as simple as “set it and forget it” the hope is that average consumers will not lose their data through inaction. Companies with mission critical data often spend thousands in hardware, software and labour to back up their systems – the budget is based on the time and cost required to recover from loss. Back up of live data is expensive and usually has a cutoff timeframe because of the expense.

Information should be taken “offline” and archived if it is not required for day to day operations – because of the relative expense of “online” and “nearline” storage. Time Capsule and CrashPlan are “nearline” solutions. Time Machine is by its nature an active process so it cannot really be backed up. Rather you could install Crash Plan Pro and backup in parallel. Then you would have two sources to recover from and eliminate another point of failure.

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On May 11, 2009
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