Backup Strategy for Mac OSX

If you’re anything like me, you’re paranoid about data loss because you’ve heard the horror stories of friends and family members who’ve literally lost it all. And there are plenty of things that might happen to someone’s data: 

Backup Strategy for Mac OSX

  • Hard drive failures
  • Theft
  • Viruses
  • Ransomware attacks
  • Disasters

And the list goes on…

However, if you’re not like me and data backup is something you’ve had a guilty conscience about for a very long time, then this article is for you because I show you in a couple of easy steps how I set up my backup strategy on my Macintosh computer.

You can replicate this strategy with a Windows machine, too, but the tools might have different names.

How to Backup Files on a Mac

This strategy is comprised of two parts. Frequent readers of our website and subscribers to our YouTube channel will already know this but it is so crucial, I simply cannot repeat it enough:

Any good backup strategy needs to start with a proper local backup.

Why local backups? Well, transferring files locally onto an external hard drive, thumb drive or NAS device is still the fastest way to get a complete system image backup up and running, so you’re prepared in case of disaster.

The second step in my strategy is moving files off-site. It essentially means that you should keep at least one copy of any backup you make in a separate location than the one where your main machine is running in. This is especially important to protect data from theft, or natural disasters.

Cloud backups can run in the background even when your local backup hasn’t finished yet. So you don’t have to wait to get started signing up for a cloud backup service. In this article, I’ll show you a provider that I’m using personally, called Carbonite (and you see why in just a few seconds).

Two Essential Local Backups Tools

1. Spare hard drives (internal or external)

You need a spare external hard drive with enough free space that you can either connect through a USB adapter or a Network Attached Storage device. I have both, but I use the NAS for most of my backup tasks.

In fact, my NAS has two hard drives in it. They are connected in a RAID, which essentially means, if one hard drive fails inside my NAS, the other still has a complete copy that data so I can simply replace the broken hard drive.

Using a NAS has several other advantages, that don’t fit inside the scope of this article. Suffice to say that it’s an intelligent hard disk, that you can also use to access data if you’re not at the office or on the same network as the storage device.

2. Time Machine (free) or Carbon Copy Cloner (paid)

The easiest and cheapest way is to use Apple’s built-in backup tool called Time Machine. You only need a couple of clicks to set it up:

First, open the Time Machine preferences. Preferences → Time Machine.

Select a disk with enough hard drive space available. In my case this is a shared folder on my NAS.

Now, Time Machine will back up automatically, once it sees the destination available.

3. Carbon Copy Cloner

Carbon Copy Cloner is essentially Time Machine on steroids. You can create individual tasks for each back job. For example, files that you don’t access or change that frequently can be moved into a backup task that only runs once a week.

In my case, I created a daily task for a whole system image backup that I can use to restore my whole system with preferences if anything should happen to my main computer.

I would say, CCC is something for people who care about the details and really want ultimate control of their backups. Time Machine is the Apple-like hands-off solution that runs more or less quietly in the background.

The Ace Up My Sleeve: Cloud Backup with Carbonite

Now we need to tackle the most important step in our backup strategy: moving files off-site. In this case, I’m not talking about carrying a hard drive from the office to your home, or to a secure vault, but rather conveniently via the cloud.

I’m illustrating cloud backups with Carbonite because I happen to use this service myself and can recommend it for people looking for a hands-off solution.

Carbonite is one of the services that offer unlimited cloud backups for $59 per year. What Carbonite does is scanning your system for files to back up and uploads them to their servers. Depending on your Internet connection this can be slow or fast, but on average you can expect to transfer a few gigabytes per day.

If you like, you can watch my in-depth Carbonite review here:

Carbonite Review 2016 – Is It The Right Cloud Backup For You?


Select files or folders you want to backup in the Carbonite app. Note that when you’re subscribed to the basic plan, files over 4GB are not backed up automatically. You have to select larger files manually from the context menu.

Note: initial backups can take a while until completed. You can, however, access files before the initial backup is ready. 
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Wait for the initial backup to finish, after that Carbonite takes care of subsequent backups whenever you save a file or something new to a backed up folder. I like the fact that you don’t have to remember to hit any buttons to backup your files. Carbonite runs in the background waiting for changes to happen.

Note: you cannot use Carbonite as a hard drive in the cloud. It needs a local copy of any file on a computer. You can’t “free up” hard drive space, by uploading files to Carbonite and then delete them from your computer.Carbonite will, however, keep deleted files for a total of 30 days in case you change your mind. 

STEP 3 – File restoration

Files can be easily restored from the “Restore” tab where you can either search for individual files or do a full restore. I’ve used the search for individual files countless times on my mobile phone to get access to a presentation that I’ve forgotten at home.

Note: You can eiher choose a new folder to restore files or restore them in the same destination.

A Word About security

Now, there is one more major advantage of cloud backups and Carbonite in particular.

You can customize Carbonite in a way that it encrypts files before they are sent to the cloud. This protects files from prying eyes or hackers because only you are in possession of the private key.

There is one disadvantage to that, though: losing the key, means losing access to your files  – that the whole purpose of end-to-end encryption. So make sure to store the key somewhere save.

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When using local backup without the cloud, you have to take care of encryption yourself. What if somebody gets access to your backed up hard drive and you stored sensitive information like contracts or bank details?

A solid cloud backup solution does this for you.

I hope I could show why having a good backup strategy doesn’t have to be difficult.

If you could only do one thing, I would suggest giving Carbonite a try because it is the most hands off of the two solutions described in this article.

However, I do think for best protection, use local backups and cloud backups always in conjunction.


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