Believe it or not, as much as we hammer on the topic of backing up data, there are still a lot of people who just don't pay attention to backups... until it's too late. Here are some hints and tips to get you thinking about backing up your Apple devices.
Many iOS users don't realize it, but one big reason iCloud exists is to keep the files on your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch safe. When you set up an iCloud account, you immediately have the choice of backing up much of the data on your device.
Note that there are a few items -- extremely large camera roll movies, for instance -- that won't back up to iCloud. Also, your movies and music that you didn't purchase from the iTunes Store won't be backed up; you should handle that in your computer backups instead.
To kick off iCloud backups, you just need to make one simple settings change. Launch the Settings app, then tap iCloud and scroll down until you see "Storage and Backup." Tap on that and you can see how much iCloud space is currently being filled with your data. There's also a switch at the bottom for iCloud Backup. Make sure it's switched to On.
When that switch is turned on, your device's camera roll/saved photos, accounts, documents and settings will be backed up whenever your device is plugged in, locked, and connected to Wi-Fi. That means that just about any time your iPhone or iPad is being charged, it's also getting backed up. (Those of you on limited-quota broadband plans should keep this in mind, if you're wondering why your iPad is chewing up so much WiFi data overnight.)
There's also a button marked "Back Up Now" for those situations where you want to kick off a quick backup manually.
Earlier this year, I reviewed another device that makes it easy to back up photos and other documents on an iOS device to a flash drive and then move them to a Mac or PC. That device is the PhotoFast i-FlashDrive HD, and it uses a free app to move images, PDFs, and more from your iOS device to its built-in flash drive.
Of course, the default setting in iTunes is to back up your connected iOS devices every time you sync, if you haven't enabled iCloud backup. You can synchronize via a cable (30-pin or Lightning), or over your local WiFi connection (just check the "synchronize over WiFi" checkbox in the iTunes detail page for your device). Even if you do have iCloud backups running, you can force a manual backup in iTunes -- a good idea before iOS upgrades -- by right-clicking your device icon in iTunes and clicking "Back Up," or by clicking the Back Up Now button in the device detail screen.
Over time and iOS upgrades those iTunes-based device backups may start to chew up an appreciable amount of disk space. In iTunes' Preferences, you can click the Devices tab and remove any legacy backups you no longer need.
Finally, if you just want a way to back up your camera images to a cloud service of some sort, consider saving your crucial images to one of the other available services like Dropbox, SugarSync, or Google Drive. The Dropbox app for iOS can automatically upload your camera images to a folder in your Dropbox, and selectively do so only on WiFi or when your location changes. (This only applies to your camera roll; images synced to your device from other sources like iPhoto or Aperture will not be backed up automatically.)
There are many ways to back up a Mac, which begs the question "Why do people wait until it's too late to back up their Mac?" Here's a quick overview of some of your options.
Copy files to a flash drive or SD card
The cheapest way to back up files -- if you have very low storage requirements, and only a few crucial files -- is to purchase a simple USB flash drive and then copy files to it on a regular basis. 8 GB flash drives are available for as little as $7 from Amazon, and they're frequently free giveaway items at computer expos like Macworld/iWorld. Need something bigger? 128 GB flash drives are a bargain, starting at price points around $60. (You can even use a flash drive for Apple's built-in Time Machine backup tool, if you reformat it as HFS+ in Disk Utility.)
Many Macs include a built-in SD drive slot. SD cards range in capacity and speed, with 32 GB cards running as low as $20 and 128 GB SD cards starting at about $100. Whether you use a flash drive or SD card to back up your most important files, you still need to perform the backup manually on a regular basis, and it's easy to get out of the habit. That's why Time Machine is probably the best backup method for most Mac users.
Apple makes it simple to back up your Mac by just plugging an external disk drive (as long as it is formatted in the crucial HFS+ Journaled format). When you do so, OS X asks if you want to use that drive for Time Machine backups. Answer in the affirmative, and Time Machine does a full backup of your computer. Once it's done doing that, it starts looking for changed or new items on your Mac on an hourly basis.
Time Machine is ridiculously easy to use; you can see a quick five-item FAQ here that covers most of its important options. Restoring files that you inadvertently discarded is a fast and fun process. What makes this option so attractive is that it's cheap to implement, too! A quick look at Amazon showed 1 TB external hard drives available for as little as $79.99, and a smart shopper could probably find one for even less. Need more capacity? I found a 4 TB Seagate USB 3.0 drive for only $160.
As fellow blogger and writer Erica Sadun puts it, "I can't tell you how many times Time Machine has saved me. Whether it's book revisions or development, Time Machine is version control for our lives." Amen!
There are two things to remember if you decide to use Time Machine for backups. First, get the highest capacity hard drive that you can afford, because Time Machine tends to eat up a lot of space on backup hard drives. If you run out of space, it begins trimming back your oldest backups. Second, note that Time Machine is useless if your computer and backup hard drive are both destroyed by a catastrophe. That means that it's good to have a second backup that is off site.
SuperDuper! / Carbon Copy Cloner
As much as I love Time Machine's ease of use, I never liked how my Mac seemed to slow down once an hour as it looked for changed filed and did the backups. Most of my work is done online anyway, so a daily backup works just fine for me. My solution was to attach a 3 TB USB 3.0 hard drive to it and then perform an initial full backup of my iMac with SuperDuper! (free, $27.95 for full feature set). Once a day, usually after I'm fast asleep in my bed, the app silently repairs permissions on my drive, checks for all of the changes made that day, and does a "Smart Update". The cool thing about my SuperDuper! backup? It's fully bootable. If my built-in Fusion Drive takes a dirt nap, I can still boot from the backup and be right back where I was before the failure.
Carbon Copy Cloner ($39.95) is another favorite app for making bootable backups, and works in a very similar manner.
There's probably nothing easier than using one of the online backup services. In most cases, your personal information is encrypted on your computer, and then uploaded to servers where it is continuously updated until such time that your computer fails or you lose a file -- and then you can get it back.
Despite the convenience and safety of pushing your files offsite, there are some inherent issues with online backups. First, the initial backup can take months (literally) to complete, depending on the amount of stuff you have and the speed of your ISP upload bandwidth. You may have a wicked fast download connection, but it's that smaller, asymmetrical upload bandwidth that controls how quickly your files reach Backblaze, CrashPlan or Mozy. Users on satellite or DSL broadband may be completely out of luck when it comes to upload performance.
For that very reason, many of the services now provide a way for you to back up your data onto a hard disk drive and then ship it to a location where it is immediately copied onto the backup servers. This "seeding" may incur an additional charge, but if you're in a situation that calls for it, it's probably worth it. You can also try to be a bit selective about which folders and files are backed up, noting that some large chunks of data (an iTunes Match-protected Music folder, a Dropbox or Google Drive folder already linked to the cloud) are self-protecting with their own corresponding cloud services.
The second issue with "pure" cloud backup is that if your hard drive fails, you'll either have to wait a long time for all of your data to be restored to your computer -- or pay extra to have a hard drive sent overnight to you for restoration. That's why many of the services allow you to set up a secondary local backup using the same interface and administrative tools you use for the cloud backup.
CrashPlan (one of the WBD sponsors, along with Backblaze) adds a cool wrinkle to the cloud scenario; in addition to backup to a local drive, you can "buddy up" with a friend or family member and back up to a remote drive connected to their computer, for free. You could do the same with your work computer and home computer, IT powers-that-be permitting; the backups are encrypted, so your helper can't snoop. Naturally this requires healthy bandwidth on both ends, and it's only polite to reciprocate the favor for your backup buddy, but in a serious data-loss situation it could be a huge help.
There's one very big reason to use online backups -- in case your house or computer is destroyed by some catastrophe, you have a backup that is physically removed from your location. I personally use three levels of backup -- first, my most important files are in a Dropbox folder so that they're not only backed up to the "cloud", but also copied to my other computers and even accessible from my iOS devices. My second level of backup consists of that nightly backup to a local external disk drive. And my third level of backup is to back up all of my documents, photos, music, and more to CrashPlan.
What more could I do? One good idea is to make a full backup of your device on a hard drive and then put it in a safe deposit box at a bank, updating that backup at frequent intervals. There are plenty of other approaches, of varying complexity; please do share your approach in the comments.
You can also consider services such as Dropbox, SugarSync, and GoogleDrive as online backup locations for your most critical data. iCloud is a perfect place to back up any documents that you have created in Apple's iWork suite. Any of these services are good for small quantities of very critical files, and make your files available from just about any computing device. For an extra charge, Dropbox's Packrat option for Pro accounts guarantees that every version of every file you sync to the service will be archived in perpetuity -- even the ones you delete on purpose.
If you haven't yet lost data on your Mac or iOS device, you will. At some point, whether due to an accidental deletion, a physical glitch in your hardware, a disaster striking your home or office or the terrifying power of bored teenagers, you'll find that some precious family photos or important documents are gone forever. You can't go back in time to retrieve that information, so make sure it is backed up now.
This was a long, cursory look at backup technologies and methods. If you have a favorite way to back up your data, let your fellow readers know in the comments.
For a bit of history about World Backup Day, be sure to check out the press release below.
into 3rd Annual "World Backup Day"
-- CrashPlan & Backblaze Announces Sponsorship of March 31st "Holiday" --
San Francisco, CA -- (March 26, 2013) – A simple idea sparked by comments on reddit about backing up data has blossomed into a global "holiday" called World Backup Day, and is celebrating its third anniversary on March 31. The event has gained momentum and advocates every year, and now World Backup Day has a presenting sponsor, Code 42 Software, the top-rated backup company behind CrashPlan, to help increase awareness even further. Backblaze, another highly regarded company specializing in backup services, is also on-board as a sponsor.
The notion for World Backup Day originated with Youngstown State University student Ismail Jadun, who was inspired by comments on reddit, the popular social news website. Ismail and his fellow "redditors" were discussing the inherent need for backing up data, and he decided to declare the day before April Fool's Day as the perfect time to back up files. Ismail quickly created an official website, www.WorldBackupDay.com, and starting spreading the word among the collaborative reddit community and other social media channels.
"I'm thrilled with the response to World Backup Day, and I hope it's made a difference in people's lives," said World Backup Day founder Ismail Jadun. "We all know someone who has lost critical data, whether it was their videos, photos, music, reports, or personal stuff. Hopefully this day will make everyone think about their situation, learn about the various storage options and get their files backed up. I also hope that World Backup Day sparks conversations about the enormous task of saving our increasingly digital data and heritage for future generations."
"Everyone understands the hopelessness and frustration of losing important data, and I'm proud that the idea for World Backup Day was sparked by a discussion on reddit," said Erik Martin, GM of reddit. "The reddit community has remained closely involved in helping make March 31 the day people think about the impact of data in our lives, and to do something positive about it."
Many people think their documents are safe because they're saved on the computer's hard drive. However, as noted on WorldBackupDay.com, mechanical hard drives can fail at an annual rate of 3%, and this rate gets higher as the drive gets older. With a three-year-old drive, the annual failure rate is ~6%. While some data can possibly be recovered, the best way to avoid potentially catastrophic loss of data would simply be to back it up.
"Digital media is core to the lives and livelihoods of millions," said Matthew Dornquast, CEO of CrashPlan developer Code 42 Software. "The partnership with World Backup Day aligns perfectly with our mission to deliver easy and secure backup solutions for consumers and businesses alike."
Key points about backing up data from WorldBackupDay.com:
▪ Items to backup: Your computer, laptop, phone, iPod, tablet, other wireless devices, photos and videos on social networks.
▪ Common ways to lose data: Theft, hardware failure, natural disaster, alien invasion, obsolete file formats, you forgot where you put it (really, it has happened).
▪ Backup options: Backing up is easy. Once set up, your data should be backing up automatically. There are two main types of backup solutions:
• Local backup: An external hard drive that can be easily retrieved at home.
• Cloud/offsite backup: An online backup service or hard drive securely placed in a different location
• Having both local and offsite backups gives you piece of mind knowing your files are safe and secure.
For more information on World Backup Day, exclusive deals, and giveaways, visit www.WorldBackupDay.com. To become part of the conversation, check out @WorldBackupDay on Twitter, Facebook.com/WorldBackupDay on Facebook, worldbackupday.tumblr.com on Tumblr, and www.reddit.com.