Backing Up Your Hard Drive

Backing Up Everything on Your Hard Drive

Once you've got your most important files backed-up to a few locations, you can then tackle the task of backing up your entire data-store and your entire operating system as a whole. For most people, this is a significant amount of data whose file-size is far too large to fit on a USB key or any Whitman-owned server. This page covers:

Types of On-Site Hard Drive Back Up

WCTS recommends that you buy an external hard drive. They are quite cheap and large these days, and are only getting cheaper and larger. They are available from a variety of online vendors, and they can also be found at almost any office supplies store. You should get one at least as large as your main system drive, if not larger. There are two generic types of backup to keep in mind in this case:

  • Incremental- makes a running history of your file system. This method will allow you to restore corrupted or accidentally-deleted files. In some cases, you can also restore your entire system from an incremental backup. At the very least though, you'll be able to recover the last uncorrupted version of your data to another machine should the worst happen.
  • System Cloning- makes an exact, bit-for-bit copy of your entire system drive onto another drive. In some cases, you can boot your computer off of your clone. If your main drive misbehaves, having a good clone could mean you'd have a usable machine back up in a matter of minutes.

Each backup-type has its various advantages and disadvantages, but most importantly, don't trust everything to a single system. If you can, you should back-up using both the incremental and system cloning methods; this would require either a very large, partitioned external hard drive, or two smaller separate drives. Also, make sure you verify and test your backups before you trust them. Don't wait until you've already lost a hard drive to discover that your backups are corrupted.

On-Site Hard Drive Backup Tools for Mac OS X

Incremental Backup Tool - TimeMachine: 

At the very least, you should use  TimeMachine. It comes installed with every current copy of OS X. If you are running OS 10.5 or later, you already have it. Use it. Here's how:
  • Buy an external hard drive at least 1.5x the size of your system's hard drive.
  • Plug it in.
  • When TimeMachine asks if you wish to use this new drive for backups, answer "yes".
  • If this doesn't happen, you may have to go into your System Preferences and turn TimeMachine on.
  • Depending on how the drive was shipped, you may need to format it using the Disk Utility program before OS X will recognize it.
  • Whenever your computer is at home, plug it into your external hard drive and turn it on.
That's it! From then on, as long as you regularly plug your external drive into your Mac, TimeMachine will automatically keep a running history of your entire system. If your computer's main drive fails, you can use TimeMachine to restore anything and everything to a new drive.

System Cloning Tools: 

There are a large number of commercial products that are capable of cloning Windows system drives, and they can range from somewhat inexpensive to bank-breaking. A program called Drive SnapShot, however, is relatively cheap (with a generous trial period), very fast, and pretty easy to use. Windows 7 also has a decent built-in backup system that can make a copy of your files on an external hard drive.

On-Site Hard Drive Backup Tools for Windows

Note that we aren't necessarily familiar with any of the following software. We neither support it nor endorse any specific program or service. We can, however, help you weigh the options and point you in the right direction. 

Incremental Backup Tools:

Unlike OS X and other operating systems, Windows does not come bundled with a good, easy to use incremental backup tool. However, there are a number of 3rd-party software applications that can let you incrementally back-up data on a Windows system. Better known programs include TimeTraveler and Genie Timeline

System Cloning Tools

There are many ways to clone your system hard drive, but the two most popular programs that we are aware of for OS X are SuperDuper! and Carbon Copy Cloner. The details for setting up and running these programs differ between the two, but the end result is the same: a bit-for-bit clone of your entire operating system and everything else on your main drive. Unlike a TimeMachine backup, you can then take your backup clone drive, plug it in to any other compatible Apple computer, and boot straight into your cloned system. All of your software and data will be right where they were when you made the clone. Note that creating and updating these clones takes more time and processor resources than TimeMachine. We recommend scheduling your cloning tool to run automatically in the middle of the night, or at another time when you know your computer will be on but you won't be using it for a couple of hours.

Backing Up Your Hard Drive to an Off-Site Location

There are a myriad of online backup services that allow you to back up your hard drive to an off-site location. These services all have different capabilities, support different systems, and different limitations and prices. Every one of them has their own strengths and weaknesses. The options available can be quite overwhelming, so feel free to ask us for advice. We are superficially familiar with some services that back up your whole hard drive:

  • Backblaze - Backs up your entire hard drive except for system files. After your files have been uploaded, it is synchronized (it uploads a file every time you make a change). The service provides unlimited storage space. A drawback is that the service makes it difficult to customize your back-up.
  • Carbonite - This service allows you to either back-up your entire hard drive or to choose for yourself which files you want backed-up. There is unlimited storage space and if you should choose to delete a file from the back-up, Carbonite stores it for 30 days in case you change your mind.
  • Jungle Disk (with either Amazon's S3 or  Rackspace storage services) This gives you the option of keeping your files on Amazon's or Rackspace's servers, even when they've been deleted from your computer. However, unlike some other services, you pay according to how much storage space your backups take up.
  • Mozy - Similar to Carbonite, with some slight differences in pricing and options.

Note that we do not have a significant amount of experience with many of these services. We do not endorse any of them in particular, and WCTS does not explicitly support any of them. That said, we can still help you weigh your options and help get you pointed in the right direction.