You’ve heard the term cloud computing tossed around. It’s the latest rage. The cloud is a storage server, a massive hard disk drive connected to the internet.
Store your Mac’s files (and apps) in the cloud. In some cases, it’s free. In many other cases, it’s very inexpensive to store files in the cloud. Is online backup a good way to store your Mac’s critical files? Beyond free, is it worth the money?
So Many Options, So Little Time
If you’re a smart Mac user (and who isn’t?) then you know the value of a good backup plan to save your critical files from a real disaster. It’s one thing to clone your Mac to a second disk drive.
It’s something else again to move important files out of house and home.
One of the best ways to avoid a catastrophic loss of your Mac’s files is to store them in multiple places. Online storage, in one of a dozen different services, might be the answer looking for your question of where.
So, to backup files you could use an extra disk drive for Time Machine, and extra disk drive to clone your Mac, and even copy and synchronize critical files between Macs.
Beyond all those hard disk drives and multiple Macs, there’s another option.
Each service provides a small background app which lets you select the files you want to store online. Then, the app copies the files to the storage service over the internet. Finally, the app copies any files changes or added files. A few plans are free, but even unlimited storage can be as low as $5 per month (US).
How can you not like such a setup? Massive storage away from your home or office. Very low price. Very low effort or maintenance. You’ve probably got thousands of files and you need just such a service to store your digital photos, movies, music, files and documents.
I covered a number of the online services in Are You Ready For A Mac Online File Back Up System? Basically, I’m favorably disposed to the online backup services with one caveat. Metadata.
Metadata For You And Me And Mac
Your Mac’s files carry metadata. In essence, metadata is information about your data. When you copy Mac files (and the attached metadata) from Mac to Mac, or Mac to Mac hard disk drive, the metadata rides along and the file can be used just fine elsewhere. All the metadata is saved appropriately.
The problem with online backup services in the cloud, is that not all treat a Mac’s metadata with as much care as your Mac. For example, a file may have a creation date as part of the metadata. Often, that creation date is critical. Backing up Mac files online may change the creation date to the same date you backed up, literally changing the creation date (and other metadata), effectively removing valuable metadata in the file.
Haystack Software’s The Importance Of Metadata on the Mac will give you more detail on metadata and the problems with online backup solutions. It gets messy.
Of all the online services I’ve tried, Amazon’s S3, with the right Mac app, handles metadata appropriately. We’ve provided more details on using S3 in How Amazon Can Be Your Secret Mac Backup Plan, and How Amazon And Jungle Disk Can Save Your Files.
The Trick Is In The Testing
Whether you use Amazon S3 or an online service such as Mozy, Backblaze, Carbonite, CrashPlan, iBackup, iDrive, or Dropbox, the most important thing you can do is test the backed up files for integrity.
That’s easily done when using Time Machine.
Simply go back in time, find a file, open up the app for the file, and check it out.
Ditto for cloned hard disk drives. Your Mac can be started from an external (or second) hard disk drive, so within minutes you can test the integrity of your cloned backup.
Online storage plans have restore options, usually for specific files. Select a number of files, apps, photos, documents, music, to restore and test to ensure they work as expected. All online storage services are not created equally when it comes to Mac files, so choose carefully, test accordingly (most offer the first month free, or a free, limited storage option).
Some of the test results from Haystack Software’s Backup Bouncer Test Results are interesting, too, and give you an idea of which online storage plans are more Mac friendly, and which are not (plus the bias of Haystack’s Arq app for Amazon S3).