Apple backups in the cloud
One area in which I think Apple could really benefit its customers is by offering a backup solution in the cloud, perhaps as part of a MobileMe membership.
While Time Machine might be an excellent backup solution if you are physically near your Time Capsule, it doesn’t help at all once you’ve stepped out of your home and you begin traveling with your MacBook Pro. You could go hours, days, or even weeks without any backups at all… depending on how long you’re away from your home! If you go on a vacation or a business trip for 2 weeks with your laptop, you just went 2 weeks without any backup at all! This is obviously not acceptable for anybody who cares about keeping their data safe.
Sure, you could travel with a portable hard drive to backup onto, but:
(a) It will weigh you down a little bit more, and I like to travel as lightly as possible.
(b) It may not protect you in case of a theft. (This actually underscores the main reason for having an off-site backup to begin with: to protect you in case of theft or fire.)
Therefore, I have now turned to an online backup service in the cloud (in addition to my Time Machine backups), because this online backup service keeps my MacBook Pro backed up at ALL TIMES, even when I’m away from home. All I need is an Internet connection, and my data is backed up. Online backup services are wonderful because they are INEXPENSIVE (only $5 per month!) and they provide an UNLIMITED AMOUNT OF STORAGE SPACE (unlimited!) for your online backups. They even keep files that you’ve deleted off your Mac for up to 30 days, so you can still retrieve files that you accidentally deleted off your Mac.
I compared the 5 leading online backup services, and my #1 favorite online backup service is now backblaze.com, because it is totally Mac-like in its simplicity and ease-of-use. You install Backblaze once, it auto-configures itself for backing up your Mac, and you never have to worry about it again. Backblaze just hums along quietly in the background, always keeping your Mac backed up in the cloud. It is also 64-bit Cocoa-based Mac software that integrates with your Mac’s system preferences and menu bar. It seems like it was made by Mac lovers for Mac lovers. They have excellent customer service as well.
Coming in 2nd place was crashplan.com, but I found their software and website to be much more confusing & difficult to use than Backblaze, their customer service wasn’t as great, and I didn’t like having to launch their Java-based application every time I wanted to check on the status of my backups. (Backblaze, on the other hand, simply requires you to click on the Backblaze icon in your menubar, and your backup status is displayed right there.) However, Crashplan did have some very innovative and exciting features, such as enabling you to send in a hard drive with your files to speed up your initial backup, and enabling you to backup to other Macs or PCs for free.
Apple once dabbled in online backups by allowing the Apple Backup program to backup to an iDisk, but there are significant shortcomings with the Apple Backup/iDisk solution:
- Apple Backup is no longer in development. It hasn’t been updated in over 2 years, there are no mentions of it on the MobileMe website, and it is difficult to even find the download link for it. Its scheduling features do not always work reliably in Snow Leopard.
- The iDisk has a very limited size, thus making it impossible for many people (such as myself) to backup their entire home folder. Even if I upgraded to the highest MobileMe membership of 60 GB for $200/year, that still wouldn’t be enough for my home folder which is 120 GB in size.
- Apple Backup does not make continual backups throughout the day — it must be scheduled.
- Because of its limited size, the iDisk will fill up after many backups. At that point, all backups are halted until the user manually clears the iDisk by clearing out all the backups. This is problematic for two reasons: (1) all backups are stopped until the user realizes that something is wrong and then manually figures out what to do next; (2) after clearing the iDisk, the user leaves themselves in a vulnerable state because they have no more backup files on their iDisk anymore.
- MobileMe’s lowest-priced membership is expensive: $100 per year. Most of the online backup services are $50 per year. (Although you can find MobileMe for only $72 per year.)
So my proposal is that Apple introduces a Time Machine for the cloud…. in addition to Time Machine onto local devices. The Time Machine system preference could be set to handle both types of backups: a local backup and an online backup. The online backup would be tied in with a user’s MobileMe membership, and it would backup their home folder to their MobileMe iDisk (but with no limit on storage).
p.s. Speaking of backups, what do I recommend for Mac-based businesses who want to backup a local area network of Macs? I used to love Retrospect 6 but they destroyed the program with Retrospect 8 (bug-ridden, horrible user interface, completely unreliable backups) so that program is no longer an option. Instead, I use the blockbuster combination of ChronoSync and ChronoAgent, which are 2 brilliant programs that work wonderfully and have an almost unlimited amount of customizability. You could also use Time Machine on each Mac, because Time Machine can back up to any hard drive attached to any other Leopard or Snow Leopard machine. Or, if you’re running Mac OS X Server on your server machine, you could set up portable home directories to keep all the users’ home folders in sync with the server. Then, you just need to worry about backing up one machine — the server — and you could use ChronoSync for that. Apple has detailed information on setting up Portable Home Directories in their User Management manual.
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