Keep Your Mac Safe – Part 3 (Preparing for Disaster)

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed ways to secure your Mac:  Tightening up Java and Flash Player access; some suggestions on anti-virus programs; setup programs for built-in firewalls; and some types of password protection.  Part 2, discussed a data encryption program, and some ways to more safely “surf the net”.   If you are a new reader, and missed either of these articles, they are still here in the blog for your review.  In this final installment, we will discuss what to do before disaster strikes your Mac.

Would you loose any data if you came back to your office after lunch and found your laptop missing?  Would you still be able to access your data if, heaven forbid, your computers were destroyed in some natural disaster like fire or flood? For years, insurance companies have made a great deal of money using “fear” as a means to sell their product:  “What would happen to your family if you were injured and unable to work, or you suddenly pass away?  Would your family still be able to live in your home?  Would your children still be able to continue their education and go to college?”   Why fear works as a motivator to sell insurance is because there is a very real chance that one could get injured to the point of not being able to work, and certainly there is a 100% chance that sooner or later one will die.  Add to this process a subtle dash of guilt that you might leave your loved ones in a desperate or near desperate condition.  Suddenly, you have a very compelling need to buy insurance.  Right now, if you do not have a way to secure your data from disaster, you should be very very very afraid.  You my friend need some data insurance.  This insurance comes from the creation of several safe practices for storing data you have on your computer.  In addition, once you have created these practices, you then need to use them.  One thing that you can count on is that a disaster visiting your computer is inevitable;  it is not a matter of if it will happen, it is only a matter of when it will happen.

In my casa, we use three desktops and a laptop.  In order to simplify finding saved data, a file server is also used.  All of these computers live happily on a small network.  Because of the server, the desktops and the laptop only have programs on them; the server is loaded will all our data:  Gigabytes of photos, movies, documents, spreadsheets, graphical artwork, and financial information (the later is encrypted).  Roughly 18 months ago, the hard drive totally crashed, and I lost absolutely…………………………………nothing!!!  Before I  sound too smug here, let me say the reason I did not have any data loss is because I learned from my own mistake.  Early in my career as a computer geek, I did not have a system for backing up my data and my gigantic (for the time) 40 megabyte hard drive died, and I lost EVERYTHING.  Adios to all my data.   I was not very popular with my wife and daughter for awhile.   Kind of like Pegasus, I rose from the ashes, determined not to let this happen to me again, and it didn’t.  On my latest encounter with hard drive disaster,  I bought a new hard drive, loaded and configured the operating system, and then reinstalled all my files of data.  No angst, after the setup, all was back to normal.

OK, enough of the fear tactics.  Here is how I keep myself out of harm’s way:

1.  If needed, consolidate all your saved data.  If you have one or two computers, you really don’t need a file server; however, beyond two computers, the justification  for having a file server increases geometrically with each additional computer.  In a business, it’s a “no brainer”, having all your data in one place makes it easier to find, share, and secure.  At home, the same advantages are present, and you can limit and grant access to files on the server, so each user has “privacy”.  Also, it is much easier to backup 1 computer, than it is to back up 4 of them.

I am planning an article on how to setup a home server in the near future.  For now, let me say that there is no need for expensive hardware or a high degree of complexity.   I use a 5 year old desktop , a 1 TB hard drive, and Ubuntu Server software (free).  It works just fine for our needs.

2.  You need to save two copies of your data locally.  I back my file server up to my iMac.  You can use open source or commercial programs to do this, or you can just copy the files to your other computer.  I share three main files with my computers:  Media (with folders for movies, photos, artwork, etc.),  Data (folders for documents, spreadsheets, databases, etc.), and Library (mostly PDF files that are instructions and manuals for hardware, software, and so on).  I back the three files to my iMac daily.  I made a file on the iMac called “Server”, and drag and drop the three files from the file server there.

My second copy of my file server’s files are found on an external hard drive (500 GB capacity).  Using my iMac has several advantages as a backup device for my server files.  In this instance, I use OS X’s built in Time Machine to backup my iMac to the external hard drive.  In doing this, Time Machine also backs up the Server file.

By having two copies of your backups locally, you have a very good chance of recovering from data loss very quickly.  If for some reason there is a problem with one of the backups, you have another redundant copy to reinstall.

3..Keep a copy of your backup off-site.  This copy is designed to keep you safe from natural disasters like fire or flood, and the human inspired disaster, theft.   Some people burn their backups to CDs or DVDs and store them at the homes of family or friends.  Some take the media to the bank and use a safe deposit box.  I use an automated backup service, and backup my iMac to the “Cloud”.  This is the other reason I backup my file server to my iMac.  Automated backup services usually do not backup programs, just data and configuration files.  For me, it is easier to use the iMac as the primary device to be backed up, and including the server files in the process is far cheaper than paying to back up two computers.  There are a number of backup services to choose from, for example:  Mosey, Carbonite, and Backblaze (I use Backblaze).  The services run, roughly, $50 to $60 dollars a year.  Also, some services price by amount backed up (Backblaze does not).  When disaster strikes, and should your other copies be destroyed, you can download your data from the “Cloud”.  Note that some services (for a price) will transfer your data to optical media (CD or DVD) and send your data to you.

Summary:  Most people who have lost a chunk of valuable data (like me), are now not surprisingly very religious in implementing and using back up processes.  Maybe Benjamin Franklin summed this up best when he said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.

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