Backup and syncing uncertainties: 5 ideas and 4 questions

Dear all,

I’m revising my syncing and backup strategies and I could use your advice.

My current set-up is the following:

MB Air 2015 11” 2 TB Mac OS 10.13.6

Main machine, cluttered, lots of windows open, but I like it that way. Continuos backup to Backblaze, occasional clone to external disk in different locations. No TM at the moment as it was eating up too many resources (CPU and space locally).

MB Air 2015 13” 500 GB Mac OS 10.13.6

Quite clean, few apps, used mainly for videoconferences. The little data that I have there gets saved to Dropbox or Syncthing, so that I can find it on the MB 11”. No other backups, because there is nothing that doesn’t live in a cloud. Apps can be restored if necessary.

iMac 2013 3 TB Mac OS 10.15.7

Used as “server” so far (video and audio material that I can’t/don’t need to carry around). I now would like to turn it into a “backup centre”, as I have often seen suggested in many forums here and elsewhere. I have already experimented with using it as an always-on “local cloud” for Syncthing, in order for a couple of folders to be synced between the two MB Airs. So far imperfect because the iMac goes to sleep (see one of my questions in this regard).

My idea (and I’m still thinking aloud) would be:

1) Creating a CCC clone on the iMac of the Syncthing folder(s) on the iMac, at specific times or when the folders are changed, with snapshots (different versions), because I don’t fully trust Syncthing (or my computers to be on at the right time - not sure about conflicts if I change the same file in two locations, which one takes precedence).

2) Using an SSD permanently attached to the iMac for TMs for my 11" MB Air. Not sure how it would handle it (resource-consuming for the MB it seemed to me the last time I tried), but maybe I would give it another chance. TMs on drives directly attached to my MB end up not being made anyway, as I forget to attach them or have to leave home with MB in tow before they are done.

3) Second SSD for an automatic CCC clone of my entire 11 MB Air, say once a month.

4) SSD/partition for a CCC clone of videos residing on the iMac. These are neither confidential nor a matter of life or death, but I’d be a nuisance to loose them.

5) I don’t think I would use Backblaze to backup the iMac, I already have it on the 11" MB, which is where the important stuff lives. I can probably be content with backing up my videos just locally, possibly make a copy to take to parents’/holiday home every couple of months, just for peace of mind.

So that would be the plan.

And now for my questions:

1) Is tweeking the settings in energy saver enough to keep the iMac awake or would I need an app such as Amphetamine? I would set it to wake and sleep at certain times, i.e. when there usually is something to sync/backup, so that it doesn’t run 24/7, but maybe just 16/7 or so.

2) How would my MB Air communicate with the SSD attached to the iMac? Via LAN? They are on the same network, although I need to figure out how to connect the iMac via ethernet (it’s far from the router), it’s only connected via Wi-fi so far. What kind of speed can I expect? Can I perform the first backup by attaching it to the MB and doing the following one via wi-fi/LAN? What happens if I leave home without the TM backup being completed? Will it resume when I come back or will it end up being corrupted?

3) I intend to password-protect the SSD used for TM, but the iMac needs to know the password to use it and I can’t use File Vault on it, because that seems to be problematic for Jump Desktop, which I use to access the iMac remotely and locally. In addition if it doesn’t go to sleep anybody who walks by it can use it. So what happens in case of burglary? I’m trying to cover all my bases.

4) Additionally, as far as I know APFS cannot be used for TMs on 10.13. The MB I would be backing up is running 10.13, BUT the iMac the destination drive is attached to runs 10.15… I’m a bit confused as to who is responsible for what, which computer and which OS “decide” the SSD’s formatting requirements?

On a side note: I have an ancient (I want to say 10+ years old) Time Capsule, which I could never figure out how to use. I bought it and left it to gather dust, no patience for things that don’t “just work”. Is it thinkable to revive it and use it for TMs or is it complete folly in this day and age?

So that would be my not so short request for help.

I’ve been running around in circles for a while now concerning backup questions and I’d like to come to a satisfactory solution.

Thank you in advance for all your thoughts and your help!

FWIW, I don’t bother with local syncing these days. I keep everything, except sensitive info like bank/tax records, in the cloud and let it sync to all devices automatically. If you use iCloud you will need enough storage on the internal drive of at least one of your Macs to hold everything. I use Google Drive so my data can be synced to external drives. My always on Mac has a copy of everything and backs it up (encrypted) to the cloud.

The “prevent your Mac from sleeping . . .” setting used to work reliably in older versions of OSX. Lately I’ve had to use Amphetamine.

The problem with “once a month” CCC backups, etc. is the possibility of losing 29 days of data additions & edits.

When it comes to encrypting data on disk my rules are: Encrypt data that you would rather lose forever than have exposed. Do not encrypt data that you would rather be made public than lose.

Hopefully others can help you with your specific questions.

1 Like

The way to “connect” to the iMac’s ssd is to turn on file sharing, you will then specify what you want to share, other clients on the network will see the shared space as a remote drive.

The problem with TM, as Howard Oakley has documented, is that Apple’s implementation of SMB is inefficient at creating new directories. If you have data that contains many small directories TM will struggle with it.

I am using a Airport Time Capsule in bridge mode (i.e. not as a router) for TM backups and it works fine. The drives in these devices are getting to the age where we can expect to have to replace them though. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that yourself then that’s probably not your best option. There are videos on about how to do this.

As for APFS vs HFS+, format your drive according to the capabilities of the machine to which it’s attached. The remote clients won’t care. Running a SSD on HFS+ won’t give you quite the performance that APFS might but you’re running it over the network anyway so you won’t notice.

This is a really smart way of thinking about it, especially for those who haven’t internalized working with encrypted data as a matter of routine

I’ve always kept at least one unencrypted backup, both of my company’s and my personal data. But I’m pretty sure the way I put it is something I picked up somewhere.

Just be aware if one device a cloud-synced file or files is corrupted or lost, that flaw will replicate to all your other devices and your secured backup is lost.

I consider cloud syncing a convienence for moving files but not a backup.

Read on the web about 3-2-1 backups.

1 Like

I agree, which is why my Mac makes hourly backup of local and cloud files to Backblaze B2.

I’ve looked for a cloud to cloud (C2C) backup solution but most of these are designed for businesses, not individuals. So unless that changes I’ll have to keep a Mac or PC around to run Arqbackup.

1 Like

Thanks! I have connected an SSD to the iMac and run a few CCC tests.
I might not go back to TM at all, CCC seems to handle things better.

If I were to resuscitate my ancient Time Capsule I would probably attach an SSD to it, it that’s an option, rather than using the internal disk. For the moment I went with HFS+, since you rightly pointed out that it won’t make much of a difference in terms of performance, and at least all my machines will be able to read it (but maybe this is only relevant if I do use TM).

@JohnAtl in this post Backups (especially of large files) - #16 by JohnAtl suggested using tailscale which looks brilliant. I will probably use it for Arq-encrypted CCC backups to a remote location (I’ll copy the bulk over manually and then go incremental), possibly with a Qnap DAS in both locations.

Thanks everyone for sharing your knowledge and experiences.

I’m still in the evaluating process and unfortunately only have so much spare time to work on this. Your insights really helped me a lot, I am confident that I am on my way to the ideal solution for my user case.

I have Backblaze for that and I’m trying to add versioned CCC (as a replacement for TM). The idea is that if my computer dies/is lost/stolen I can start on a new computer from the clone and recover the newer files from Backblaze. Do you see any weakness in this strategy?