What is your backup strategy for those family members who aren’t Power Users?

This question was inspired by a convo myself, @bowline, and @MacGuyMI were having in another thread. My sister is off to college soon. I’m thinking of gifting her a portable external Hd for backup. I personally have a HD partitioned for my various needs. Initially I thought it would be good for her to have a clone and a time machine backup. That said not sure how realistic it would be having her alternative portable drives. I know my best bet is when she comes home to visit to ensure to run a backup. What recommendations or things have you used for similar family members?

Students tend to use Google Docs a lot for file storage (they get literally unlimited with active student accounts), so she may not even have a lot that needs to be backed up locally.

I am not a fan of Time Machine because if the internal drive fails you can’t easily use your Mac; you need to procure an external drive to which the TM drive can restore, and then the restore takes hours. If you have a clone (the more recent the better, of course), it would be a matter of plugging in the clone and booting from it to get back to work instantly. I have my mom set up to do incremental scheduled incremental clone backups to her always-attached clone drive, so that it’s set-it-and-forget-it. Your situation seems to be different because you are concerned about your sister’s use of an external drive, or perhaps her willingness to perform backups while away.

With good school internet one option for her is offline backup done in the background, from Backblaze or perhaps iDrive. When returns home with her notebook from school you could do an archival clone. (The main advantage to TM is regular file version retention, which is optimal for an always-connected drive, and less useful if you only perform TM backups every several weeks/months.)

If you don’t think she’ll do backups to an external drive while at school (or there are concerns about the drives disappearing), For updated backup safety I’d think about Backblaze ($60/yr for unlimited) or iDrive (2Tb for $52 for 1st yr, $100/yr after) for real-time offline backup, and then perhaps do archival backups (clone or TM) when she visits home.


Sometimes I overthink things especially as I use Arq to B2 backup. This is simple enough and will be a gift to her that will most likely save her butt.

I’ll second what everyone’s said here, and add that one option for an external drive is a usb drive that fits very close to the body of the computer and needn’t be removed. Sandisk makes one; I’m sure there are other manufacturers and models.

Two caveats:

  1. Such a drive is of course no help if the computer is lost or stolen.
  2. I haven’t looked around to see whether anyone makes a USB-C version of this type of drive. If it’s a newer Mac, you may be out of luck.
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Presumably she’ll have always-on, very fast internet access. I’d go with Backblaze for laptop and iCloud backup for iOS devices. Bootable backup is probably unnecessary unless she’s really customizing her setup.

But I’d also see what the IT department at her college recommends/offers for students. It’ll be probably easier for her to go into an office on campus than to try to sort it out remotely in the event she needs to restore.

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Set them up with something automatic and in the cloud. If you think family members are hard to deal with, try executives way above your pay grade.

Years ago I tried backing them up with lan based enterprise D2D2T. That worked until they started using laptops Then we started having problems because their erratic work hours and volume (of personal photos & videos) of data.

iMacs destined for their home were supplied with an external Time Machine drive, and instructions to “please keep it attached”. These computers would show up a few months later with a problem and a TM drive that hadn’t been attached since it left my sight.

IMO, the system with the best chance of success is a set it and forget it offsite backup. Gift her a backup subscription, forget the external drive.

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I have a couple of family members who connect to a hard drive about once every five or six months. So, I put them on Dropbox, all the folders on the sidebar in Finder point to a Dropbox folder. For photos I pay for iCloud for backup. Not my personally preferred way to do things, but it has worked so far.

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College students tend to live inside Google Docs - teachers put assignments there, collaboration takes place there, students submit questions during lectures there - and unlimited storage is free for students. (I know someone who had 12+ Tb in his account, then had to scramble to move it when he completed his graduate studies.) It’s going to become quite natural for her to put everything there. Dropbox use for college students ends up being negligible since all other students use and share inside Google.

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I agree about college students, this is what I see for the most part. Our LMS (Canvas) links to OneDrive and Google Drive. I think this is why Microsoft starting essentially giving away Office 365 to students. You had people entering the workforce who rarely used Office. In the last couple of years I have started having students submit papers in Pages format. I explain that I am happy to accept them, but that most of their professors won’t be able to read them and they need to export.

make it simple, that would be my advice.

  • Time machine for the local backup
  • iCloud for storage
  • backblaze or equivalent for remote (if possible)

I have an iMac setup with accounts for both my daughters who study elsewhere,
Their iCloud accounts are logged in, so iCloud syncs their document data over,
I backup the iMac to Synology C2 just to be safe (could just as well be backblaze)

Anything would suffice I think, just as long as you make it as easy as possible for the student / family member, Not everybody is a mac power user :slight_smile:

  1. I pay the $1/month for extra iCloud storage because their iPhones (read: photos) are probably the thing they’d miss most.

  2. Backblaze for computers. It’s the most foolproof / “just works” / don’t have to think about it or do anything to make it work solution. It can be running anytime they are on any network.

I think a plugged-in drive is unlikely to get used, whether it was Time Machine or SuperDuper/CarbonCopyCloner. YMMV.


Thanks all! I’m going to gift her Backblaze and that should help her out quite a bit. An easy purchase and something that I won’t have to tweak much.

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I send my uncle, who is much more fanatical and persistent about backups, after them. (Only works for one side of the family, though.)


I’m going to be “that guy” here and ask, why even backup the whole system at all? Assuming her institution has one or more, why not just have her use Google’s Backup and Sync or OneDrive or Box? That would also put tech support on them.

Nonetheless, before you spend money on a cloud service, you might want to see if she can get something through her school or with an educational discount.

Good point I’ll contact the school IT department to inquire as well.

I suggest to use iCloud. Works great! Show her how to access her files via iOS.

Whenever a question like this about “backup strategy” comes up, I always recommend the same thing - regardless who the user is.

If you want a secure strategy where you will not lose your data, which is assumed if you are backing up in the first place, I strongly suggest a 3-2-1 strategy…3 copies, two different media types, 1 off-site from the computer and other backup drives.

This strategy never changes. What might change, depending on the volume and frequency of new data being created is the FREQUENCY of her backups.

I think a service like BackBlaze is fantastic because it is 1) Off-site, 2) Extremely inexpensive, 3) Unlimited storage, and 4) Automatic - set it and forget it.

Then you can add a USB drive to run a local backup or bootable clone as often as you feel is necessary to avoid losing critical data. I would recommend absolutely no less often than once a week, however depending on the nature of the work being stored, perhaps every night may even be appropriate.

The main question to ask yourself is “If my hard drive crashes and I lose all of my data, how long will it take me to get back to the point I was at before it crashed?”

If you only back up once a month but during the next month you have extensive research compiled for a paper you are writing and you lose it all, are you okay with that?

If the answer is “yes” and you don’t mind doing that work again then you are backing up frequently enough. If the answer is “no” and the data loss would cause unnecessary hardship, then you need more frequent backups.

Backups are very easy to do. Just schedule when you want it to run, make sure the drive is plugged in and let it go. Replacing lost data can be heartbreaking in worst case scenarios.

Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive and iCloud are decent file sharing and syncing services, but they really are not a BACKUP service. Also, they all have data caps and usually have a subscription fee that is more expensive than BackBlaze. The only drawback to BackBlaze is that you must have a fast and preferably non-throttled internet connection as you will be transmitting a LOT of data regularly.

So an update, I asked her if she wanted me to buy her backup software. She said no since everything is in Google Drive for school and the cloud for her photos. Should I drop it or try to convince her otherwise to take my offer? I’m obviously trying to help but don’t want to cause conflict over it.

Depends on whether you believe that cloud storage is the same as backup. (I would vehemently disagree with that)

A couple of years ago all my videos in iCloud photo’s were suddenly 0 seconds long, just a thumbnail, with no video behind it. Apple support looked into it, and tried a lot of things, but were unable to fix it , at least they never got back to me with a solution.

I was SOOOOO happy I had spent some money on Crashplan! All my videos were in the history archive of the backup and it only took me a few hours to go find them and restore them to a different location.

If I would give a tip it would be: Always apply the 3-2-1 rule!
And remember: the cloud is NOT backup!

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I think I would try to explain to her that her cloud storage is not a backup. Yes, she will have copies of any files or images she has saved to the cloud…but her OS, applications and all data not saved to the cloud will be gone - music, video, contacts, other application data files, email, etc.

Some of that could take hours to reinstall while other parts of it would just be gone forever. She needs to understand the danger she is playing with here.

Plus, any backup plan that only stores you data in a single place is at risk of loss. You never want critical data subject to a single point of failure!

With an external USB drive and a program like CarbonCopyCloner or SuperDuper she can create an exact bootable clone of her system disk. Should that drive fail completely, she simply plugs in her external drive with the clone, boots up, and is back to work in minutes. The system drive can then be repaired at her leisure.

Note however, if that scenario ever arrives, she will then need another external drive to keep a clone of the first external in case it fails.

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