Data Security

20. March 2013 Security 2

Making sure you have a reliable backup of your data is important, in a way security for your data. I’ll go into encryption and safe ways to store your backup another time but for now let’s focus on just getting all your data backed up right.

Earlier this week i received a call from a friend. His Mac was acting up (had been for a while) and the 10.8.3 update did not resolve his issues. So, back to Lion it was as the issues were never present until Mountain Lion came along. Checked Time Machine, last backup was an hour ago, perfect. Checked his clone drive, a little outdated but good enough to boot from in case of trouble.

Ready to rock!
I have downgraded several systems from 10.8 to 10.7 so i know the time machine backup is 95% compatible so this should be fairly straightforward

I had my friend download the Lion installer from the App Store and once this was done i copied the install DMG to an external drive. Booted up from the installer on that drive, erased the internal disk and started the install.
Roughly 30 minutes went by and the install was done. When asked if we wanted to restore data we selected Time Machine. We waited but the external drive holding the backup never showed up as an option. Crap. Selected ‘restore from another Mac’ as this sometimes works, no luck.

Restarted and tried some more options, it never found the Time Machine drive. Ok, no choice, setup the mac as new and manually transfer user data back.
Set up the Mac with the same name and password so there would be no permission issues later on and we were up and running.
Now to find out why the Time Machine drive wouldn’t show. Opened the drive and looked at the structure, everything looked ok, the drive had a few months worth of backups but after digging a little deeper i found out why the drive was not recognized as a Time Machine drive. Most data was garbled up and some stuff wasn’t there at all! After inspection the last two months of backed up data was completely corrupted. Damn, this just became a rescue mission.

After carefully recovering data from the clone drive and time machine drive we had rebuilt the whole system. Some stuff had to be reinstalled and of course all settings and preferences had to be set again (as you never bring data back from the Library folder unless you know exactly what you are doing). My friend was bugged by his software that was no longer compatible with Lion, weird and unexpected behavior from the OS and an overall horrible user experience. Repairing permissions and applying the combo update didn’t fix the issues. Time to start over, apparently some corrupted files were transferred over. Reinstalled again but this time we restored the system from the clone drive. The data on there was over 4 months old so it should be fine. We could copy mail, itunes, desktop, documents and pictures later.

All done. Horrible! Random processes were running a very high CPU load and hogging RAM. The system was barely functional. Wow, this was a nightmare. My friend decided to just go back to Mountain Lion and deal with the annoying bugs that come with it. Alright. Downloaded 10.8 from the App Store, copied it to external drive, booted from it and bla bla bla. All done. Restored data from the clone drive as we were still sure it had no corruption on it and grabbed some documents amd stuff from the Time Machine drive so he would at least have some of his more recent stuff.

The system ran great, good as new. Installed all available updates, disabled Java and we were all set! Reformatted another external and set it up as the new Time Machine drive and did a full backup. My friend would testdrive and install whatever was missing.

Not even 24 hours later he emailed me, sh*t hit the fan. Everything worked but there was one process that rendered the Mac inoperable within 5 minutes after a restart. After trying all possible fixes we were unable to get the Mac running properly.

I’ll spare you the rest of the story but eventually we had to start from scratch like the Mac was new.

Could this have all been prevented? We’ll never know but i’d like to make sure it never happens again. I have found Time Machine to be somewhat unreliable in the past so i probably should have been more thorough in making sure the backup was ok and not just take OS X’s word for it. A mistake i won’t make again.

Everyone can have a backup strategy tailored to his or her’s own need and available equipment. In my friend’s case the following was available:
1x mirrorred RAID 1TB MyBook
2x 500 GB Lacie drives

The iMac has a 2TB built in that has 5 partitions on it:
– Mac OS (OS, apps and some documents)
– iTunes (iTunes library)
– Music (music he made in Logic)
– Misc (all kinds of stuff)
– Movies (iMovie projects)

With this available we created a backup strategy that should prevent any data from being lost again, ever.

One of the Lacie drives became the new Time Machine backup. Some unimportant stuff was excluded from the backup as 500GB is not enough to hold data from all partitions. Time Machine would now only be used to recover a lost file from if needed.

The second Lacie drive was devided into three partitions to mirror some of the internal drive’s partitions. We chose to make bi-weekly clones of the Mac OS, iTunes and Music partitions. Every two weeks on Sunday SuperDuper will clone the internal partitions to this drive.

The MyBook was partitioned as well to mirror all internal partitions. This would be used for bi-weekly clones on the Sundays that were skipped by the above clone schedule. Still with me? Good. This pretty much ensures a backup that can’t fail.

Also, weekly inspection of the time machine drive folder structures to make sure everything is still working as it should. As Time Machine is super sensitive any corruption like before will be spotted there first most likely. If corruption is detected we have last weeks clone or even the week before that on another drive to restore from.

Let’s hope it never gets as far as having to put this strategy to the test but I’m pretty confident it’ll hold up against anything 🙂

Time Machine is convenient and works as it should most of the time for recovering simple documents and apps but when it comes to a full system restore it’s nice to have a backup of your backup just in case. Set up a backup strategy that meets your needs and uses whatever equipment you have available and want to use for it.

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