If your home, like mine, has more than a couple of Macs, backing up each one individually can be quite a chore. You can make your life easier—and keep your data safer—by setting up an old Mac or a Mac mini as a dedicated backup server. It’ll do all the heavy lifting of backing up every computer regularly, without requiring your constant assistance.
What You Need
The Mac For this project, you’ll need a Mac with FireWire or USB 2.0 ports, at least 256MB of RAM, and OS X 10.1.5 or later. This Mac (and the other machines) will need a network connection. An AirPort network will work, but for faster backups, connect the computers to a wired Ethernet switch or hub.
To determine the minimum hard-drive size, add up the sizes of the folders you want to back up on each of your Macs, and multiply the total by 1.5. If the drive on your designated server isn’t big enough, add one or more external drives. These not only offer additional capacity but also enable you to store one of your backups off-site for safekeeping.
Software I’ve tested dozens of backup programs, and each has its merits. But I always come back to EMC Dantz’s
Retrospect Desktop ( ; $129, but often available
for less than $90 ).
Retrospect Desktop can back up the computer it’s installed on (the server) and three other machines (the clients); you can purchase additional client licenses if needed. Retrospect Desktop has several distinctive features, but most important for this project is its Backup Server script. Backup Server periodically checks to see whether any of the clients on the network haven’t been backed up recently; if that’s the case, it performs the backup. So you don’t have to worry about missing a scheduled backup if a computer is turned off, asleep, or offline (for instance, a PowerBook you’ve taken to the office).
How to Set It Up
While there are many types of backups, I’m going to focus on just one: an additive incremental archive. Rather than making complete, bootable duplicates of all your Macs’ hard drives, this archive backs up just the most-important files. After the initial backup, each successive backup copies only the files that have changed since the previous one—the older copies are saved, too, in case you accidentally change or delete a file and need to go back to a previous version.
If you’ve already added your backup server and the systems you want to back up to a network, you’re ready to begin.
Plug It In
First, plug your external hard drive(s) into your server. Then select each backup drive, choose File: Get Info, and make sure the Ignore Ownership On This Volume option at the bottom of the resulting window is deselected.
Retrospect uses a standard, self-explanatory installer. After you install it, visit
Dantz’s Web site to see whether any updates are available; if there are, install them, too.
Next, install Retrospect Client on the other computers. The Retrospect CD (or disk image, if you downloaded it) includes a folder containing the client software. After you install Retrospect Client on each machine, launch it and make sure it’s turned on. You can leave all the preferences at their default settings for now.
Back on the server, open the Configure pane in Retrospect’s main window, and click on Backup Sets. Click on New, choose File from the Backup Set Type pop-up menu, and enter a name for your backup set. Click on New, navigate to the hard drive you’re using for this backup set, and click on Save. Repeat this procedure for each backup drive, and close the Backup Sets window when you’re done.
Now click on Clients in Retrospect’s Configure pane. Each client that’s available on your network should appear in the list. Select one and click on Configure. In the General pane, make sure Selected Volumes is selected in the Backup pop-up menu, and then go to the Volumes pane and select each of the machine’s volumes you want to back up (even if there’s only one). Repeat this procedure for each client.
Finally, go to the Automate pane, select Scripts, and click on New. Choose Backup Server as the script type and click on OK (see the top screenshot). Enter a name for the script and click on OK again to display the script’s options.
What to Back Up In most cases, you’ll want to back up only part of a volume, such as your user folder. To do this, click on Sources and then on Add to display all local and network volumes. Select a volume and click on Subvolume. Navigate to the folder you want to back up, select it, and click on Define (see the middle screenshot). Repeat for as many subvolumes as necessary. In general, you should back up each user’s Home folder (/Users/ user folder ) and any other folders containing personal files. After defining subvolumes, Command-click to select all the volumes or folders you want to back up. Click on OK, and then click on OK a second time to close the Sources dialog box.
What Not to Back Up To omit certain types of files, click on Selecting. In the window that appears, click on More Choices. Under And Exclude Nothing, choose Selector from the pop-up menu (see the bottom screenshot). From the Selected By pop-up menu, choose the kind of file you want to exclude. (For example, to exclude MP3 and AAC files, choose Music.) Click on OK, and add more exclusions if you wish. Click on OK again to dismiss the dialog box.
Where to Put It In the Backup Set Selection window, select the drive(s) you want to back up to, and click on OK; click on OK again to dismiss the dialog box.
How Often to Back Up By default, Retrospect backs up your drive(s) once a day, and I recommend keeping that setting. But if you want to change the interval, click on Options and make your selections. Then click on OK again.
When to Run the Server The backup server will attempt to back up clients only during the times you designate. The default setting (Always Active) is usually best, but to restrict the backup server to certain times or days, click on Schedule and make your selections.
Now close the Backup Server window, click on Save, and close the Scripts window. To activate the server, choose Run: Backup Server. A small status window will replace the main Retrospect window. (To stop Backup Server and return to the main window, close this window.) Retrospect will begin backing up the client machines on the schedule you set.
After all this clicking and configuring, your server should require almost no intervention. But you should perform test restorations occasionally to make sure everything is working right. (It’s no fun to find out that you set something wrong after you’ve lost files to a hard-drive crash!) You’ll sleep better knowing that your backup server is minding your files.
Retrospect’s Backup Server script helps you configure client and backup drives.
Retrospect wants to back up entire volumes—but you can back up just one folder by defining it as a subvolume.
Retrospect’s Selector feature allows you to exclude or include files by type (such as Music).
Do Your Recycling
Eventually, your external drive(s) will fill up. And even if it’s quite capacious, Retrospect’s performance can decrease when backup sets get very large. So I recommend recycling your backup sets every few months or so. This erases the set’s contents and starts a new backup from scratch. (If you use multiple drives, stagger the recycling so you always have a reliable copy.) To do this, stop Backup Server and go to Retrospect’s Configure pane. Click on Backup Sets and select the set you want to recycle. Click on Configure, and then go to the Options pane and click on Action. Select Recycle, dismiss all the dialog boxes, and save the script. Choose Run: Start Backup Server. On the next run, your old backup set will be replaced.
Having a great backup is useless if you can’t recover files when you need them. To restore files, follow these steps:
1. Stop Backup Server if it’s running. In the Immediate pane, click on Restore.
2. Select Restore Files From A Backup and click on OK.
3. In the list at the top of the window, select a backup set (typically the one with the most recent date). The bottom part of the window lists the most recent snapshot (a complete list of files at the time of each backup) for each backed-up volume. (To see previous versions of the files, click on Add Snapshot and select the snapshot with the desired volume and date.) Click on OK.
4. Choose a destination for the restored files and click on OK.
5. After Retrospect compiles a list of all the files in the current snapshot, click on Files Chosen to display them. Select the files and folders you want to recover, and then click on Mark. When you’re finished, close the window.
6. Click on Restore. The selected files will be copied to the destination you specified.
[ Joe Kissell is the author of the
Take Control of Mac OS X Backups e-book. His secret identity is Curator of Interesting Things for
Using Retrospect’s Configure pane, you can direct the application to erase a backup set’s contents and start a new backup from scratch.