Mac Backup Programs – An Overview

Backup words on a chalkboardBackup applications are varied in both their abilities and price. Plus, people have different needs. The important thing is to have reliable backups. There are a couple things I consider essential in all situations, at least for individuals and small businesses.

  1. The backup must happen automatically and not require human intervention. Unless you have dedicated IT staff this will always be secondary to everything else and eventually get skipped.
  2. At least one set of files must be off-site, away from the computer where the data is used every day. The farther away the better, in order to avoid a situation such as a natural disaster that affects you and the offsite location.

I find the following backup programs well suited to meeting these needs. While some may have versions for Windows and Linux I’ve mainly, used Mac versions, and any Windows specific options are ignored (with one exception).

Arq

Arq is myMy favorite backup program for the Mac. It doesn’t provide any of its own storage (it’s not a service) but it does integrate with a large number of this party services. Naturally it can also backup to a folder on a external drive or NAS.

Arq can maintain a file history and works similarly to time machine. You give it a quota for space (or money budget for paid services like Amazon S3) and Arq will keep copies of old files until that quota is filled, then start deleting old files.

It can backup to Amazon S3, and Amazon Drive which are the cloud services I use regularly. It can also backup to Amazon Glacier, Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Cloud Storage, and DreamObjects. SFTP destinations can also be used along with the already mentioned local storage or NAS.

A must have feature of Arq is that it will (optionally) encrypt the backups before the data leaves your computer. So even if the your cloud service is hacked your data is still encrypted, and only you know the encryption key.

There is now a Windows version although I don’t have any experience with it.

CrashPlan

CrashPlan has been my long-time choice for Windows backup. I don’t have a lot clients with Windows machines, but this is my recommendation for friends & family. There are Mac, Windows and Linux versions.

The software is free for backups to local drives, to a friend’s computer, or to a second computer you may have. There are also a few other limitations with the free version, such as no unlimited saving of old file versions. They offer an online backup service with prices starting at $60/year or $6 per month for one computer. The rest of this summary relates to features in the paid subscription.

CrashPlan will keep an unlimited number of old file versions as well as copies of deleted files. You can encrypt the backup using your own encryption key (or theirs) and files are encrypted before leaving the computer. You may need to enter your encryption key in the mobile app or in a webpage for restore, so it is potentially less secure as there are more things that can go wrong.

One feature I like is an weekly email to summarize the backup status. This lets me know if a family member’s computer has a problem completing the backup, or if there’s been a significant change in the amount of data being backed up.

ChronoSync

Like Arq, ChronoSync only provides the software, it is not a backup destination or service. In all the years I’ve owned ChronoSync I’ve never been charged for an upgrade, and there have been many, many updates. New features have been updated in addition to simply maintaining compatibility with macOS upgrades.

As the name implies. ChronoSync revolves around syncing, rather than a traditional backup. But these days it can be used as a traditional backup. ChronoSync can also connect to Amazon S3, Google Cloud Storage, or an SFTP server for backup or sync.

ChronoSync can also keep a archive of any replaced or deleted files. Whether or not an archive is kept, and for how long, is fully configurable. If you do a lot of transfer between Macs on a regular basis there’s a ChronoAgent to help manage these remote transfers.

Time Machine

Time Machine holds a strange place in my backup strategy and recommendations. I recommend everyone use it, although it can sometimes have issues and I don’t trust it as my only local backup. It comes with every Mac and it’s been extremely useful when I need to recover an old file.

I’ve actually never had a problem getting a file back when I’ve needed it. But I have had times where Time Machine tells me it can no longer use the backup and must start fresh. This doesn’t build confidence. Using a locally attached drive is more reliable than using a NAS (or Time Capsule) as the backup destination.

I find Time Machine useful and reliable enough to keep backing up to my NAS with it. It’s an inexpensive way to backup a Mac, but I recommend having a second backup. That second backup could be offsite and harder to get to or restore. I wouldn’t recommend two Time Machine backups (which can be done) as your only two backups.

SuperDuper! and Carbon Copy Cloner

I grouped SuperDuper! and Carbon Copy Cloner together since they are similar. Both, at their core, are applications that clone a Mac hard drive. I was a long time user of SuperDuper! and it worked great. Then Carbon Copy Cloner came out with version 4 which brought the software to a new level. I switched to it because of it’s ability to script the clone a bit more than SuperDuper! and it was possible to chain the clones together.

Carbon Copy Cloner also as a safety net feature which saves files that were deleted since the previous clone.

SuperDuper! is free to do a basic drive clone. The paid version adds scheduling, smart updates and scripting among other things.

Carbon Copy Cloner has a free trial. The paid version, needed once the trial runs out, is slightly more expensive than SuperDuper! but does have more features.

Either program will work and if SuperDuper! meets your needs then you can save some money by using it.

Additional Backup Software

I have limited experience with the following Mac backup software. What experience I have has been good and they all get good reviews in the tech community.

Backblaze

Backblaze is similar to the previously mentioned CrashPlan. It provides offsite (online) backup with Personal and Business subscriptions. Unlike CrashPlan the only backup destination is their cloud.

Carbonite

Carbonite is another online backup service. Like many of these online services it will only backup user generated files for the lower-cost personal plans. If you don’t use the standard windows or Mac user directories then some data files may be missed by the backup.

Mozy

I used to recommend Mozy several years ago. Then I had problems with their software around the time their ownership was also changing. Overall it was a terrible experience and my solution was to pick another service. I haven’t recommended Mozy since. They’ve changed hands again (possibly more than once) and are now owned by Dell. I still wouldn’t recommend their personal plans, but I would consider their business plans as they seem much more focused on business services.

SpiderOak

When I first used SpiderOak they were a new offering that was much like Dropbox, it really wasn’t a backup solution. I liked them back then because they were focused on security. I moved away from them because Dropbox and iCloud provided enough security for the types of things I was storing in the cloud and they provided integrations with more apps.

The other online backups I mentioned tend to provide unlimited storage space (although with other possible restrictions) for a set price per device. SpiderOak, because it provides both Sync and Backup, has tiers for the space you want (100GB/250GB/1TB). The charges are reasonable although you may want to consider alternatives if you don’t need sync and have only one device, with a lot of data, to back up.

Summing It Up

All of these backup solutions provide a free trial and you should take advantage of this to see which works best for you. For online backup solutions you should be aware that the first backup may take a long time. If you’re using a free trial I’d suggest picking a subset of files so the backup will finish and you can test out a restore. Generally, home and business cable ISP plans have a slower upload than download speed and it’s the upload speed that matters. If your ISP has bandwidth caps this could also be an issue. Your first backup will use a lot of bandwidth but future backups will be less since only new and changed files will be backed up.

I use Arq as my primary backup software and have for a long time. Currently I use it to backup to Amazon Cloud Files and Amazon S3. I also use Time Machine regularly although I keep very little data on my computers, most is on my NAS. I like the ability to quickly grab an old file without having to pull out any disks or wait for an online download. Finally, I use ChronoSync to move files around locally and to create local backups.

In putting together this overview I’ve come to realize that the software I’ve used for years has added new features that I could be using but haven’t explored. I’ll be exploring ChronoSync as a more complete backup solution including cloud backups. I also noticed SpiderOak has become a real backup solution in the time since I used it. It may be worth revisiting.

While your needs may vary, any of these backup solutions should reliably protect your software. The trick is picking the one that meets your specific needs. There’s no excuse not to have backups.