Last week we had a Mac mini with a failed SSD drive. The customer had some data backed up to a secondary internal drive, but the primary database had not been backed up for some time. We tried to work some magic, but the SSD was completely gone and we could not retrieve data. If you've been there before, you know how gut wrenching it can be to lose data. If you have not been there before, consider yourself lucky and read this post so you don't have the feelings in your future.
Customers at Macminicolo are in charge of backing up their own data. Over the years, we have found this to be the best approach because customers know their data the best and know which items are the most critical.
From time to time, we are asked the best way to do the backup of Mac mini server. My first advice is to keep it simple. The more complex the backup, the more parts that can break down. Here are some things we've learned:
First rule of backing up, do it. Find some way to backup the data you need.
My preferred way to backup a machine is by cloning to an external hard drive. Applications like SuperDuper and CCC make this process simple. You can clone your data (either entirely or just the changed data) on a automatic schedule. If your machine has trouble, we can take that external drive, connected it to another machine, and boot from the hard drive. You're up and running right away while your hardware is in repair. When your machine is working again, we can clone your external drive back to your machine and you're back at it.
Time Machine is another good option for backing up data. Over the years, Time Machine has improved by doing a more thorough backup. It does a good job at revisions, and let's you restore data that may have gone missing a couple weeks before you notice it gone. There are two things to keep in mind with Time Machine though. First, a Time Machine backup is not a bootable backup. So, if data restore needs to be done, it will take some time. Second, Time Machine can be picky on which hardware it will restore to from it's archives. Swapping machines in and out changes the restore because it uses a Migration Assistant if it's new hardware.
For me, the ideal backup is Time Machine to a second internal drive and cloning to an external drive. This gives you the best of both worlds. If your boot drive is small and will never fill your external drive on it's own, you might clone to different daily, weekly, monthly partitions on an external drive.
There are some other tools and tidbits that might be useful:
Here is everything you need to know about running RAID on an Mac mini. Don't do it. We've seen more data lost than saved from RAID setups.
If you use a Mac mini for a single database purpose (like Daylite Hosting or a wordpress blog), then Hazel and Dropbox are a very good option. You can set it up for Daylite or Wordpress to backup the database regularly to your Dropbox folder, then Hazel can make sure the old backups are deleted as the folder starts to fill up. Since your data is in dropbox, you also have a copy on their servers and on any other computer you setup for syncing of that folder.
If you want a complete backup offsite, you can use a paid service like Backblaze. If you'd like to avoid a monthly charge, you can use the free version of Crashplan. With this version, you install it on your server, and then install it on another computer at home or at the office. The server will backup to that computer. Restore takes a bit, but it is nice to have a full copy somewhere.
Finally, whatever backup process you choose, be sure to check and test it regularly. Ask yourself, "If my primary drive were to die right now, how quickly would I be able to get up and running again?"
If you have any question on backup, or have something to add, you can reach us @macminicolo on twitter.
Macminicolo, a Las Vegas colocation company, has been hosting Mac minis since their introduction in January 2005. Low cost. High performance. They are the leaders in this niche market and are known for their personal service. They currently host hundreds of Mac minis for satisfied customers located in 47 different countries around the world. Get more info on our frequently asked questions page.