All of my old rsync scripts still work fine, but have thinking lately about altering our home backup strategy. Backing up just user data is well and good, but restoring a fresh system and applications in the event of a total failure would take half a day.

Hearing good things about SuperDuper! for a while now — a system that puts OS X’s native disk imaging capabilities to full use. When backup starts, a “sparseimage” (a grow-able disk image) is mounted, and any changes to the filesystem since last backup are written into it. Make it a bootable sparseimage and you can move it anywhere and boot from it. A complete restore to any volume can be made from it with Apple’s Disk Utility. Or you can mount the image normally and drag files out of it to restore individual bits.

Creating the initial image took most of the day (which is fine – I was busy grouting and caulking and refinishing a door), but subsequent updates should be relatively quick. The biggest downside I can see is that I’ll lose my rolling 30-day incremental rotation system. But that’s also an upside in disguise, since tracking incrementals consumes gobs of space when a family member uses Entourage, which stores everything in one giant database. Receive a single new message in a week and rsync wants to create another copy of the whole gob. SuperDuper will put an end to that nonsense.

I’m liking this, but not 100% sold on the imaging approach just yet. What are your fave OS X backup solutions?

14 Replies to “SuperDuper!”

  1. I use both SuperDuper! and Retrospect in my home studio. I have redundant backups–SuperDuper clones of three internal drives (boot, iTunes and Photos), and Retrospect incrementals of two of the same (boot and Photos). Perhaps a bit much, but it works for me, given that I have internal drives of various capacities and similar external drives, and like to hedge my bets.

    Does SuperDuper use a sparseimage? I guess not when cloning instead of doing an incremental backup.

  2. Dunno anything about SuperDuper, but if it’s not cron-able, who cares? ;)

    If it is cron-able, then I assume you’re having it write an image (or something) out somewhere. Can’t you then cp and then rotate those daily images into another directory? Kinda solves the rolling history.

  3. I have a very manual backup process: Every two weeks iCal tells me to backup, and then I fire off .Mac Backup to backup my user data to an External USB drive… I don’t have (or have room for) a file server in my tiny apartment, so it’s hard to automate laptop backups with cron/launchd.

    And what is it about Microsoft that makes them think that big database files are a good idea? At least Entourage isn’t as bad as the Windows Registry, which is a total abortion.

  4. One more thing, I never bother doing a full system backup… I know that it’d take me awhile to reinstall all my apps, etc, but I figure it gives me an opportunity to A) make sure I’m running the latest versions of everything and B) trim the fat, only reinstalling applications I use regularly.

  5. I’m using SuperDuper to an external drive. Registered version, “smart” backup, once every other week or so.

    These days, I have an iMac at home, and a PowerBook that goes to the office to me (much to the chagrin of my Microsoft/Dell loving boss) – so the files that change a lot are also the ones that live on multiple computers.

  6. Larry, are you happy with Retrospect? My understanding is that it’s really fallen out of favor in recent years. Don’t know all the reasons for that, but heard that you can’t script it (or at least can’t talk to it with shell scripts).

    mnep – SuperDuper includes its own scheduling system (which I assume just writes cron jobs), and yes, there are techniques I could use to make it store incrementals in separate files. I should look into that.

    Sean – I checked out Apple’s Backup, but the thing I don’t get about it is that while the first backup is a full one of the defined set, all future images are deltas. I can’t see anything in the UI anywhere that would let me specify a full backup, say, every month, with deltas in between. I even tried deleting all of the backup files from the destination, and it *still* just wrote out a delta file on the next run. The docs don’t seem to say anything about this.

  7. I use SuperDuper! and have two exact clones of my system that I rotate on different external (Firwire) hard drives. (learned the hard way that macs can’t boot from USB 2.0 HDs)

  8. I’m happy with Retrospect in that I’ve had to recover files occasionally that I’d mistakenly trashed, and they were there, easy to find and tucked away in an incremental backup session. I’ve also had a drive fail in the past, and had I not had Retrospect backups, I would have been up shit’s creek. But I’m just maintaining one Mac with it, and am doing my backups manually, not scripting anything, and its interface is transparent enough to me that I can do what I want with it with little difficulty. I do byte-by-byte verifies too.

    I like doing SuperDuper clones too for purposes of redundancy, quick restores of my boot drive, and just in case Retrospect proves untrustworthy–I do note people’s complaints about it in my Mac news website and forums browsing.

  9. Scott

    I use Retrospect, its ok, more I guess just used to it. There is probably more efficient code out there. Maybe I should try out Super Duper. Off Topic, what do you use / workflow to backup your server space? I ask because I think we have similar setups. I do a FTP backup to a remote sever via CPanel but I am wondering if I should try and do something locally here as well.

  10. Jason – I use an rsync script to back up Birdhouse to a FireWire drive at home nightly. My system maintains two directory structures – one containing a full and complete mirror of all user data, databases, settings etc. The other holds a rolling 30-day incremental structure of changed files, so I can restore any file deleted by a user at any point in the past month. rsync sends only the changes, so this is feasible from a bandwidth standpoint.

  11. Scot, it is tricky to start a new full backup in Backup… And I don’t remember how to do it… Each time my backup drive fills up I have to rediscover how to do it.. :P

  12. I’ve been sold on Retrospect for over a decade. I work for a large company with no official backup solution for the users. “Keep it on a server” is their answer. Or “burn to CDs.” We all have laptops and keep everything on our desktops and in document folders.

    So a group of us chip in and run Retrospect backing up to large Maxtor external firewire disks. An old laptop acts as the server, with a fresh new series of hard disks attached.

    We’re a secure office, but the system is locked up. Each user’s data is encrypted by a password they choose.

    Retrospect has saved many of us from isolated file loss or catastrophic loss. Every day it reminds us that we have just been backed up. Very addictive. Runs for months with no intervention.

    It is cross platform for our Macs and PCs. For R&D purposes, a copy gets to run in my house. :-)

    You are right about no direct scripting, but the object oriented script builder has let me build anything I wanted to do, including a mix of incremental and rotational backups.

  13. Jeb, sounds like a great system. I’m curious – I keep hearing from this corner and that that Retrospect is falling out of favor, not being taken as seriously as it once was, that it’s not keeping up with the Joneses, etc. So you have no complaints with it? Would you recommend it for corporate deployment if you were in a position to?

  14. I like solutions that I can train others to pick up. Retrospect fit that bill in our company. I started using it when I was in I.T. and managed e-mail / collaborative systems and needed to back up central files and databases. I had an assistant who could easily pick up the interface, change over tapes, etc. But what I really came to like was how they solved the problem of laptops that come and go off the network with a small client control panel. Today I and a few buddies (non-IT) keep about 20 marketing laptops plus a couple of department servers backed up. Cross-platform is a plus. That being said, the lack of scripting hooks could be frustrating to some, but I just haven’t found the gaps in what it does and does well… backs us up.

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