How To Screw Up a Good Backup System

I back up our family computers like crazy, using a combination of Time Machine and cloud backup via Backblaze. But I did something dumb and almost lost our family’s entire history of home videos. Facing estimates of $500 – $1500 for professional data recovery, I stumbled on an awesome hack that saved the day.


All of our computers’ internal hard drives get a dedicated external Time Machine, and we use Backblaze for extra insurance, so our data is safe in the cloud in case of fire, theft or flood. But we also have a few external hard drives that store things like large music collections and our home videos. The external drives back up to Backblaze only (no Time Machine).

All of that has been working hunky dory for years, and I felt confident we were safe. Then, a week ago, I realized that the drive that stores our family videos (“Gorgonzola”) would no longer mount, with any cable, on any of our machines. Yikes! So I turned to Backblaze for a restore, only to find it wasn’t showing up there either! Double yikes, freakout.

What Happened

At some point in the distant past, I did something dumb, though I didn’t realize it was dumb at the time – I realized I had lots of extra space on Gorgonzola and decided to let that drive do double-duty, as a Time Machine drive for a laptop. What I didn’t take into account was the fact that Backblaze has a reasonable rule – they don’t back up your backups. So when Backblaze detected that Gorgonzola was now a Time Machine drive, it dropped it from the manifest. I never noticed it had been dropped.

So now I’d realized that I had NO backup available anywhere for this precious, unreplaceable data. So I called some data recovery services, and got estimates ranging from $500 – $1500. The data was important enough to me that I’d pay that ransom, if it came to it. But of course I didn’t want to.

So Crazy It Just Might Work

The next day, I stumbled on a brilliant suggestion: Often, when a drive won’t mount, it’s because the USB controller circuit board inside the drive case has gone south, and that the drive itself is fine. Solution: Purchase an identical drive, take them both apart, and swap the controller chips. Brilliant! Found an identical drive on Amazon for $100 (Seagate Backup Plus Slim), and went for it.

Prying the case open and removing the drives turned out to be easier than expected (YouTube video), and the controller chips slipped off easily. Quick swaperoo, and lo and behold, it worked! Gorgonzola showed up as normal, and I’m rescuing my data right now. Of course, both drives were destroyed in the process, but at this point, I don’t care.

Yay, internet.

Time Capsule

18 months ago, I bought an Infrant ReadyNAS to store MP3s and our home backups. It’s been all peaches, and we’ve been using SuperDuper for backup against it with no issues.

When Leopard came out, thought we’d switch to Time Machine for backup… only to discover that Time Machine doesn’t support backups to network shares — unless those shares are on Mac (HFS+) volumes. The ReadyNAS does do AFP, but the ReadyNAS itself is Linux-based, and its internal filesystem is ext-something.

This sucks. Without simple, any-OS network backups, you’re forced to attach a physical disk to each machine you want to back up — unless you’ve got OS X Server running somewhere in the house (and thus have some networked HFS+ volumes to back up to).

Found a hack on the Infrant forums to force Time Machine to see a ReadyNAS share as a supported volume:

sudo defaults write \
TMShowUnsupportedNetworkVolumes 1

Timecapsule It works! Time Machine has been backing up to a partition on the ReadyNAS for a few weeks now. But I haven’t had occassion to try and restore from it yet, and don’t completely trust it. Apple’s introduction of Time Capsule seems like the perfect answer, and is dirt cheap for what you get (remember it doubles as an AirPort base station and print server).

But I resent that it’s required. Daring Fireball has essentially the same gripe. I already have an excellent networked storage unit. I shouldn’t have to buy Apple hardware to accomplish this. Apple needs to step forward and support TM backups to any network volume. Time Machine shouldn’t be a gateway drug sucking you into the Apple Store.

Of course, no law prevents me from continuing to use SuperDuper. But TM feels so good…

Music: Alton and the Flames :: Tuff