In the first part of our series on data storage for Mac users, we wanted to talk in the most basic terms about backups.

First things first, let’s be clear about what we’re trying to achieve here. Our business is support; so to some degree it’s in our interest that your computers don’t work the way you want them to, or that equipment breaks – that’s probably what you’re thinking, right? Well, that’s not how we work. We sell ourselves as the folks who take your technology headaches away, and in order to fulfil that promise we need to be proactive on your behalf. And with that in mind, we’re going to tell you the first golden rule of technology:

Given time, anything electronic, mechanical (or both) WILL stop working.

That’s why we strongly recommend everyone backs their computers up; trust us, when you’ve seen as many clients as we have distressed by losing their financial data or, worse still, their personal photos to a failed hard drive, you become acutely aware of the risks, no matter how trivial they seem when it hasn’t happened to you.

Anyway, let’s try to see past the doom and gloom and tell you the good news. Firstly, you’re running a Mac so you probably have the greatest Operating System available in terms of performing simple, reliable backups. Apple have, since OS X 10.5 (known as Leopard), shipped their computers with a feature known as Time Machine. This awesome piece of software (once configured) runs in the background backing your machine up on an hourly basis, giving you the ability to restore back to a certain point in time should you need to (say, if you’d deleted a folder of photos a couple of days ago, but only just realised, you could easily get them back).

It’s impossible to document how to set up Time Machine on every Mac, because the instructions are slightly different in every release of the Operating System, but the basic functionality is the same. Time Machine will backup to an external hard drive; that is either a USB/FireWire/Thunderbolt connected hard drive, an Apple Time Capsule, or an Apple Airport Extreme with attached hard drive. We’ll talk about needs for multiple copies of data in a future article in this series, but Time Machine allows you to make use of two different locations for backups (e.g. two different hard drives).

Let’s assume you have never used Time Machine and you don’t have access to a Time Capsule; what do you need? We recommend an external hard drive at least twice the capacity of your internal hard drive. So, if you have a MacBook Pro with a 500Gb disk we suggest at least 1Tb of room to allow Time Machine to keep plenty of history for you (thus allowing you to ‘go back in time’ should you need to retrieve an older version of a file that you have updated). Strictly speaking you can run with a drive no bigger than the amount of data that you want backing up, but with the price of drives as they are, why scrimp? There’s so many reasons for having a full backup of your internal drive (makes migrating to a new machine easy too), it’s really not worth considering anything else.

When you connect a new hard drive to your Mac, it will prompt you and ask whether you want to use this drive as your Time Machine backup. You accept it, leave your hard drive connected and carry on as normal. In the menu bar at the top of your screen will be a little icon that looks like a clock. This is your Time Machine information; click it, and it will let you know how things are going (if its spinning, you have a backup going on right now).

What else should we tell you about Time Machine? Firstly, it only (by default at least) backs up your internal drives. So if you use external storage (or a NAS or server) for certain data, the Time Machine backup you run will most likely not include that information. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that those devices are protected!

Last but not least, we mentioned having two drives permitted for Time Machine; use this feature! Swap those drives over on a regular basis, and move the unconnected drive somewhere else in the world (a neighbour, your Mum’s house, a security box at your bank, wherever!) just in case of something like a fire or theft. We know this sounds melodramatic, but for the cost of a hard drive, you’ll thank us if the situation ever arises.

That’s your basic overview on backing up your Mac. This post at least will apply to every user,  from the average home user to the professional. We’re here to help, so if you have any questions on backups, please get in touch through any of our social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Google+), email, or call us on 01923 555048. We really do want to make your technology as pain free as possible for you………..