Tag Archives: osx

OSX Time Machine – Brilliant or Bust?

Aren’t backups a wonderful thing?

As an IT professional, I can tell you that most people never backup their computers.

Organizations are a bit different. Most recognize the need for backing up, but fewer actually test their backups.

In OSX Leopard, Apple recognized that people don’t backup their computers. Further, they recognized that, increasingly, our lives are recorded on our computers – from our personal documentation to our priceless photographic memories. In Leopard they introduced Time Machine, an automatic backup and recovery system designed to make the process painless and automatic.

I’ve used Time Machine since it first came out and, like most most people, I’ve had no real reason to need it.

Oh… I’ve restored the occasional file, but it’s never been critical… until now.

When we were burglarized two weeks ago, they took, amongst other things, my wife’s iMac. We know that the burglary occurred between 10:30 and 11:30AM because at 10:38, her iMac made one last Time Machine machine backup across the network. If there was any positive thing to take from this it was that we had a full and complete backup of her machine in Time Machine format. But how well would that work when we went to restore it onto a new computer?

For starters, we had some data that we needed immediately. Part of the Time Machine enhancements in OSX Snow Leopard is the ability to open other machine’s backups, so we were able to use my laptop to open and verify her backup, plus grab some important files right away.

Now that her replacement computer has arrived, it was time to put the backup to the real test: Restoring her entire old computer backup onto a new computer, with a completely different hardware configuration. The old computer was a 24″ iMac with 350Gb of disk – 200Gb used – the new one, a new model MacBook with 250Gb disk.

The first thing I did after the burglary was to backup her backup – before I started trying to restore files from it. Time Machine backups are stored in a single file and I copied that file from the network backup drive onto a spare external drive. I had hoped that I would be able to use the external drive to restore the backup as that would be faster than pushing the entire restore across the local network.

When the new MacBook arrived, I plugged in the external drive and fired up the machine per the instructions. When you setup a new Mac, it allows you to copy your data from another machine – a real timesaver if you’re migrating from one machine to another. One option is to copy from a Time Machine backup.

Unfortunately, this didn’t work. It simply failed to recognize the external drive as having a Time Machine backup.

My remaining option was to try to restore from the network. I joined the local network and the MacBook instantly spotted my Time Machine drive.

That’s when the next problem occurred. The drive I use is a terabyte drive, partitioned into 4 different drives, each containing the Time Machine backup for a different computer on my network. The MacBook spotted and reported all four drives. I selected the one associated with the iMac and it asked me to log in. It went into a never-ending wait, displaying simply the word “connecting…”

While that continued on for half an hour (before I gave up), one of the other drives almost immediately popped up stating “1 Time Machine Backup Found.” This was worrisome. Could it be that Time Machine was too confused by having four different drives? Certainly, I didn’t wish to restore the drive it was indicating was available. All the while, the “right” machine was failing to complete its connection.

I tried several times, using both my wireless connection and a hard-wired connection, with no difference in result.

Eventually, I decided that I’d see what happened if I selected the “wrong” Time Machine backup. Lo and behold, it presented a backup that was for the right computer. It somehow was showing me the backup for my wife’s computer on the Time Machine for my computer – probably because I had opened her Time Machine with my laptop to restore those files right after the burglary.

And so I began preparing for the restore. There was just enough room to restore everything and after it thought about the backup for about 10 minutes, I let me select everything at start the backup.

Estimated restore time over the gigabit LAN: 5 hours 10 minutes.

Here I am, six hours later and it has just finished.

And what’s the verdict? It was slow, a bit problematic to get going, not entirely intuitive, disappointing in that it couldn’t see the external drive with a copy on it but ultimately absolutely brilliant!

I am looking at an almost exact copy of my wife’s computer, intact and catching up on back e-mail and a few system updates.

Time Machine really saved our bacon on this one!