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Ask Max: Automated Backups in OS X

Asked on 05/26/2006:

I manage a 30-machine high school lab. We have a G-5 XServe and a bunch of eMacs. What I am looking for is an automated system (software based) to regularly back up our user files. We need to be able to back up 1 to 2 times a week and be able to go back up to a month for recovery. (Meaning, the latest backup cannot overwrite yesterdays backup) The server has a80gb (OS and user files are here), and a 250gb HD (where I conduct poor man’s manual backups.) I looked at Retrospect but forum reviews indicate it has gone downhill forOS 10. What are your thoughts/advice on this issue?


You are right to question Retrospect's performance and design. It is a processor hog and can require a lot of skill to set up. It’s an old application that has only received a minor face-lift for OS X. All that being said, it's the only competent game in town in order to do what you want. An expanded Workgroup version of Retrospect, installed on the XServe, will be able to backup all your client eMacs in dated incremental segments. You can pick the date to restore, but still avoid filling the 250 GB hard drive with redundant data. I have asked around about alternatives but every other option costs more and is not quite what you need.

I have one hardware-based solution that could simplify the process and give you the added security of off site backups. "Broken Mirror" backups are used in many businesses to provide dated backups that can be stored off site. It will require a change in how your computer lab operates. You would need to setup "Portable Home Directory" services on the XServe. This would mean that the XServe would host all user data. Then you would need to create a RAID 1 or "Mirror" RAID set of that 250 GB hard drive. All the User accounts would be kept on that Mirrored RAID and always have the latest user data. Then when you want to create an archive copy of that data, you break the RAID 1 and remove one of those 250 GB hard drives. Then you replace it with a new 250 GB hard drive and repair the RAID 1. You can end up burning through a lot of drive modules this way but it will protect your data the best without the need for software backups.

It is probably best to use the imperfect Retrospect because of the alternatives' cost and complication.

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