Apple's Time Machine Logo
You should never wait to have a backup plan in place. If you haven't already lost data, you should at some point and the goal is to make it a temporary disadvantage instead of a disaster. But if you ever plan your backups, it's really good to start before you make a big update.
There is no reason to assume that macOS Catalina will introduce more problems than usual, except that it drops all support for 32-bit apps. If you rely on software and just find out after you have updated that it has stopped working, you must move back to Mojave fast.
And if Catalina is a fire in your office or just your own finger issues that you accidentally click on the wrong button, you will ever lose data. So take the time to investigate what you have now and what you really need for the future.
There are two parts for backup, where your data is finally stored and how it gets there.
Unless you are the most sporadic and light user and create nothing on your Mac, but the strange email, you need an external hard drive. As always, an SSD is better than a mechanical drive, but SSD is still expensive and their main advantage is speed. When all you need is to get the lost data back, a minute or two longer waiting for a hard drive will not bother you.
Anyway, you need basic software to back up your Mac automatically, and you I have it. Go to System Settings click on Time Machine and turn it on.
Time Machine allows you to select a backup destination only
You need to tell what is running you want to back up, and you can make some decisions about what is being backed up. But you're done.
What will trouble you is that hard drives fail. All drives fail, but hard drives are more prone to it, so it's far from uncommon to turn to your backup and find that it doesn't work. Worse, it hasn't worked for months or years.
So do two things. Get a second destination for your backups, another drive, and make sure you test your backups regularly.
Time Machine is built to be simple, and it is, but it is easy to make limitations. It is supposed to be used with a backup drive, so the moment you do enough work that you need extra security for another, you must continue.
Just a little more complicated than Time Machine's third-party app, SuperDuper! It comes in a mix of powerful features and complexity at Carbon Copy Cloner and ChronoSync. We have previously compared them all.
What these get you is the ability to store more places – and also to have very nice control over what is being copied there.
Say you work in a video production house and once a month have to make billing. You can tell any of these apps to back up your video work every day or hour. And you can make them back up your billing documents every few weeks.
Carbon Copy Cloner is used to create a weekly backup task
It's not about mass copying everything, it's about using your resources intelligently so that you need most are protected and recyclable.
Grandfather, father, son
In the billing example, you can afford to back up less often if you only create the documents periodically. Even if you only make them monthly, there is still a risk.
You can make a serious mistake on an invoice and save it without noticing. The next time the backup runs, it can copy the incorrect invoice and back it up over a previously correct version.
The easiest way to protect against this is to plan a series of backups using the grandfather, father, son's process. It involves holding three generations of backups, keeping three still images of your data at different intervals.
So you can have a backup copy of the software every single day. Every week it has been copied to another place as well. And then every month, have the weekly copy backed up to a third place.
If you then save the wrong invoice, you have the chance to get it back from yesterday's backup. If you do not take it in time, you still have the last week and last month.
This works for everyone, regardless of the work they do, but if you are alone, if you don't have a backup specialist, there is one more thing to do. Makes the grandfather copy, the monthly, made into a drive that you can remove and save offsite.
The drive doesn't have to be a single SSD or a spinning hard drive, though. You can now get external hard drives that will house one, two or more drives in a device that can be easily transported.
It can be in a safe deposit box or you can switch stations with a trusted friend. No matter how you do it, feel safe – and be able to get it back quickly when you need it.
Instead, if you work with many very large files, the same principle applies, but it is now no longer enough just to rely on the strange extra hard drive connected to the back of your Mac .
Instead, you need a networked storage device (NAS) (SAN).
A NAS as units of Synology lets you put together a lot of storage space and keep it somewhere over your network. Put 2, 4, 10 or how many drives you need in a single cabinet, and you can also back up your backups.
A NAS cabinet allows you to group drives together and use them as a RAID system as well
Turn that NAS into a mirrored RAID by someone sort. If a drive in the group fails, it has your other data.
Live data backup
Usually when you have a NAS, it is really only for you alone and you own all the hard drives, you control all access.
By comparison, a SAN is built to share the same data with many people and do it as quickly as possible. A common use for a SAN would be in movie production, where there may be multiple video editors, and they all need access to the entire recording all the time.
However, there is storage space, especially if you rely on a SAN, you still need to plan how all the data will be backed up. You just got a big part of it to back up.
Offsite and online
There are electronic services that will back up your Macs and do it every minute every day. For consumers it is mainly a service called Backblaze, but if you are in business, it is also CrashPlan.
There are others too, and in each case the principle is the same. You use your internet connection and make an initial mass backup of all your data – which can take a very long time. Then back up everything you create on Mac, continuously.
Online backup services are usually subscriptions and they will have different conditions for how much you can back up.
But they also have the advantage that by their very nature they are offsite. If anyone stole all the Macs in your company, you would still not lose a single bit of data.
That's the goal here. You can't stop the loss of data from ever, but you can make as safe as humanly possible that there is no loss of unreachable degree. You can do it so that even though a major update like Catalina somehow gives you big trouble, rolling back to Mojave is not a big problem.
Backup costs money, though. And it's money that you can be very tempted to use in other ways, such as buying two drives to get extra storage instead of combining them into a single RAID one for security.
You need to back up your data, but doing so will always be a balance between long-term security and short-term benefit. AppleInsider will set out the benefits of various backup methods in future articles.
Keep up to date with AppleInsider by downloading the AppleInsider app to iOS and following us on YouTube, Twitter @appleinsider and Facebook for live, delayed coverage. You can also check out our official Instagram account for exclusive photos.