Network Time Machine

If you have any important files sitting on a single hard drive somewhere, disaster (or at least disappointment) is never far away. 

If you’re an Apple user then you can use Time Machine, a simple backup tool which is included as part of your operating system, to help solve this problem.

However, there are several limitations to Time Machine which make it a bit useless – not the least that you either have to splash out on a Time Capsule or use a USB or Firewire drive which is directly connected to your computer.

To get around this restriction, here is a simple hack that let’s you backup to a network drive:

Setup Time Machine on a NAS in three easy steps

Alternatively, there is a free utility called iTimeMachine which will do the setup for you.

I use this to backup my laptop to a ReadyNAS at home, which is also where we keep all of our photos and music etc.  It would work even better in an office environment where you could backup the whole company to a single server. 

A setup like this doesn’t have to be hugely expensive.  And, anyway, the peace of mind in knowing that I can recover important files if when my hard drive craps itself is worth a lot.

If you’re one of those people who think that putting a good system in place for backing up your important data is something that you can do tomorrow, then keep your fingers crossed that the dreaded blinking question mark doesn’t appear today. :-)

PS The next step beyond this is to setup an offsite backup.  The ReadyNAS supports rsync, which should allow me to do this pretty easily.  If anybody has something like this up and running already, or would be interested in helping me with this get in touch.

6 thoughts on “Network Time Machine”

  1. rsync -avz –delete –stats /path/to/folder remote-host:/path/to-backups/

    So long as you have your public key on the remote box, you’re sweet.

    (Let me plug Dropbox, however, which wraps all this up with local syncing, syncing between machines, a web interface to the files on the server, offsite snapshots, etc. Works beautifully. http://www.getdropbox.com. Just a satisfied user, etc.)

  2. Wouldn’t it be great if Time Machine and Time Capsule just handled off-site backups seamlessly? Imagine if it backed up to your time capsule every hour and then kept a single offsite copy in the cloud maybe every week. Of course in NZ you would have to limit the bandwidth per month it could use but that wouldn’t be too much an issue.

    Maybe a simple web interface that allowed you to network Time Capsules at different locations. Say backup my machine to my time capsule and the one sitting at my parents place. The ‘last mile’ of backup is definitely offsite backups. Nothing will save you from a stolen backup machine or worse your house burning down.

  3. @Matt

    The NAS we use actually have rsync support built into the automated backup scheduler. So, in theory, it should be as simple as setting up a remote host with enough space and clicking a few buttons.

    I was interested to know if anybody had actually tried to do something like that in practice, and what sort of issues they had run into.

    I’m also with you on DropBox. I’ve used this off and on since the private beta and it’s a nice simple way to share files, and is getting better and better.

    But, their free version only offers 2GB of space. I’m not sure how much it costs to buy more if you’re prepared to pay, but I’d be interested to know. At the moment I have about 55GB of digital photos and video which would be the first candidates for an offsite backup, being the files I’d be most distressed about if they were lost forever.

    The service I linked to in the post is rsync.net, which offers an offsite filesystem for US$1.20 p/GB/month.

    Are there any other equivalent services that anybody can recommend?

  4. @Glen

    Yup, that would be awesome!

    I guess another option would be to find somebody who wants my old NAS for a good price in return for making some of the space available to me as an offsite backup. Would give me a good excuse to upgrade to the newest version and get a bit more space at the same time.

  5. Sure, I’m running an rsync job each night. Works fine. You can save snapshots with a bit of work but I don’t think that’s necessary when you have Time Machine backups.

    I should have known you’d know about Dropbox … free for 2GB, but just US$10/month for 50GB, which is much cheaper than rsync.net. I use a free DropBox account for frequently-changing stuff and a dirt-cheap US account for less-frequently changing data with an rsync cron job.

    @Glen, I’m with you, but I really want Time Capsule to do a better job with local data. Act as an iTunes server, shared iPhoto database, etc. I have high hopes for MacWorld but then, I always do …

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