The problem with Time Machine

Apple Leopard's new backup leaves crucial gap that tools like BeInSync close.

I’m sorry but I have to interject a bit of negative feedback into the parade of praise about Apple's new operating system, Leopard (aka Mac OS X 10.5). I'm impressed with many of the improvements, but recent reports about the built-in backup utility, Time Machine, overlook a critical flaw: Trust Time Machine and you run the risk of losing all your data, period, if bad luck targets you and your Macintosh.

Fellow Texan Deni Connor writes about how Leopard handles backups. Over at Computerworld, Ryan Faas (I don't know where he's from) writes a full review in "Inside Leopard's Time Machine: Backups for the Rest of Us." I strongly believe the new backup process does not deserve a positive review until Apple fills a huge gap in data protection.

Back in May, I explained my Pirate Backup System (ARR). The ARR stands for Automatic, Redundant and Restorable. You should never use a backup system that doesn't include all three. Apple has two: Automatic and Restorable. The company skipped Redundant, a serious omission.

How serious? Did you notice the news report about Francis Ford Coppola's sad story? Miles Baska wrote about the theft of the film maker's laptop and external hard drive used for backups. All his backups were on that external drive, including information for the new film he planned to start shooting in February. Coppola didn't follow the Pirate Backup System, and neither does Time Machine from Apple.

The crucial missing feature in Time Machine? Redundant backup file storage. When you store all your backups on a connected external hard drive, as Time Machine demands, you protect yourself only halfway. As Coppola learned the hard way, an external hard disk does not meet the "Redundant" requirement. When the thieves take your computer, they will take the attached hard drive. When the sprinklers in your office go off by accident, the box of tapes beside your server will get just as wet as your server.

Let's compare and contrast Time Machine with an interesting backup utility called BeInSync from BeInSync Ltd. I haven't tested the product personally, but I talked to customer Kevin Boer of 3 Oceans Real Estate. Knowing that real estate success means being on the road, Boer lives out of his laptop during the workday. He actively tries to reduce the amount of paper he uses, so all his contracts and transactions ride around the Bay Area and Silicon Valley in the car seat beside him, inside his laptop.

"Every transaction in real estate takes at least 200 pages of paper to keep track of and manage legally and archive," said Boer. "I needed not only a backup solution, but a way to automatically share and sync files between my laptop and my assistant's computer."

Boer tried a couple of popular online backup services, but they didn't provide the file synchronization he needed. Enter BeInSync, and its two levels of backup redundancy.

"When I change a file, BeInSync synchronizes the file with my assistant when I connect to the Internet," said Boer. "When she changes a file, or creates a new one, it appears in my laptop automatically."

Boer also uses the BeInSync feature that copies the synchronized files on their hosted site if he needs to get files when away from his laptop. "If I get a call during dinner at a friends, I can borrow their computer, log on to the BeInSync site, change the file, and finish." Yes, real estate is a 24/7 job for successful agents and developers.

Popular online storage services for small businesses include Mozy and Carbonite and maybe a thousand others. BeInSync also offers a new Business Backup service that expands their feature set to a full, manageable backup system for business users.

How strongly do I feel backup products need an online storage component? When companies that don't have that feature in their backup product call me, I refuse to review or evaluate the product. You will never hear me recommend a backup system that doesn't include online storage. Shame on Apple for leaving this critical feature out of Time Machine.

Apple may well announce it will start replicating Time Machine files up to Mac storage tomorrow, or perhaps even before you read this. If so, good for them. Those users paying for Mac should get at least 5 gigabytes of storage free as part of the Time Machine backup service, or Apple should include online storage from some other vendor. But to release a backup product today without an online component really stinks.

Yo, Steve, treat your fans and customers the way they deserve: give them online backup space. Because losing all your files isn't cool.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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