See Ya, Time Machine

Let’s be straightforward: Time Machine is a buggy piece of software. I’ve had a lot of trouble with setting up Time Machine on the Synology at home, primarily because of the network. I’ve tried the combination of AFP/SMB/SMB3 by wireless and by cable, but the backup was either impossibly slow for an initial backup, or too unstable after a few weeks that the Mac “must create a new backup” for me. And if I say yes, all my previous backups are gone with my history of files.

And coincidentally, there have been numerous reports of Time Machine backups that cannot be properly restored. Then my non-network external hard drive — the one that contains my backups for the last three years, and the same one that followed me to China and back — is also having the problem where Time Machine has to “create a new backup,” so there’s the last straw.

Time Machine is also losing its magic. At its launch we had it functional within system apps, such as iPhoto and Contacts and Mail app. Within Cocoa apps, you can use Time Machine directly to view file version history, and even have two versions open side-by-side to copy stuff from an earlier version into the live one. Now it’s no longer working in Photos app; we have seemingly limitless storage for personal emails with Gmail; I use Git a lot more than I did 5 years ago for version control. The traction of Time Machine is diminishing, and its appeal fading.

It’s time (get it, time?) to say goodbye.

The New Setup

I’ve given it some thoughts and the new backup system must have a few things:

  • Set-it-and-forget-it ease: I don’t want to deal with any conflict resolution and network debugging. What Time Machine gave me was already too much, so the new solution has to be less painful than now.

  • File history: I don’t just need a system that clones my hard drive; I need something that tracks the history of my recent file changes.

  • Partial restoring: I don’t have to restore the entire disk image to revert one file to an earlier version.

  • Location safety: Backups can’t be just local. If there’s a fire in my condo, both my NAS and my Mac will be compromised. Backing up to a remote location is worth consideration much more than before, because my data is worth more, and cost of a solution is now getting cheaper.

  • Software safety: Use two difference pieces of software for this task. Bugs In Software A will likely not exist in Software B.

  • No backs of a backup: Corrupted files in one backup will propagate into another backup. It’s only safer to initiate both backups from source.

These are essentially the benefits from Apple’s Time Machine, except for “software safety.” So I need a more reliable Time Machine replacement, plus a cloud solution.

Backblaze in the Cloud

For US$60 a year, Backblaze has been in the list of recommended solutions from many tech savvy Mac users — Marco Arment, John Gruber, to just name a few.

As a cloud solution, it gives me location safety by being physically remote. It also has the option to send me my data over a physical USB drive via the mail (plus free returns of the drive within 30 days).

Backblaze also checks off the other things in the list, except that local previewing of a file to restore is hard without first downloading it to a local place. But that’s just part of it being physically remote.

Carbon Copy Cloner to replace Time Machine

Carbon Copy Cloner 5 (CCC) is basically a Time Machine replacement — it backs up the entire MacBook’s hard drive to a mounted disk image over the AFP protocol.

Except that it hasn’t shown the hiccup and ask me to create a new backup.

Except that it is 100x faster than Time Machine, connecting to the same network location over the same AFP protocol.

Except that it also allow for cloning jobs created for more customized needs.

The Outlook

Right now I’m running the first day on Backblaze’s 15-day trial and CCC5’s 30-day trial. I still have Time Machine set up both for the attached hard drive and for the network location over AFP. (Time Machine over SMB really doesn’t seem to work after all the reliability issues.)

So four backup options set up and running. Let’s see which ones crap out and which ones will hold.

As of costs, I’m ready to give a one-time C$67.50 to CCC5 and an annual US$60 to Backblaze. If I am to ditch Time Machine for good, CCC5 will serve as a daily use file recovery and version reversion system as well as a local backup for disk restoration with Recovery Mode + Disk Utility; Backblaze is a safety net to fall back on. If this setup gives me peace of mind I’ll be more than happy to pay.