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Disk Safety - Protection, Backups, more

Disk Safety - Protection, Backups, more

Backup options

Retrospect: Currently at version 5.1 - with version 6.0 due before the end of January - Dantz' Retrospect is the arguable king of Macintosh backup software. The tool offers a robust set of administrative and scheduling features, but also currently displays a relatively serious flaw where the "Autolaunch" function (used to automatically launch, and run backups or other tests at certain time intervals) fails. Representatives have assured us that this problem is fixed in version 6.0.

One of the nicest features in Retrospect 5.x (also present in a some other tools) is the ability to do incremental backups. This capability allows you restore your drive to the way it looked on any given day.

Retrospect Desktop 6.0 will carry a list price of US$129. Upgrades are $59.95. Server and Workgroup versions are priced at $799 and $499 respectively.

Tri-Backup: Like other backup utilities, Tri-Backup includes a scheme for either immediately backing up files or scheduling routine backups. It offers two different modes: "Immediate Actions" (to do easy and immediate backup, synchronizations, and restorations) and "Programmed actions" (to schedule automatic backup and synchronizations).

What has set this tool apart from its competitors, according to a number of reader reports, is TI-EDRE's (Tri-Backup's developer) technical support. One reader wrote "The support (with Tri-Backup) is much better. Not only did the support technician solve my problem but when I expressed concern over the possible consequences from my blithely throwing the folder in the trash he assured me that it was no problem and explained that it was probably the result of an installer gone bad.

The one drawback Tri-Backup exhibits is an inability to directly burn CDs or DVDs. While the software's documentation makes no reference to this ability, you can still burn data (in a limited fashion) by mounting a blank CD in the Finder and treating it as any other volume in Tri-Backup.

The software is priced at US$49.

BackupScript For those with very basic backup needs, there is actually an AppleScript that can get the job done. BackupScript by RAILhead design requires that you change a few lines to match your setup, save your changed script as an application, and use it whenever need be. The tool includes full error handling/messaging in case there is an error, and can backup data from networked Macs and PCs.

Limitations include an inability to incremental backups, and no direct scheduling capabilities. But you can't beat the price (free).

Backup Simplicity Another simple, but likewise limited, backup utility is Qdea's Backup Simplicity. Based on the same technology as the company's popular Synchronize Pro, the tool offers basic disk-to-disk (FireWire or IDE) copying and is sold on a subscription basis.

Apple Backup: For casual users, this small (1.2 MB) application included as part of the US$99 .Mac package may be all you need. It includes basic scheduling and file selection features, and support for a fairly large array of external CD/DVD writers.

Impression: This software takes a straightforward approach to backups, but also incorporates some hearty functionality. It uses the 'hfspax' archiving tool (which is actually a modified version of the standard Mac OS X and UNIX tool, pax), which offers a method for preserving all the attributes (including permissions) of Mac OS X-based files. In addition, Impression offers the option to copy files to the destination media (using 'ditto') for archiving purposes. Large files are automatically segmented to span multiple discs with no need for operator input, save swapping CDs/DVDs when requested. Impression 2.0 has 'Root' user runtime authority to avoid permissions issues that can occur with other utilities.

Impression also supports a wide variety of optical drives, because it uses Mac OS X's built-in mechanism. To determine if your drive is support, under Mac OS X 10.3.x, use the System Profiler application (likely located in your /Applications/Utilities folder) and look within the 'Hardware' item to find the 'ATA' or 'SCSI' item (depending on wether your drive is connected to the ATA or SCSI bus - if you don't know, it's likely connected to the ATA bus). Look in the listing of ATA/SCSI devices for your optical drive. Click on your drive name to reveal the full information list for that device, and verify that the 'Disc Burning' entry reads 'Apple Supported'.

Carbon Copy Cloner This praised utility can create bootable backups of Panther and Jaguar volumes, with little or no re-configuration necessary when you need to restore data. Unfortunately, Carbon Copy Clonder will not backup directly to CDs or DVD-R discs, though you can backup to an appropriately sized disk image, then burn the image to disc with Toast or Disk Copy.

In version 2 of the tool, Bombich Software added ability to create a NetBoot image from a fully customized Mac OS X installation. There is also a built in GUI frontend for psync is an open source, command-line utility developed by Dan Kogai for file synchronization.

Minor precautions, major saves

Disk repair/fsck Before installing any major OS update, or another significant change to your volume structure, check your startup drive for damage, and repair it if necessary. The easiest way to do this is to boot from the OS X Install CD and run Disk Utility (from the Installer menu). Click the First Aid tab, select your hard drive in the drive/volume list, and click "Repair Disk." (If you know how, you can instead start your Mac in single-user mode and use fsck, as this runs the same repair routines.) If you have a third-party disk utility such as Alsoft's DiskWarrior, you can also run that for good measure.

It's also important to never underestimate the power of Disk Utility's "repair permissions" function.

Several months ago, one of the MacFixIt staff members had a serious FireWire drive failure that resulted in unmountable volumes. We ran Disk Utility's Repair Disk functionality, as well as several other disk utilities, but the drives still wouldn't mount. We were about to reinstall Mac OS X when we decided to try repairing permissions using Disk Utility's Repair Disk Permissions function. The next time we connected the FireWire drives, they all mounted! In addition, Disk Utility and other disk utilities found no problems with any of the drives. We then looked at the Repair Disk Permissions log and found that Disk Utility had found incorrect permissions on the NetInfo database (the database that stores user account and other vital system info), and on the invisible /Volumes directory (the directory into which non-boot volumes are "mounted"). Somehow the permissions on these two items had become corrupt during normal use, and we lost the ability to mount external hard drives.

Make sure you are using the latest firmware The problems caused with FireWire among Mac OS X 10.3 upgraders have resulted in loss of critical data, the inability to mount drives, intensive investigation by drive manufacturers, and a second look at the reliability and robustness of FireWire as a storage standard.

In November of 2003, Apple and Oxford Semiconductor confirmed that firmware version 1.05 resolves the data loss issue experienced by some FW800 users. FireWire disk drive manufacturers have begun posting firmware updates. [list of updaters below] Only use the updater provided by the maker of your drive and follow the installation instructions carefully. If your drive manufacturer is not listed, contact them for more information."

Hardware Diagnositcs/Copying

For those who want fast disk-to-disk copies, as well as the ability to perform RAID 1 mirroring (data is backed up in real-time), Diskology's DiskJockey may fit the bill.

The US$350 device allows users to copy data between IDE hard disk drives while maintaining all of the attributes of the original hard disk, including hidden folders, multiple partitions and operating system files. The Disk Jockey also mirrors data between two hard disk drives, spans two hard disks to look like one logical volume to the computer, tests hard disk drives at the block level and verifies data that has been copied between drives is intact. The Disk Jockey can also mount hard disk drives to the desktop of your Windows or Macintosh computer to be used as standard desktop storage. In addition, the Disk Jockey can erase hard disk drives quickly and securely using either a one-pass or three-pass erase per the National Security Administration (NSA) guidelines.

Diskology claims that a 40GB volume can be copied in approximately 20 minutes.

Unfortunately, the DiskJockey only supports traditional ATA (parallel ATA or PATA) hard disk drives, and not the the SATA drives afforded by Apple's Power Mac G5 and xServe.

When It's Too Late

DriveSavers: One interesting note: DriveSavers returns drives in exactly the state in which they received them -- they recover data to other media and return the bad drive untouched. Customer testimonials (ourselves included) for this company are fantastic. Here's an excerpt from a February 2002 MacFixIt article:

"As you may recall, we sent our hard drive to DriveSavers for data recovery. They were nothing short of amazing. They confirmed that the drive was dead as the proverbial doornail. Even their standard methods of recovering data from such drives did not work. The drive head would simply not move forward to read the data. Still, they eventually found a method that could extract the data from the drive.

"And they recovered all the data. The copied the files to 5 DVDs and sent them back to us. We had the DVDs in our hands less than a week from when we sent the drive to them. We state again: 100% of what had been on the drive was recovered. Just as important, we got a daily phone call throughout the week, informing us of the status of the recovery, which helped keep our anxiety level down."

Prosoft's Data Rescue X: Time and time again this sub-US$100 utility has come to the aid of those with failing disks. When DiskWarrior, Drive 10 and Norton Utilities fail to mount or repair a volume, Data Rescue X may offer some hope.

Data Rescue X proved invaluable during the FireWire 400/800 vs. Mac OS X 10.3.x epidemic, enabling most users to at least recover some data on their drives - even when they would not mount with any other utility. And perhaps one of Data Rescue's best features, the software will not overwrite any data or manipulate directory structure in any way. This means that if you still can't recover data from a damaged drive, you'll give the experts at DriveSavers or another recovery service a better shot at retrieving files.

As Prosoft Engineering points out, recovery time depends on size and condition of disk, the software does not support UFS volumes, and it may not be able to recover files from an initialized volume.

A word about data security

If you are disposing of a defunct drive, make sure to take the property security measurements (depending on your data sensitivity level) to avoid prying eyes after resale, donation, or even after it has been thrown in the dumpster.

Using the Apple Drive Setup Utility to write zeroes to the hard drive is a good way of keeping low-level data spies out of your data. A command located under the Functions/Initialization Options pane of the application performs this task. This process can take an hour or more depending on volume size and the number of files on your drive, however, and like shareware "shredding" applications, is not bullet-proof.

An article on the Developer section of Apple's Web site entitled "Securely Erasing Accessing and Dismounting a Macintosh partition" recommends never writing readable date in the first place:

"The first piece of advice I have for you is that the best way to ensure that data stays confidential is to never ever write to a disk in clear-text. The best solution is to use something like PGPdisk to encrypt information automatically before it gets written to disk."

The article goes on to re-iterate our note yesterday indicating that writing zeros cannot be viewed as totally secure.

"The other thing you need to consider is that simply writing an alternating pattern of zeros and ones to a disk is no longer sufficient to "securely erase" a drive. The recent research on the behavior of erase bands of magnetic media recording and the availability of magnetic force microscopy for the analysis of magnetic media suggests the feasibility of a recovery attack on erased data."

There are also some code examples for writing programs that will more securely erase and protect a hard drive from intrusion. These suggestions are certainly meant for the average user looking to protect his or her system from mild intruders, but are an interesting read nonetheless for the security minded.

MacFixIt reader Richard Dalziel-Sharpe suggests "I really think that the only way to securely delete your files is to swap out the drive. If you are moving to a G5 put your old drive into a firewire case and keep it as a backup. Put a new drive into into the G3 and you know for sure where all of your data is and who can access it. It really depends on how paranoid/sensitive you are about your files."

Resources
  • Backup options
  • Minor precautions, major s...
  • Hardware diagnositcs/copyi...
  • When it's too late
  • A word about data security
  • Backup options
  • Retrospect
  • Tri-Backup
  • BackupScript
  • Backup Simplicity
  • Apple Backup
  • Impression
  • Carbon Copy Cloner
  • Minor precautions, major saves
  • DiskWarrior
  • Century Global
  • Club Mac
  • Ezquest
  • Firewire Depot
  • Firewire Direct
  • Glyph
  • Lacie
  • Macpower
  • Other World Computing
  • TransIntl
  • Wiebetech
  • Hardware Diagnositcs/Copying
  • DiskJockey
  • When It's Too Late
  • DriveSavers
  • article
  • Prosoft's Data Rescue X
  • A word about data security
  • "Securely Erasing Accessing and Dismounting a Macintosh partition"
  • More from Late-Breakers