Sunday, August 12

Putting the “Time” in “Time Machine”

This weekend I had the pleasure of testing out my backup setup for the first real time. We do onsite backups to a 1TB Time Capsule that handles two laptops, and offsite backups of irreplaceable stuff (photos and documents) to CrashPlan. 

Cait came home on Thursday complaining of her MacBook freezing immediately after startup, beach-balling and being otherwise unresponsive. When DiskWarrior said it couldn't write its replacement directory due to a hardware failure, I figured it was time to replace the drive. 

(Side note: the drive that was in there was barely a year old. Blargh.)

I swapped the new drive in without issue. (I've learned how not to fry a logic board with a drive update, but only through trial and error.) Then came time to restore the hard drive to its last state. 

Maybe it was being conservative, or maybe I really wanted to try out Time Machine, but I decided to restore from the backup rather than try to clone the failing drive directly.

The restore USB key I had made prior to this process couldn't actually boot the MacBook (it was Mountain Lion, which doesn't support “Early 2008” MacBooks) but I was able to dig out my old Snow Leopard DVD to do the Time Machine restore. I hooked the MacBook up with an Ethernet cable for maximum speed, and started the restore. 

“Maximum speed,” it turns out, clocked in at a bit over 27 hours to copy 380GB. That's kind of a lot, more than 4 minutes per GB. 

The worst of it, however, came later, when the new machine was ready to do its Time Machine backup for the first time. Rather than realize that it had been cloned from an existing backup, it tried to do everything over from scratch.

In order to do this, I had to delete the existing sparse image backup for this computer to make room. Thankfully I found a “trick” to do this via the command line, as deleting it via the Finder would have taken many many hours on its own. 

Unfortunately I came across hacks to change the disk UUID associated with a Time Machine backup too late to use them. (The disk image had already been rendered invalid due to a partial deletion.)

So, back to Ethernet to ship more bytes. Uploading 380GB to the Time Capsule didn't take quite as long, only 15 hours or so. In theory Cait could have used her laptop during this time if she was able to stay in Ethernet range, but that wasn't really feasible. 

All in all, between waiting for the new drive to arrive from Amazon and the two Time Machine delays, her laptop was out of commission for three days straight. 

I'm starting to plan for retiring the Time Capsule's role as a backup server. Its health is too opaque, and these delays are barely tolerable (good thing it was the weekend, good thing Cait could borrow my laptop, good thing we were able to rescue files she could work on off the old drive). 

Instead, I'm going to get an external dive, possibly a mirrored RAID setup, and connect that to the Time Capsule. That would give more space flexibility, and also allow me to directly use USB for restores and initial backups, rather than go through file sharing over Ethernet.