Advice life hack

If You're Not Cloning Your Drive, Your Backup Won't Save You Any Time.

I clone therefore I am.

The other day a friend of mine lost his hard drive and all of his email. Needless to say, he was at the bar. The whisky was flowing. And it was only noon. On a Tuesday.

Chances are if you’ve been using computers long enough, you’ve had similar hard drive problems. Whether it’s a failure or a file corruption, the computer stops functioning. And it always seems to happen at the exact wrong time, like when you’re late for a meeting or you’re on deadline. Poof! Drive death.

Here is how to survive drive death without breaking into the Knob Creek:

The only way to shorten recovery from drive death is with a bootable clone. Basically I’m talking about is a mirrored version of your hard drive that you can use to start up your computer.

Let’s face it. You might already have some sort of backup plan in place. You might be diligent about storing files off site, as well as on some external hard drive system. But how does that really help you get your computer back? When you put a new drive into your machine, you still have to drop the operating system on it. THEN you have to load in your apps, re-input the registration keys (if you can find them), put your data back on, re-config all of your email accounts, not to mention somehow getting your email database back up and running, and finally tweaking all your settings so you can get back to work. That’s NOT a backup plan. That’s backup PAIN.

When you can’t boot to your drive, and all you have is a fresh, blank drive in a box, it’s like not having backed up at all.

This is where a bootable clone saves the day. First of all, the clone is an exact replica of your hard drive. I’m not talking about just your data. I’m talking about every jot and tittle. Every application. Every setting. Every registration code. Every bookmark. Everything.

Bootable means that you can boot your Mac to it. With the drive plugged in, you turn on your mac and hold down the Option key. You’ll be shown a screen with icons of the drives that the system recognizes it can use for booting. (btw, if you’re still slogging away on a Winblows machine, I can’t help you. I have no idea if you can boot to an external drive. My advice: go buy a Mac.)

The application you use to do this is called Carbon Copy Cloner.

What’s great about this application is that it’s FREE. Yes. You should donate something to the CCC geniuses. Because, as their little ad says, this is an app that “saves your bacon,” and that’s true.

I make a fresh clone of my drive every couple of days. That way, if I lose my main drive, I don’t have to worry about lost email, or docs or time. Drive goes poof, I pop in a new drive, clone my stuff back onto it, and I’m  up and running. If I don’t have a replacement drive handy, I go through the day on the clone, and then when I have time, I go buy a drive. (it’s a little like a patient living on the operating table with his heart beating in a pan next to him).

Mistakes you can make when Cloning:

Mistake 1: Clone to a drive larger than the replacement hard drive. Do not do this. Clone to a drive that’s the same size as your source disk. Why? Because when you go to clone it BACK, you won’t be able to. You can’t clone a larger drive on to a smaller drive. Then you’re relegated to hand picking your stuff off the large drive and putting it back on your drive. I’ve never successfully done this. NOTE: you can use  a larger hard drive as your target if you tell Carbon Copy to delete everything that’s not part of the clone.

Mistake 2: Let your Clone get out of date. I believe that Carbon Copy has a setting to make automatic backups of your system, but I’ve never used it. I do my clones about once a week and just set it up before I go to bed.

Mistake 3. Don’t test the “bootability” of your clone. Again, the key to a good clone is that it’s bootable. When it’s bootable, you can keep on working until you have time to install a new drive. But if your clone isn’t bootable, you’re stuck. Your time shifts to just getting back up and running.

Mistake 4. Don’t protect your clone as if it were your hard drive. Remember, your clone IS your hard drive. And if someone gets hold of the clone, they have access to your entire world…

Additional reasons you make a bootable clone:

1. You’ve just purchased a larger hard drive that you want to put into your machine. This is what turned me onto cloning in the first place. Take the new drive and put it in an enclosure. Once that’s done and the new drive has been mounted, clone your old drive onto the new drive. Once that’s done, then pop the old drive out of your machine, put in the new drive, boot…and voilà! You’re up and running.

2. Updating your operating system. Usually the best way to upgrade your operating system is to do a fresh install. Just installing the new operating system on top of the old one typically turns out bad. I go into more detail on this here. Creating and testing a bootable clone before you do the fresh install will save you hours if the install: A. doesn’t go right. or B. does things to your machine you don’t like. Basically, the clone lets you roll back your machine to its previous incarnation w/out a bunch of hassle.

3. Setting up multiple (identical) machines with identical settings & software. Create a master drive clone, and then dupe that onto the drives for the other machines. This can really save you time if you have to set up a class room or small business.

4. Traveling overseas and you don’t want to take the ENTIRE contents of your hard drive with you. So maybe you clone out your drive and wipe your computer?(or buy an iPad).

Keep in mind  the backup rule of thumb:

“If your data is not in 3 places, your data is nowhere.”  Offsite, on another drive in your office or house, and on a DVD,  that’s 3 places. But recovering from a drive failure is more than just getting your files back, its also about getting your applications, settings, tweaks and operating environment back. Without a clone, you’re relegated to rebuilding from scratch. Doing this while dealing with the pressures of your day will drive even the staunchest prohibitionist back to the bottle. Say it with me. I clone therefore I am.

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