TimePreserver helps Mac users back up their backup

Look under the end table in my living room, and you’ll find one facet of my Mac backup strategy: a 1 TB Time Capsule. My Mac mini, Mac Pro, and MacBook all happily back themselves up, via the magic of Time Machine, to this hidden Time Capsule–I don’t even need to think about it.

The only hitch here is that the Time Capsule also does double duty as my networking hub, so my precious backups are stuck with my computers–in an ideal world one should store backups in a remote location. Dalamser’s TimePreserver can help here, as this handy utility copies Time Machine backups from your Time Capsule to an external drive–it makes a backup of your backups, if you will–which you can then store separately from the Time Capsule itself.

On first launch, TimePreserver scans your network for a Time Capsule. Assuming one is found, TimePreserver then lists any drives available for storing the copy (which TimePreserver calls an archive). The destination drive must meet a couple of criteria to make it an eligible archiving target: It must be at least as big as your Time Capsule’s disk, and it must be HSF+ formatted. Drives can be FireWire, USB, or internal.

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By default, TimePreserver copies everything on your Time Capsule to the selected archive destination, making an exact copy of your Time Capsule disk. However, you can exclude non-Time Machine-related files with a simple checkbox, so your archive will consist of only Time Machine backups.

Since TimePreserver, like the Time Capsule itself, copies data over your network, the initial archiving time depends on your network speed and the size of your Time Machine backups. (Ethernet will be much faster than Wi-Fi.) I launched TimePreserver on my Mac Pro, which is connected directly to my Time Capsule via Ethernet. The Time Capsule’s Time Machine backups–for all three of my Macs–were copied to the archive disk alphabetically based on the names of the Time Machine backup files.

This initial archive process, which copied a hair over 828 GB, took about 17 hours.

TimePreserver locks each Mac’s Time Machine bundle while it’s being copied. If the Mac attempts a backup during this process, an error message explains that the backup failed; Time Machine won’t be able to complete the backup until TimePreserver finishes. However, any other Mac will be able to back up to the Time Capsule normally–until, of course, it’s that Mac’s turn have its backups archived.

Of course, because Time Machine continually backs up your Macs, your TimePreserver archives will soon be out of date. But updating your archives is easy: Just connect your archive disk to your Mac and launch TimePreserver–the program will recognize the archive disk and allow you to update it with the most recent changes to your Time Machine backups. The update process takes much less time than the initial archive, since it copies only the changes to each Time Machine backup. The downside here is that you must launch TimePreserver and start the update manually; it would be great if TimePreserver could perform this task automatically.

Once created, your TimePreserver archive disk appears to Mac OS X as just another Time Machine backup disk. You can restore files from an archive by mounting the appropriate disk image–each Mac’s backup is saved as a disk image with that Mac’s name–and either right-clicking (Control-clicking) the Time Machine icon in your Dock or Option-clicking the Time Machine icon in your menu bar, and then choosing Browse Other Time Machine Disks. Select the mounted archive disk, and the familiar Time Machine interface appears. You can even restore your entire Mac from a TimePreserver archive disk by booting your Mac from the Mac OS X Install disc, selecting Restore System From Backup, and selecting the appropriate backup archive.

TimePreserver provides a couple of advanced preferences. By default, TimePreserver copies Time Machine backups as they appear on the Time Capsule (as disk images); however, the Folder Based Time Capsule Archives option will create, as you might guess, folders containing your backed up data. You can browse these folders as you would any folder on your Mac, giving you direct access to files in the archive without having to mount the Time Machine image; however, you lose the capability to restore data using Time Machine. You can also set TimePreserver to exclude Time Machine backups from archives–in other words, to back up only the other files you’ve saved to your Time Capsule.

TimePreserver does exactly what it promises, creating a fully restorable copy of each Time Machine backup stored on a Time Capsule. I do wish the program allowed you to selectively archive backups in cases where you have multiple Macs backing up to the same Time Capsule. Support for other NAS-based Time Machine backup solutions would also be welcome. Putting aside these minor quibbles, however, TimePreserver is a fantastic addition to any Time Capsule owner’s backup strategy.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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