When it was first introduced back in 2007, Apple’s Time Machine automated backup system was by far the easiest way of safeguarding data that Mac users had available to them. Since then online backup services have become more common, more sophisticated and increasingly affordable. They have now reached the point where they can offer a solid alternative to traditional systems. Which backup solution suits you best depends on what kind of data you want to protect and what sort of access you need to it.
In the event of a disaster like a fire or a flood, your Time Machine backup drive is every bit as likely to be damaged or destroyed as your main machine. Similarly, if you have a break-in, the vast majority of thieves will take not only your computer but also any backup drive sitting alongside it. By contrast, online backup services store your data on remote servers which not only means that you can access your data from anywhere in the world but that it is fully protected from anything that takes place in your home.
Although reliability is generally good, a backup hard drive is every bit as likely to suffer a catastrophic failure as the hard drive inside your computer, a situation would could leave you with no backup data at all. In fact, early models of the Time Capsule, the dedicated drive sold by Apple for use with the Time Machine package were notorious for their high failure rates.
For a set monthly fee, dozens of online backup services will automatically secure your data, protecting you in the event of a crash. Every company providing online storage and backup solutions is staking it reputation on looking after your files. Such companies not only store your material on servers at their main base but have one or more duplicate systems which store your data at other locations, a system known as geo-redundancy. This means that even if catastrophe strikes the main office, your data will still be available.
Online systems are also far more flexible. They also allow you to set your own schedule for when you want backups to be made, unlike Time Machine which offers only a handful of options. Also, by default Time Machine backs up every single file on your computer the first time you use it and subsequently makes hourly backups of any files that have been changed. Although you can choose to exclude certain folders or files from this process, Time Machine does not provide much in the way of custom options to, for example, allow you to backup only files with a particular extension or of a particular size. Most online backup services offer this option.
Ultimately, having some form of backup is far better than not backing up your data at all and for a significant number of users, Time Machine will be more than adequate. However, if you are truly looking to protect your data against the worst case scenario, want your files to be fully encrypted and require full control over exactly what information is retained and how, then an online system is not only the best option for now but also for the foreseeable future as well. If you are already have Time Machine but are concerned about its shortcomings, you can always supplement it with additional online backup for the best of both worlds.