Friday, July 17, 2015

So you want to actually restore from that Time Capsule backup? Do you feel lucky punk?

Yeah, I know he actually said “Do I feel lucky?”. But you get the point.

By now even the most hard core Apple apologist must have moments of existential doubt. Waking at 3am thinking, if only for a moment, that maybe Tim Cook really is the antichrist. 

The rest of us are moodily throwing darts at Apple stickers, wondering if Atari [3] might reconsider the personal computer market.

Time Capsule is typical of the 2015 Mac. The problems have been around for years, hope has all but vanished, and it’s possible things are even getting worse. On the other hand, there aren’t a lot of great choices for network Mac backup. Retrospect, which I loved in the days of DAT tapes and SCSI drives [1], effectively died years ago [2]. The best alternative may be Code 42’s Crashplan cloud backup, but that requires serious bandwidth (up and down) and a lot of confidence in a remote corporation. Also … java (ugh).

So I use Time Capsule for most of the machines in the house, but keep data on a server that’s also Carbon Copy Cloner cloned nightly [4]. 

This is what I do when I need to actually restore from Time Capsule [5]. If I don’t follow these steps restores will often hang and fail.

  1. Shut down every machine on my network.
  2. Power cycle my Time Capsule.
  3. Gbit ethernet connect the target machine to the Time Capsule and restart that machine.
  4. Log into my Admin account and start Time Machine.
  5. Choose a date/time as needed. Set an 5 minute time and walk away. (Trying to interact immediately will be immensely frustrating.)
  6. Navigate as desired until UI stops responding. Set an 8 minute timer and walk away.
  7. Return, select a file, and complete the Restore.

Yeah, Time Capsule has a scaling problem — restore times seem to have a non-linear relationship to the number of files on the source machine and the number of backup versions.

It’s good to have a way to proceed though. Just in case Carbon Copy Cloner isn’t enough.

Update 7/19/2015 writes: “Time Capsule NAS is slow and unreliable, it shouldn't be used for backup. With a NAS up to par, even with a 2-drive model from Synology like the DS21n+ models, Time Machine works fairly well.” Installing and configuring a Synology NAS isn’t terribly hard, but it’s definitely geek-realm. I agree that whatever scaling and reliability issues Time Machine has, the root problem here is mostly likely that Time Capsule is grossly underpowered for its primary function.

Update 10/20/2015

My Time Capsule’s WiFi function died, so I took the opportunity to buy a Synology and I’m testing Time Machine backup. There I read that enabling Synology’s native encryption will dramatically reduce performance. I have been using Time Machine’s native encryption for the backup of my 2009 iMac — a machine that probably lacks dedicated encryption hardware. I wonder if the awful restore performance is encryption related...

- fn -

[1] Ok, so SCSI is a good reminder that the golden age had nightmares too.

[2] I tried Retrospect again a few months ago. Wasn’t pleased. My guess is that it’s architecturally a poor fit to OS X.

[3] Atari died in 1983. They were an early competitor to the Mac and Amiga, pre-Windows.

[4] With CCC versions are archived separately. A pain to recover but it can be done. CCC can backup to a network image, but OS X Mavericks and beyond use SMB2, and SMB2 doesn’t support sparsebundle mounts. You have go through some gyrations to do an AFP mount instead. I am trying this out. I rotate my CCC backups off site across 4 encrypted drives, so I always have at least 5 backups of my data using two different technologies.

Actually, I also do Aperture backups to a local high capacity drive using Aperture’s build in backup tech. So for Aperture images I have 6 backups using three different technologies. And I know that won’t be enough ...

[5] I’ve never had to use Time Capsule for a real emergency. I’ve always been able to use my CCC clone, but I periodically test Time Capsule to see if I can make it work.

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