That’s never a good sign. My Mac Pro is my main home machine and runs a lot of stuff for me. It’s got a 320GB main drive (“BootDisk”) running my apps and working documents, a 1TB drive called “BigDisk” that contains my family photos, videos, music, etc. and another 1TB drive called “Backup” for... you guessed it... backups.
I tapped the keyboard to wake up the screens and could see that the icons for my drives were all on my desktop when suddenly the BigDisk icon vanished and OS X gave me an error message that said I had not ejected the drive properly.
My Mac could no longer see my BigDisk internal drive—the drive that contained over 380GB of rather important information. Virtually every digital picture I’ve taken since 1999. I didn’t panic though. I’m a big Time Machine advocate and it’s saved me before. I tried restarting the machine but the ZZZZ-click sound returned and it wasn’t even able to see my drive. I got back to work on EasyGrouper, determined to get this resolved the following Monday when I came up for air after the launch.
Fast Forward to Monday Night(mare)I sat down Monday night to work on restoring my files. I clicked on the Time Machine icon in the menu bar, selected Enter Time Machine and the space traveling interface popped up with a Finder window.
|My Time Machine Display|
But there was a problem. A big problem.
I clicked on my machine in the list of items on the left pane and it only showed one drive: BootDisk. Oh yeah, Time Machine had been running for the last few days so it had been backing up my machine without BigDisk in there. I started to use the Time Machine interface to go back in time.
I backed up to the day I heard the clicking sound. No BigDisk. I backed up further. Nothing. The only drive that was being backed up was my BootDisk drive. It’s as though Time Machine didn’t even see the drive.
Now I started to panic. I counted on Time Machine to back this up for me and I never saw an error message or any indication in the menu bar that Time Machine was having a problem. I knew that at some point Time Machine had been backing up that drive because I had previously used it to recover a file I inadvertently modified and saved.
I looked into Console and searched for “backupd”; there were plenty of entries for it backing up my BootDisk, but that was it. No Time Machine error messages like I’d seen in the past. I had an external drive in my fireproof safe that contained a backup of my pictures and home movies, but I hadn’t updated it since the end of 2010. I had become lazy and complacent and it was about to bite me. The last three and a half years of my digital life had just vanished.
Recovery TimeI asked around the office and many people recommended I see if a hard drive salvage specialist could restore the data for me. I found Salvage Data in nearby Herndon, VA—they were super nice and would perform a free diagnostic to see if the drive could actually be recovered. I dropped it off and waited to see if they could help.
The next day I got a call. The drive’s primary head cluster had failed and the drive had logical errors that would need to be corrected. It would take 10-15 days if I didn’t need rush service. The price: $1,740. The price seemed high but Salvage Data had an excellent reputation and the people were extremely attentive and understanding. They described the work that would need to be done in a clean room environment and the parts they would need to acquire and it seemed reasonable given the amount of time it would take. Finally, they assured me that if I did proceed with the recovery I wouldn’t have to pay anything if it turns out they couldn’t get the actual data off.
I talked it over with my wife and we decided that the information we were missing was just too important. I went back to my Mac Pro, dejected that Time Machine had failed me and that I didn't have a more robust backup system in place. I decided on a whim to check it one last time.
I used the right-hand time-line and clicked on the oldest date I could see. Time Machine animated the Finder windows and scrolled rapidly through the days and I noticed something odd. One of the days had an extra drive in it. Through patient scrolling I found something that I had missed earlier: on April 3, a little over a month before my drive had failed, there was a backup of BigDisk. There was no entry for it before or after that day.
I opened the drive entry in Time Machine and lo and behold my photos, movies and music were all there! All of the pictures I took after April 3 were missing but otherwise I had virtually all of my data! I immediately started the process of restoring the data to my external drive.
Time Machine - Not Confidence InspiringI’ve always been a big fan of Time Machine. I love that Apple has made backing up as simple as they have. This little experience has given me pause though. Time Machine had failed and I never received an error message. No notice, no warning. Just a lot of missing files.
While I am a huge fan of simple and powerful, I really need to stay informed. If I have a Mac with multiple drives does Time Machine back them up? The only option I have in Time Machine is to tell it what I want to exclude, which implies that everything else is going to be backed up.
In the mean time, I’ve decided that this little experience requires a complete change in the way I store and ultimately back up my digital life. Over my next few posts I’ll be covering how I have added new and more robust storage to my Macs, how I’m handling offsite storage and some of the tools I’ve found to make my information far more secure.
If you’ve got some background on how Time Machine works in a multiple drive system, please share it in the comments below.
Trust me when I tell you this: within the next 24 hours you should verify that you are properly backing up your important files. Pick any hard drive (or SSD for that matter) that you have. If it died now, how would you recover? The cost of prevention is a tiny fraction of the time, money and frustration you'll experience if you don't.