Do your Time Machine backups really work?

The real time machine!As a Apple fanboy I have been one to explore and make use of most of the features apple products have to provide. Specifically this time I am talking about Time Machine on my MacBook Pro. A little experience I had over the weekend trying to get Lion (Apparently the most advanced desktop OS in the world… Will talk about this sometime later) on to my MBP.

First to my rant on installing Lion. So I download the whole 3.66GB over couple of days through Mac app store and then happily clicked open the install to realize that I was one of the dishonorable one’s who had to re-partition the disk to be able to get the glorious Lion on! I had Master Boot Record partitions on my disk and for OSX to install it requires a GUID partition table. So guess what.. now I have to get the whole 500GB HDD emptied out, then just change the partiton scheme, then get all the data back on and then install lion! Didn’t sound the least bit fun, but I had to pledge my loyalty to Apple (not really… Just being a geeky hipster). But I had Time Machine with me, why did I have to worry?? you’re soon gonna find out.

I have been using Time Machine to backup couple of my drives since the beginning. So I didn’t have to worry about the “important” stuff which is already backed up. So I went ahead and backed up the other data on to another HDD I had and I was all set. Ran another Time Machine backup for one last time and then went ahead with the repartitioning. So I had to boot from Snow Leopard on the disk so I can erase all my partitions to create the same set of partitions on GUID scheme. Once done, went right into “Restore from Time Machine backup” to get my “important” stuff back into the drive. The restore started as I sat there experiencing the time travelling magic. After sometime I realized that I was stuck in time (so to speak). The restore had frozen and did not progress any further. Waited for ages with no progress and tried many times with absolutely no luck. Clearly I was in a panik state and felt like I had lost my identity. While I was behaving like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, I dugg deeper to find out that my Time Machine HDD had errors on the directory structure making some parts of the data unreadable. Disk Utility could not repair the errors. So I went to the Mac disk guru Disk Warrior which managed to recover most of my data from the Time Machine backup. Went through few more hoops before I could get back to Snow Leopard to the state where I exactly was. Then installed Lion which actually took only 30 mins. So the whole disaster had cost me a whole weekend, loss of many hours of sleep, a panic attack, loss of data which I feel every now and then and a blog post.

Now the funny part is I had been backing up on Time Machine for 2 years without realizing that my disk was actually broken. And this came to my attention at the worst possible time! You would think that an advanced tool like Time Machine would make sure your backup disk is intact when making a backup, but clearly it doesn’t. This I feel is a important feature that Apple needs to include in Time Machine. To my dismay I found quite a few users who had disk problems on their Time Machine backup disk during my research in getting out of this mess. I would urge all Time  Machine users to make sure to run a Verification with Disk Utility every time you run a backup. I know I will :-/

All in all even having gone through all this I still feel that Time Machine is a wonderful service to have on your Mac. Even having gone through all the trouble I was still able to get my MBP right back to where it was only because of Time Machine.

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2 thoughts on “Do your Time Machine backups really work?

  1. hmmm…have been a Time Machine user since long but never really thought this could happen. I agree with you. This is a critical feature that should be a part of every recovery software. After reading this, I am having second thoughts 🙂

    Great job sharing this with everyone. Its definitely an eye opener for the majority of TM users like me.

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