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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Mac Time Machine to Network No Simple Solution

I am still in the in process of getting my new Mac Mini setup and ready for “prime time” as possibly the primary personal computer at home. As I am well aware having lost my share of data and hard drives in the past – backing up the computer is one of the most important processes to get setup and be diligent about. Today I tried to get the Mac Mini setup with Time Machine.

I had heard good things about the Time Machine program that ships with Mac OS X, including the version of Leopard that I am running. Most of it had been anecdotal, but it seemed to get really high marks for both ease and reliability. Given that I have generally found most backup software programs to be somewhat complex to configure and run reliably, those high marks seemed to be in the right area of most important problems to solve. I was definitely looking forward to setting up the Time Machine functionality.

At first, I read some about the functionality as Time Machine backs up your data hourly, daily, and weekly – keeping as many weekly backups as possible until you run out of disk space. Given that I was looking to back this up to my Galaxy MGB Raid Pro 1TB NAS device, I assumed it would be awhile until I ran out of space.

I then started to configure the Time Machine. I went to select a backup device and curiously there were not any options. I then looked into the “Time Capsule” option and the Airport started looking for compatible devices. Very quickly I realized that there was some additional setup that I was possibly missing.

That is when the searching started. After a few minutes googling for the answers, I learned a couple of things:

1. Out of the box, the Time Machine for Macintosh does not backup to network devices. Your backup device must be attached in some manner: Serial ATA, USB, Firewire, etc.
2. There was a possible hack that you could to enable the Time Machine to recognize a network devices.

At first I was pretty disappointed. It seems like in many cases consumers like myself would prefer to push backups to a network storage device – which generally is more reliable and has much more space than local drives. Plus with the Mac Mini, it comes with a single drive – while you can attach additional storage devices – with over 4 terabytes of storage on other systems, that is the last thing I was interested in.

I was somewhat motivated to try out the hack.

Several sites I visited mentioned the solution was pretty simple. You just go into the MacOS X / FreeBSD shell and enter the following command:

defaults write TMShowUnsupportedNetworkVolumes 1

While it is pretty self-explanatory, the command basically changes you default system preferences for “TM” or “Time Machine” to show unsupported network volumes by flipping the flag to a “1” or basically saying yes. You can change it back if you want by entering the following command:

defaults write TMShowUnsupportedNetworkVolumes 0

I went to the console shell and entered the command which was saved.

I went back into the Time Machine application and like magic my network device showed as an available backup device. Whew, it looked like it worked. However, my joy was short-lived…

I scheduled the Time Machine backup and after churning for about 30 seconds, I encountered the following error:
Time Machine Error - The backup disk image could not be created.
Time Machine Error
The backup disk image could not be created.

Great, another problem to solve. Some more search revealed that the native command that the Apple OS X issues to create the disk image fails unless it is run locally. There were some recommendations on how you might get around it – but appears as if there is some uncertainty about the reliability of the backup and most importantly, whether or not you can restore the backup. The largest concern I had run into yet.

The bottom line? It’s not easy to get the Time Machine to backup to a network device. Not only frustrating, but also quite disappointing.

One note of interest, I have discovered that there is one post at Vince’s Blog which seems to detail the overall process in a good step-by-step manner. I will be trying it out this weekend to see if I can get it to work and will update this post. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.