Time (Saver) Machine

Over the past couple of weeks, I once again reacquainted myself with the joy of using TimeMachine as a backup system. (Please, use more than one, at least one off-site and one on-site would be a good idea, consider CrashPlan for the offsite version, we've used it for years and are very happy with it).

In this case, I needed to borrow a computer from my cluster of Mac Minis that make up my build and testing farm. In particular, we needed a clean machine that could be used and wiped, so I wanted to back up the system, install a fresh copy of OS X 10.10.4 (the machine was running pre-release 10.10.5), take it to the trade show, and then reverse the process when I came back.

My network environment at home includes a Mac Mini server running an older version of the OS and serving as a Time Machine server to machines that aren't easily connected directly to disk. This is an easy configuration to use if you have any machine that is running all of the time, especially with recent versions of OS X that can have server grafted on.

The process went without a hitch. I hadn't been backing up that machine (that was a bit of a surprise, since I thought I'd learned my lesson a couple of years ago when I lost the hard drive on another one of my Mac Minis), but turning on Time Machine was easy and the backup (over wired Ethernet) went quickly, especially since that machine is basically a simple test box, so it doesn't have much installed on it.

Installation was a bit more of a hassle, since I normally run that machine without a monitor, I needed to hook it up to my TV to install (have I mentioned recently how much I enjoy the fact that we have HDMI these days?), and the USB stick I was installing from wasn't USB 3, so it was a bit slow.

The machine worked great at the conference, and since it didn't have anything of value on it, I just restored over top of it (after erasing the hard drive partition) using Recovery Mode. My third-party Bluetooth keyboard didn't help much when trying to hold CMD-R to bring up Recovery Mode, so I had to drag down the one remaining USB keyboard in order to boot it. Once that boot was done, I selected my Time Machine server, logged in, and chose the backup to restore. Wait for a little while for the recovery to complete and wow! Completely functioning machine!

If we were doing a lot of shows (especially with dicey environments like Black Hat), then I would probably have bought a machine just to use for this purpose, but in this case, the cost was only a couple of minutes of my time and a couple hours of the device's time. All told, a great experience.