Super Duper and Big Sur

In case someone reads this in the future, the most recent blog post on the SuperDuper blog is Shirt Pocket Watch - That’s Big SIR to You! from from Sunday, January 31, 2021.

I think you’re exactly right. To be clear, I wasn’t saying that I think it’s unreasonable or even undesirable for Apple to integrate the SSD. Just that there is a big tradeoff for doing so.

The performance of the storage would continue to be important with desktop machines. But it would be nice (and certainly extend their lifetime) if they supported adding a second drive via an internal standard SSD slot of some sort.

I’ve stayed with Catalina because of this issue; I suspect I’ll not update to an M1 laptop any time soon, for the same (almost) reason.

Mr. Bombich and Mr. Nanian both have a very strong fan base, and deservedly so. Thanks to their dogged persistence in enabling the creation of bootable clones, people who depend on their laptops to be both reliable and protected from “sudden death” by the ability to boot from a cloned external device can update their presentations, legal briefs, budget proposals or whatever they need to recover instantly on any Intel Mac running any macOS up to Catalina. Big Sur is a bit more of a challenge. And, the combination of Big Sur and an M1 Mac laptop may create an insurmountable obstacle. The best solution to this dilemma may be either to carry TWO laptops if one’s job depends on access to the “first team” machine’s data AND the ability to manipulate it or present it to others at any time day or night, or perhaps carrying an M1 laptop AND an iPad Pro, and those choices may, for such road warriors, eliminate the attractiveness of SuperDuper or CCC.

Even if corruption on the internal boot partition DOESN’T make the ISC container inaccessible (so that the non-bootable clone is still helpful in recovery, the need to install the System partition from the Internet Recovery partition might delay access to the DATA partition on the clone long enough so as to make that solution no longer palatable. So, in a somewhat bizarre way, the Intel to “Apple Inside” evolution may hasten the end of Mr. Bombich’s and Mr. Nanian’s core business as people who work and present remotely grow to depend on iOS or iPadOS hardware for fail-safe data access.

Is that way off base? If so, why?

Thanks for the link, Jolin. The nuances you summarize are presumably what allow Mike Bombich to say, in his discussion of “Big Sur Known Issues” in CCC’s documentation, that

"In the current shipping version of macOS Big Sur (11.0.1), Apple’s ASR utility cannot replicate the startup disk in an M1-based Mac. Attempting to do so results in an error:

'Apple System Restore Tool': Source volume format not yet supported in this version of macOS

"Apple is aware of the problem and is working towards resolving it for a future update to macOS. CCC 5.1.23+ will automatically perform Data Volume backups on M1 Macs and avoid any attempts to copy a System volume on those Macs — that’s a complete backup of your data, applications, and system settings. If you would like to make your Apple Silicon Mac backup bootable, you can install Big Sur onto the CCC Data Volume backup. Please keep in mind, however, that your CCC backup does not have to be bootable for you to be able to restore data from it.

“When Apple posts an update to macOS that resolves the ASR problem, we’ll post an update to CCC that adds back support for copying the System volume on these Macs.”

The key words in the error message, I guess, are “not yet.”

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As @David_L pointed out, this is a temporary problem. Apple (and the error from their tool) both say “not yet”, not “no”. So this is really yet another instance of early adopters having to deal with not-quite-finished system software.

That having been said, CCC and SD are still very good tools for cloning data volumes, even if they can’t currently make a bootable clone of the system volume. It still leaves their feature set comparable to what you get when trying to perform a single-system backup from other non-clone-style backup tools like Retrospect or BRU, both of which are far more expensive due to the presence of enterprise-class features that are massive overkill for a single system backup solution.

I think the real lesson is something that most of us consider obvious. The M1 Macs, as first-generation products, are not yet shipping with 100% of the capabilities most of us require for a production system. They are really great computers and I will not hesitate to recommend them in the future (probably after the second or third generation ships), but I don’t think they’re quite ready for the world-at-large right now.

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Mea culpa. I read the précis of Mike Bombich’s blog available here and stopped at an ellipsis that I missed. Reading directly on his blog produces the inference as you state, that it IS conceivable that bootable clones are not gone forever. I guess we’ll see.

This is really key. We’ve long said that a good backup strategy includes versioned backups (like Time Machine), a bootable duplicate (CCC or SuperDuper), and offsite or Internet backup (like Backblaze).

But you have to think about the reason for each. For a bootable duplicate, it’s so you can get back to work quickly if your internal drive fails. With M1-based Macs, booting from an external drive is an issue right now (I have to research this for an article, so I’m avoiding making solid statements). And in general, something I discovered when my old iMac’s internal SSD failed was that my bootable duplicate was largely useless because USB 3.0 and a hard drive were just too slow.

My point is that, unless your work is so important that you can’t afford a few hours of downtime to reformat a drive, reinstall macOS, and then restore your data, the bootable duplicate isn’t really necessary. What would you do if your internal drive died suddenly? When I think about that question now, I’ve realized that the answer would be to go work on another Mac while I rebuilt the main one from backup. I can’t quite replicate my monitor setup with other Macs, but I can come close enough.

In other words, when I take my main Mac to Big Sur, I’ll keep making duplicates to have another local backup in case Time Machine fails, but if they’re not bootable, it’s not really a problem.

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You hit the nail on the head, Adam! I was wondering why I wasn’t more worried about this particular scenario as I read these reports; then I realized that my workflow over the past decade has evolved.

I have multiple Macs and I keep all my “active” work on Dropbox so that I can work from any computer. Yes, I do back them up individually occasionally to external drives (faster than restoring from the cloud), but for immediately getting back to work I just use a different computer. I can then restore that dead computer and not stress about the time.

Now not everyone is in that situation or has the luxury of multiple computers; but if your work is so critical that a few hours makes a difference, you should definitely have an extra computer for emergencies anyway.

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I would point out even if you don’t have a second Mac at hand, you can go buy any stocked Mac at a local Apple store and use it to hold you over until your primary is fixed. If you contact Apple within 14 days of purchasing that Mac, they will take it back for a full refund, no restocking fee, no malarkey, no questions. They are really solid about that. It’s essentially like free Mac rental for 14 days. Of course right now with the pandemic, just walking into an Apple store and picking up a stock Mac has become more difficult.

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I used that trick when my Apple Watch 4 had to be replaced because of. a stuck pixel. The ‘loan’ of an Apple Watch 5 for about a week convinced me that the feature upgrade was no big deal.There was nothing sneeky about it–the Apple Store personnel suggested and supported that option.

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