updated 04:57 pm EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
Single backup and sync tool may be one tool to encompass many jobs
Mac users have relied on a pool of backup utlities for years, with three standouts being Apple's own Time Machine, Retrospect, and Bombich Software's Carbon Copy Cloner. All three fit slightly different niches, and serious techs and users have probably used all three at one point or another. A fourth entry is Econ Technologies' ChronoSync, just updated to version 4.5, which purports to be a more universal tool for all of one's backup needs.
ChronoSync, simply stated, is an application that runs on a Mac that can synchronize, backup, and create bootable backups. However, that blurb belies what it can actually do. We've used it not only to back up OS X locally, including a fully bootable backup, but it also can backup other machines, Windows-based data, external drives, Network Attached Storage devices, and really anything mountable on an OS X desktop across a local area network.
TimeMachine is Apple's backup solution, and it's pretty solid. Solid, but slow, - almost excruciatingly so. We did a full bootable backup of a 250GB drive with 212GB of data on it with both applications, and had a wildly different experience. Backing up to a 1TB USB 3.0 drive, the backup with Time Machine took nearly five hours. ChronoSync performed the same task in a quarter of the time, in one hour and 23 minutes.
Taking the same machine, and working with it for a month, we updated the backup. Time Machine took another two hours to change 88GB worth of files. ChronoSync updated the backup in 41 minutes, again less than half the time.
We added 100GB of data on an external drive to the backup. Time Machine essentially choked on it, and re-backed up the entire mess, taking eight hours to complete. ChronoSync added it seamlessly to the backup in 38 minutes.
These were just the numeric tests we applied to Time Machine and ChronoSync. The filters on the app are much more granular, allowing more precise control over what gets backed up and what gets left behind. Technically, we've migrated laptops to new SSDs with it, we've backed up and restored media libraries, synchronized two folders with thousands of text files which needed to be consolidated, and much more.
Using the ChronoAgent tool (an optional $10 add-on), we've also synchronized files to and from remote computers. As a user case, think along the lines of a shared computer lab -- overnight, an admin can (with proper licensing) use ChronoAgent to wipe an entire lab, and restore a clean file set. No user files strewn across the desktop, no custom app settings, nothing. Clean slate, every morning, without monitoring - or a manual hard drive and reinstall process.
We've done limited tests across the Internet through a VPN, and only been limited to upload and download speeds. We've setup a server to remotely get backups from the network overnight, we've configured it to backup once a week, and not get hassled by Time Machine. We've had no issues with network backups at all, either over congested wireless or gigabit Ethernet, both of which are problematic without some trickery on Time Machine, unless you're using an Apple Time Capsule or Apple's 802.11ac Airport with internal drive.
Long synchronizations between two disparate data sets can take ages, and be riddled with errors. The app allows fine control over what to do with problematic files, as well as control over what trips an error, and what to do with it. Want individual file control? No problem. Want to skip over all but the most egregious issues? Also not a problem.
Whole-system backup and restores have been fraught with peril, since the dawn of computing. One false move in what can sometimes be an arcane interface, and you're left with a corrupt backup, as well as a bad restore, disrupting everything, possibly without the chance for restoration. Does everybody need ChronoSync? No. If your needs are more complex than simple backup, or you want solid network functionality, then ChronoSync is your tool. At $40 (plus $10 for the optional ChronoAgent), the tool isn't a free one, and users accustomed to dollar-App Store utilities may balk, but if you need a comprehensive tool for a backup regime - and like the idea of a one-time price for lifetime updates -- its hard to go wrong with ChronoSync.
ChronoSync is best for: Users with more than the simplest backup needs. Anybody performing any sort of network backup.
ChronoSync is not for: Users for whom plug-and-play backup is all they want or need. If Time Machine fits your bill, then you don't need ChronoSync. But if you're paying for a backup solution, we think ChronoSync offers the best bang for the buck, and is priced very competitively with the best alternatives.