Apple Products / My Book Live / Time Machine / Western Digital

Migrating Mac OSX Time Machine Backups to My Book Live

I have been looking for a simple, cost effective, network backup solution.  I have OSx 10.8.2 Mountain Lion.  All the solutions available are way over priced, considering the cost of hard drives these days.

I had given up, until today, when I was at Best Buy.  I was just going to get a USB cradle that would take an internal hard drive and connect it to my Mac over USB.  I already have one and it’s worked very well.  But that wasn’t what I wanted.  I wanted more of a low end SAN solution so that I didn’t have to have my computer on just to access the hard drive.

Then, while looking through the shelves at the USB 2.0 and 3.0, I noticed one external drive with a network connector on the back:


Front of the My Book Live small Network Access Storage (NAS) device. The network router shown is not included in the package of course.

Back of the My Book Live

Back of the My Book Live

The device seemed to work well right out of the box, and I’m sure you can use it without much configuration work.  It’s obvious Western Digital set it up to be as ready to go out of the box as possible. Which is a rare thing for non-Apple products.  So, I was impressed.

I did however have some non-standard setup tasks to do.  One of those setup tasks for me was to copy my existing Time Machine backup archives to the new drive.  Necessary because the drive was now going to serve as my primary backup drive.  So I made sure that the Time Machine server was active using the web interface of the device itself (which is actually pretty nice).  Then I followed the instructions on this Apple knowledge base article:

Time Machine: How to transfer backups from the current backup drive to a new backup drive

There’s a step in those instructions where you copy Backups.backupdb to the top level directory of the Time Machine partition on the drive (which for My Book Live is created automatically – there’s no formatting the drive necessary or allowed, only a factory reset).  So, I tried that and up popped this error message on my Mac:


error: The volume is the wrong format for a backup.

I panicked.  I really needed my NAS drive to function well as a Time Machine backup.  Queue the suspense music.

So, I perused the Interweb forums for an answer, and eventually just decided that I would have to simple let the Time Machine backup create a new backup.  Sigh.  Dreck.  So, I clicked “OK” here to close the error dialog, and nothing was copied.  I then started Time Machine preferences, and selected the new partition on the My Book Live as the new disk.  But, I also happened to have my existing Time Machine backup drive connected to the computer at the same time.

Low and behold, a window pops up, asking me if  I want to replace the old Time Machine backup drive with the new one.

With two Time Machine drives present, you can choose how you want to backup.

With two Time Machine drives present, you can choose how you want to backup.

The “Use Both” button was highlighted.  But I clicked the “Replace Behemoth” button cause I only wanted one backup drive active.  Queue the “we might be out of the dark woods” music.

The other choice I had was to use both drives at the same time and let Time Machine to alternate drives.  I thought that was interesting, because it suggested that my existing backup files might be copied over to the new drive if I chose to replace the old one.  So, I clicked the “Replace” button.

As Time Machine got to work on the backup, I noticed that the size of the backup was several times larger than the amount of data on my hard drive.  That suggested that the old backup was being copied.  A quick check of file system in Time Machine confirmed that my old backup data was in fact being transferred to the new drive.

For all the complaining I’ve done on Apple’s support forums, bad language and all, I can honestly say this feature compensates for a handful of times I’ve been frustrated by my Mac or external hard drives for one reason or another.

Nice Job Apple!  Queue your favorite Wagner symphony.

You’re still the king of the farm when it comes to features that keep my data safe.  This makes the high prices of Macs … well … a about 2% more bearable.


9 thoughts on “Migrating Mac OSX Time Machine Backups to My Book Live

  1. Hi Richard,

    Hey, I followed your suggestions above (after facing the same concerns). I’m using a WD My Cloud NAS backup. Unfortunately, It just created a new backup. All my old TM backups are still on my external HDD.

    Any Suggestions?


    • So, I realized part of the mistake. I unintentionally excluded the external HDD from the TM back up. Apparently I needed to “de-select” it using the options button.

      Now that I’m allowing it to be backed up as well, do I:

      (a) need to delete the “New” TM backup & sparsebundle and start over?
      (b) let it run & expect the old TM backup.backups contents will be “added” to the new sparsebundle?

      I’m guessing the answer is (a). Any feedback is appreciated. Thanks!

      • Hmmm .. I can’t say for certain cause I’m not in front of your computer. But if you continue to use the old backup it should be fine. Your OS will most likely just pick up where it left off.

    • Well the new backup is probably still good … ? Just guessing. So you could use that and keep the backup for as long as you like. As long as you can recover some information from the backup it might be worth while hanging onto for a while.

  2. Question: In the text you state that you need to press “replace disk” and yet you place an arrow towards and mark the button “use both” with blue! I chose “replace disk” and it did not copy my history – although it did take a full day to copy the 166GB over. Should I have pressed “use both” ? Where did I go wrong?

    • Apologies for the confusion. I clicked the “Replace” button. I’ll update the blog entry to make that clear. Since you clicked “use both” your mac will backup to both drives. You can probably remove the old drive if you’re not using it any more.

  3. Hey there. Fantastic note- clear and concise, and resolved that same sense of dread I faced when trying to copy the tmbackup to my WD MyCloud 3TB. Thanks!

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