Sensible concerns following Apple's flash drive recall

Cupertino last week warned MacBook Air customers that some flash SSDs may fail, issuing a firmware update and replacement program for affected drives. Whether or not your solid-state drive is affected, the recall shows that your data is in danger.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor

Apple recently notified MacBook Air customers that "certain 64GB and 128GB flash storage drives" in the previous generation model could fail suddenly. These problematic SSDs aren't ancient drives, rather, ones found in systems shipped from June 2012 through this past June. However, the real message in the fine print of the recall notice is that all SSD customers, Apple or not, should be extra scrupulous in backup and cloning their systems.

The Apple Support Note on the recall recommends that customers install the MacBook Air Flash Storage Firmware Update 1.1, which will also tell whether the SSD is affected.

But there's an warning along with the process bits of the Replacement Program:

IMPORTANT: If your drive is affected, we strongly recommend that you do not install any operating system updates or new applications. We also recommend backing up your data on a regular basis until you receive a replacement drive.

The obvious Catch-22 here for your workflow is that you never know when your SSD will succumb to these mysterious failures, and performing application updates as well as system updates are a regular part of using a MacBook Air (or any computer).

Apple MacBook Air flash storage was recently recalled

Compounding this situation, the forthcoming Mac OS X update, Mavericks, will include iOS's automatic updating capability, meaning that customers won't have to click into the App Store to update applications. It will happen in the background, even if that is dangerous to the system stability.

MacBook Air users with these drives should consider turning off this automatic updating feature after installing the system update. Mavericks' App Store preferences offers settings to turn off automatic updating, and in addition, allows background downloading, that gives the user the choice to install.

Of course, we all know that any storage device can fail, hard drive or SSD. Still, many MacBook Air customers consider that an SSD is inherently more reliable than a hard drive. I don't agree with this assessment — we are still discovering the limitations of SSDs, their controllers and interaction with systemware.

Sadly, and despite all the warnings from vendors and common sense, most users still don't backup their data or systems. With Apple's MacBook Air SSD recall, this denial could make matters worse (if that's possible).

As Apple suggests, MacBook Air customers — and let's face it, every and all users of any computing device but especially professional users — must back up on a more-than regular basis. Backing up with a program such as Time Machine offers some granularity for programs and data recovery. This deals with what is called the "Recovery Point Objective," or the time frame of the data that can be restored following a disaster.

However, I suggest that business and academic users should also be concerned with what is called "Recovery Time Objective," meaning the time that will be needed to get going with one's entire workflow and data following a disaster. Cloud backup, or standard backups can take a long while for recover. Instead, booting from a cloned system on an USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt external drive can a workflow restarted quickly.

As I've mentioned before, I backup regularly with Time Machine but also clone my system several times a day to a RAID Level 5 Thunderbolt array. In case of some failure while I'm on the road, I clone my SSD to an internal drive in my MacBook Pro.

Perhaps this sounds like overkill? To me, it's sensible precaution.

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