Today I got a new Thunderbolt Mac mini, which means that OS X Lion was preinstalled on it. My task was to get Lion Server installed and up and running ASAP.
In the process I could't stop thinking about how minimalistic and to a point, environmental, the packaging was. Damn, the box was smaller than that of the AirPort Extreme base station I also got. That's because the Mac Mini doesn't have a power brick, which the base station does. Back to the minimal packaging. In the box there was the Mac mini, the power cable, an HDMI to DVI adapter and a printed manual with the obligatory legal notices and the omnipresent Apple logo stickers.
The thing that freaked me out after I had made some installations and updates was the lack of an install DVD or USB stick. Nothing... mmm... what if I needed to reinstall the OS? Would I get my iLife apps that came bundled with the new Mac? Well, according to the printed documentation that is included, if you do a clean installation using the Restore partition that Lion has, it should work.
I started the restore process just to learn, but I didn't go through the whole thing because of the time it was going to take me. Still, every time I think about the process I think what would happen if the drive had a mechanical or catastrophic failure? If the disk doesn't spin or doesn't work, there would be no access to the Restore partition. At that time I'd be bamboozled, and you'd be too if you were in that situation.
Booting from the Lion Restore Partition.
So, what to do to prevent such an apocalyptic event? Well, I don't think we could prevent a hardware failure more than taking good care of the computer (i.e. not dropping it). But if you were unfortunate enough to be in a situation where the drive fails, the only other option would be to use an external drive or DVD. The thing is that this 2011 Mac mini has no optical drive.
Solution: GET AN EXTERNAL DRIVE and install a working copy of the OS. It doesn't have to be anything fancy or expensive or large. Now, if it's a good-sized drive, then you can use it as a Time Machine drive for automatic backups. At that point, you'd be well covered.
If you install OS X Lion on a decent size Time Machine drive you could restore your internal drive from Time Machine and in the event of a catastrophic internal drive failure, you should be able to boot the Mac from the external drive. (Ed. note: hold down option while your Mac boots up, and choose the external drive when it shows up on the screen.)
Time Machine may come in handy to restore from.
Now, if you don't have an alternate drive to boot from, Lion can mount a Restore partition from the internet by connecting to Apple's servers (that is, if your Mac has an online connection, either wired or Wi-Fi). The main drag is that it takes a long time for the Restore partition to download from the web, and if you're on a slow connection, it can take a really long time!
Want to learn more about Mac OSX Lion? Check out Francesco's Mac OS X (10.7) 101 - Core Lion Tutorial series.