Sunday, August 24, 2008

Backing Up Your Data Online

Do you back up the data on your computer, such as your photos, music, and documents? If so, you deserve a gold star!
But here's the more relevant question... do you have an offisite backup of your data? If your home burned down, or your computer was stolen, or even if the hard drive in your computer went bad, would you lose years of precious unrecoverable memories and hard work?

So many people simply do not back up their data. Many of the backup software options out there are simply too complex for the average user, and they involve purchasing yet another expensive box to sit on the already crowded computer desk.

I back up my Mac Pro to an external hard drive using Time Machine. Macs are known for their simplicity, and Time Machine is no exception. You just attach a hard drive and click the Enable button for Time Machine and it does the rest for you. This is a great local storage option for any Mac user. But Time Machine doesn't store data offsite/online, and there isn't a PC version.

I was looking for an online backup solution to back up the data on my computer, as well as my sister's and parents computers. While I am proud of my parents for learning to use a computer for email and Internet, setting up and maintaining backups is not something they would be comfortable with.

There are two online backup solutions that stand out as the leaders which I would trust with my data... Carbonite and Mozy. Each will run you about $50 per year, which is much cheaper and less frustrating than purchasing an external hard drive and backup software.

I chose to subscribe my parent's computer to Carbonite. And as with most technologies, I went with the wrong one first (yes, I picked HD-DVD before Blu-ray finally won the HD format war). No, I'm not saying that that the service is bad. It was simple to set up and my parents aren't even aware that it's there. One thing that sets Carbonite apart from Mozy is that Carbonite adds a little green, yellow, or red dot on each of your file icons. This is a good visual indication of which files are included in the backup and the color indicates if the file has been successfully backed up or not. But I also find those dots to be a bit distracting. I wish there was another method of viewing the files included in the backup and their status. If you are a Mac user, you're out of luck. They claim to be working on a Mac client and allow you to email if you want to be included in the beta. I sent in my email about three months ago and haven't heard from them since.

After waiting not hearing a peep about the Mac client beta, I decided to give Mozy a try since they DO have a Mac client. It installed on my Mac Pro and told it what files I want backed up (I just selected my entire home folder, but you can choose individual files and folders if you choose) and it started backing up immediately.

Security: Both Carbonite and Mozy provide a security encryption key, but Mozy also provides the option to create your own key at no additional cost. It makes me feel good knowing that if my data were ever stolen from Mozy's datacenter, or if Mozy had to provide data to another party access to their servers as a part of a legal issue, that my data is encrypted with a unique encryption key that only I have access to decrypt. Choosing your own encryption key is simple. You just type some characters that you won't forget, and it uses that simple word or phrase to generate a key. Make sure that you don't forget that word or phrase though, because unlike using the Mozy provided key, they can't decrypt the files if you happen to forget your key information.

Speed: Now one thing that you will find with either service is that it can be a slow process. If you have less than 10-20 GB to back up, it can take anywhere from a few days to a 1-2 weeks. But my photos alone are 85 GB (I shoot in RAW), and my music is another 83 GB. Add in my documents and other information i wanted backed up and it came out to about 210 GB. Carbonite can handle this, but it takes an eternity to complete at approximately 350 Kbits/sec. It's currently been about 3 weeks, and I'm only up to 36 GB backed up. I think that part of the problem is that I have Comcast, who is known to throttle the speeds for high usage customers. FIOS is about to become available in my neighborhood, so that should help.

Website: The Mozy website is hands-down easier to use than the Carbonite website. The Carbonite website doesn't show you how much data you have backed up, so you can't monitor your usage or identify if the backup has stalled on one of the computers on your account. Mozy lets you see how much data has been backed up for each computer on your account. I also found that it was impossible to open a Carbonite account from a Mac computer. It kept telling me that my computer was unsupported (since it was a Mac), but all I wanted to do was open the account and pay for the subscription for my parents account, so that it would save some time when I went to install it on their computer. However, once the account is created and paid for, you can log into the account on the website from a Mac.

I installed Mozy on my sister's computer too. She doesn't like to have to worry about things like backing up her data or keeping her virus scanner up to date. I set these things up to be as unobtrusive as possible. I was also able to password protect Mozy's settings so that she doesn't accidently get in there and change the settings. I disable all of the notifications to make it less obtrusive. If I hadn't told her that I installed backup software on her computer, she would never know its there. Once my parents Carbonite subscription runs out, I'll switch them over to Mozy too.

Bottom line... I recommend Mozy over Carbonite for two reasons. Mozy has a Mac client, and they allow you to use your own encryption key. However, if neither of those concern you then you can't go wrong with either one. At $50 per year (Mozy also offers a $4.95/mo payment option) there really is no excuse not to back up your data!

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