Last week I got a phone call from Ilana Debare of the San Francisco Chronicle asking how to protect your data from earthquakes, floods, fires, and hurricanes for her September 10th article about disaster planning for small businesses.
EZ Backup gives me real peace of mind. I live and die by the information on my laptop, and knowing there is a copy of my data that is in a safe place and is easily retrievable crosses a big worry off my list. Laptop computers are especially vulnerable to being damaged and to being stolen, and the benefit of knowing my data is safe far outweighs the cost of the service.
Terry’s description of how the service works is as follows:
The backup program works by copying the specified directories over the Internet to their secured servers. The connection is secured at both ends, and is pretty hack proof. The first backup takes the longest time, because it’s copying all the files, but subsequent backups take less time because it’s checking to see what files have been changed.
EZBackup’s prices start at $9.95/month for 250 MB of data—comparable to similar consumer-oriented online backup services.
One advantage of EZBackup (and most of its competitors, to be fair) is that it lives up to its name: once it’s set up, you no longer have to think about it. My informal surveys on the subject of what people want in a backup system rate “set it and forget it” pretty high, so any program or service that can be scheduled to run automatically has advantages over those which require direct human intervention and therefore memory.
The disadvantage which all these services have is that they slow down your computer and hog your internet connection while they’re running. Of course, the part about slowing down, or even preventing use of, the computer is also true for local backup programs, particularly drive mirroring software like Ghost and TrueImage. Backing up any open file is chancy at best; you certainly don’t want to bet your business on the results.
It’s not necessary to pay a monthly service fee in order to get remote storage for your backups. I’ve just been evaluating SmartSync Pro ($35 for a single-user license; free trial download) for Kickstartnews.com, and one of its features is backup to/synchronization with a remote computer. I’m going to steal shamelessly from my review for Kickstartnews (due out sometime today or tomorrow) to discuss the DIY options for offsite backup.
SmartSync Pro provides two ways to back your data up to a remote computer: via e-mail and via FTP. The FTP option also allows you to create a mirror to duplicate the files on two different FTP servers.
Most web hosting providers also provide both public and private FTP directories, and most small and home office users have much more storage space on those servers than they’ll ever use, providing a built-in remote server for backup files. (If you’re not sure how to connect to your FTP server, check the account setup information you got from your hosting company when you set up your website.)
Instead of copying your files directly to the remote server, SmartSync Pro creates a compressed “package” containing all the files, then uploads it to the remote server. (You can password-protect this file, which is important for any data which you’re storing off-site.) Once the package is ready to go, you can open the files or run the programs which use them without worrying about interfering with the backup. A good thing, too: even over a cable connection, it takes a long time to transfer that package onto a remote server.
My 1 GB of critical data (Outlook PST file, business documents, and Quicken data), compressed down to about 700 MB, was 4 hours in transition—and timed out before copying was complete. I had to divide my data over multiple smaller profiles in order to get the files onto the server before the connection timed out. It made for a great exercise in deciding which of my files really are critical.
The problem isn’t with SmartSync Pro: it’s the nature of consumer broadband, which often puts a cap on upload speeds. Even with a USB 1.1 connection to my DVD-writer, I can burn a DVD with 4.7 GB of data faster than I can upload 1 GB to my FTP server. As for storing an entire Ghost backup of my machine online (assuming I had that much storage space on my web server, which I don’t), I could drive the DVDs to Oregon and come home again in the time it would take to upload them. And if I had a middling-quality DSL connection instead of cable, I could probably drive the DVDs all the way to my family in Cleveland. This is why companies pay for T1 lines.
So if you have large quantities of data that you want to store offsite and a T1 line isn’t an option for you, encrypt your data and put it onto CDs or DVDs, pop them into jewel cases, and mail them in padded bags to friends, family, or associates at least 50 miles away. If you feel reasonably confident that your bank’s vaults will survive that flood, fire, earthquake, or tornado, you can store your media, or even a spare external hard drive, in your safe-deposit box. (One advantage to 2.5” and smaller hard drives is that they’ll fit more easily into small protected storage areas, but I wouldn’t recommend sending them through the mail.)
Do you have a recommendation for an offsite backup option I haven’t mentioned? I’m always looking for stories of personal experience from real SOHO users.
Finally, remember that while offsite backup is good insurance, it’s not a replacement for onsite backup. When your computer goes down, you want your backups right there with you so you can get back up and running again, and if your machine won’t boot, it’s pretty hard to connect it to your online backup service.