I’ve been beta-testing Universe Point’s ION Backup this week, and after sending so much feedback to the development team, I feel almost as though I’d already written the review. Because the program is still in beta, some of the things I mention may have changed by the time the release candidate (that’s the official version) comes out.
The installation package for ION is a modest 23 MB. If that doesn’t seem modest to you, DriveClone Pro is 96 MB and TrueImage Workstation is 155 MB. On the other hand, my standby Karen’s Replicator is less than 2 MB, so perhaps “mid-size” is the best description for ION.
In order to install the program, you need a customer ID, which the company supplies when you sign up for the trial or buy a copy. This registers your “station” (the computer you are backing up) with Universe Point. That’s important both for monitoring and for site-to-site file transfers.
I have to say that both the development and support teams at Universe Point are really on the ball. The support forum has extremely detailed instructions, with lots of screen shots, on how to do things like set up port forwarding so you can receive file transfers. There are links to the support forum from within the program, particularly in the beginner’s interface, and also links within the different windows to answer questions like “What should I name my backup?” and “What should I back up?” (Note to Universe Point: “Back up” as a verb is two words.)
Because I have my screen set to display items at 120 DPI, some of the text in ION runs off the screen or otherwise displays a bit oddly. I’m assured that the development team is working on ways to deal with this. The high resolution of modern computer screens means that fonts at the usual 96 DPI setting are hard to read, and I don’t like squinting. The down side to this eyesight-saver is that not everything displays properly, particularly in fixed-size windows. (If you want to increase readability in Windows XP without decreasing screen resolution, go to Control Panel | Display | Settings | Advanced and select 120 DPI from the drop-down menu.)
When you start ION, you get a welcome page which offers you a choice of “simple view” and “detailed view.” I chose the detailed view and set up a backup job by clicking the “backup” button.
You can choose between full, incremental, and differential backups, select which items you want to back up (including the System State), and then choose the local or LAN location for your backup. ION replicates your file and folder structure exactly, which is not ideal for me, but does make it easier to find the backup copy of a file, because it will be in the same place in the backup location that it is on the original computer (e.g. C:\!FileSlinger\!Clients). That file structure is packed into a folder with the backup name and the date on it. ION saves several days’ worth of backups in case you need to go back to a much earlier version; there’s an option to keep only a certain number of backups or delete old backups after X days.
Instead of creating a proprietary backup file format, ION either copies your files exactly as they are or compresses them into a ZIP file. To restore a single file, you just drag it back onto your hard drive.
You can opt to verify your backup once the copying is done. If you’re a sufficiently advanced user (the kind accustomed to command lines), you can include “pre and post commands.” That means you can tell ION shut Outlook down before trying to back up your PST file, or to shut down the computer after the backup finishes. (It would be great if these could be more user-friendly, with a checklist for the more popular commands.)
I set up a test backup of my client files (3 GB as of this morning) to my F drive. The first time I ran it, I turned on verification, and it took 49 minutes. The most recent full backup took 14 minutes, which is comparable to the time needed to copy those files with Karen’s Replicator or a straight drag-and-drop.
There are several scheduling options for backups and transfers on ION: hourly, daily, and monthly. The “daily” option gives you a choice of days, so if you only want it to run once a week, you just check one day.
ION’s real claim to fame is their backup monitoring service. Most people who use automated backups don’t check to see whether their data is really being backed up. As Universe Point’s marketing guy explained: “Any errors on your system automatically ping our server and we, in turn, give you a call. This came out of the developers’ tech days when they went to office after office and discovered corrupt, damaged or completely blank backup media.”
The concept of monitoring made me a little nervous, however, because I wasn’t sure how it worked and whether it meant the Universe Point team had access to my data. So I asked about that and got a detailed answer:
We don’t check your data because we never have access to your data. We simply get detailed error messages from the software if it encounters problems. For instance, I got a message on a job I set up the other day that told me my differential backup couldn’t run because a full backup was already running at the same scheduled time. After being told this error, I was able to fix the schedule and prevent further errors that might have resulted from this setup mistake.
Essentially, we are doing, via our monitoring center, what everyone should be doing on a daily basis by checking their backup log files. After every scheduled job runs, the log should be checked for errors. This ends up at maybe 10 or 15 minutes a day dedicated to properly monitoring your own backup. Most of our clients bill their time at well over $100 dollars, so our $30 a month monitoring fee is a decent deal. Even if you just bring a tech out once a month to check the backup logs, it’s going to cost considerably more than that.
We really see this as a key feature. It is like a home security system for your data backup. Everyone is willing to invest in protecting their hard assets with office or home security systems, but very few people are dedicated to protecting their data. That data is often more difficult to replace than anything a thief might physically walk off with, so doesn’t it deserve at least as much attention?
That made much more sense. I’ve known people who have lost data because they didn’t know their backups weren’t working, and not all software programs let you know if there’s a problem with the backup. And not everyone knows what the error messages mean if they get them. If you want the monitored service, you have to provide a phone number so that Universe Point can call and let you know when there’s a problem.
The other feature I tested was the site-to-site transfer. This is designed to move data on one network (say, your computer at work) to another (say, your computer at home). ION uses uses 128 bit, private key encryption to protect your files while in transit. Transferring requires a bit more geekiness than backing up, because you have to set up the router for the receiving computer’s network for port forwarding.
I chose to test the transfer feature by sending files from my housemate’s computer to mine, which meant I had to take the additional step of adding an alternate IP address for the receiving “station,” because we’re on the same network. But once I got that worked out (with help from the tech support guys), the transfer went smoothly and fairly swiftly: 305 MB in 7.5 minutes, with an average transfer rate of 750 kB/s. (That’s faster than my usual download of a program from a website via a browser by a factor of two.)
If you want to move large files from one machine to another and don’t want to have to use an FTP server as a way station, ION transfer is a good option as long as all the computers involved have ION installed and running when the transfer is made.
The monitoring and the friendly, readable help and support files are ION Backup’s real strengths. It’s a good product of its kind, with the potential to be a very good product of its kind. Given that I’m already running 5 different file backup systems, I don’t really need another one, myself, but if you’re looking for something with better help and support options than the free programs, go on over to Universe Point and download a free trial version. The home edition is only $29.95.
Did I mention it’s leopard-proof?