Yep, this is late again. Sorry. I had a completely insane week last week. Part of the insanity gave me the topic for this week’s Backup Reminder, but I had to sleep for two days before I could write it.
I hardly do any computer consulting work anymore, but I have a few legacy clients (not to mention the occasional friend or family member) who can persuade me to wade into the trenches now and again. In this case, the client had temporary custody of my Maxtor OneTouch Plus drive (otherwise known as Mama Bear, but designated “P” for “Plus” in my drive lettering system), so I had an added motive.
In any case, most of the job was more than usually straightforward, and I was starting to feel pretty good about everything. The new machine is a perfectly decent piece of hardware, running XP with 2 GB RAM, which meant it was a lot speedier and easier to work with than the old one. (We will pass over all the problems the client had setting it up; I was spared involvement at that point.) Copying data from Mama Bear onto the new machine and the laptop—no problem. (It just needed a new USB cable, as someone had stepped on the connector for the old one and bent it into an interesting but non-useful shape.) Consolidating Outlook data into one file—easy. Replacing the expired trial anti-virus—made easier by recommendations from the LinkedIn community. Etc.
Then we came to setting up the Dell DataSafe™ online backup account that my client had purchased with her computer back in March. Supposedly, a free year’s subscription had been included in the package, but either she never received the username and password necessary to access the account, or it had gotten lost in the course of previous disputes with Dell Tech Support. The invoice listed the account as a line item, but provided no useful information.
My client ended up spending 90 minutes on the phone with Dell, bouncing back and forth between Customer Care and Tech Support, who insisted that she was supposed to activate her account within 30 days of purchase. That was after I’d led the Tech Support guy through all the appropriate screens and files to show him that no, really, we hadn’t been given any information and there wasn’t an option for “I already got a subscription with my computer” in the sign-up section.
Now, given that a one-year’s subscription for 3 GB storage costs all of $9, trying to get credit for what my client had already paid for was almost certainly not worth the cost of either my time or hers. But I wasn’t about to hand Dell her money without her permission, either.
I went through the process of setting up the free 30-day trial account, and that was easy enough to do. You enter your e-mail address and create a password, and then download some software. (You don’t have to provide credit card information at that time.) It’s no harder than setting up, say, Mozy.
But I ran into a problem fairly early on. Among the various files I’d copied onto the 500 GB hard drive of the new PC were several backups of Outlook data files, with varying dates on them. Even though none of the individual .pst files was unusually large (for a .pst file), the combination of those files with the ones already in the folder with the current file meant that there were more than 3 GB of .pst files alone.
I’ve run into the “over quota” problem with Mozy a few times—and I don’t even back up my .pst files online. It’s not that hard, in this day and age, to accumulate more than 2 (for Mozy’s free service) or 3 (for DataSafe’s free trial) gigabytes of data. Online backup always requires prioritizing your data.
With Mozy, I usually collect large files that push me over quota and don’t really need to be backed up offsite into a sub-folder and then exclude that sub-folder from the backup configuration.
I could not find a way to do this with Dell DataSafe. There are two options for selecting the files to be backed up: by overall type of file (documents, e-mail, financial, photos, music, video), or by file extension. So I could either tell it to back up all the Outlook data files, or none of them. “All” wouldn’t fit, and “none” isn’t such a good choice for someone who doesn’t have another backup system in place.
In the short term, my client’s options are either to increase the size of her account (10 GB is only $19/year) or to copy the older Outlook files onto a DVD and then delete them from her hard drive to keep her within her 3 GB.
In the longer term, however, the inability to tell DataSafe which specific documents are critical and need backing up is going to be a problem. Even with duplicates and archives cleared out, data will start to accumulate. Everything takes up more storage space these days, and with families owning multiple digital cameras and videocams, it starts to fill up. And those photos and videos are just the kind of thing people don’t want to lose, whether or not they have any intrinsic or business value.
Because online transfer speeds—particularly for uploading data—are inconveniently slow, backing up an entire 500 GB drive online isn’t likely to become feasible any time soon. So it would probably be a good idea for my client to get an external hard drive or a NAS drive as an offline backup method.
But as long as DataSafe doesn’t let you decide exactly which files and folders to back up, she’s also going to need a different online backup service.
I’ve already put Mozy onto her laptop.