What’s New in Online Backup

August 2011Backup Data Center

The biggest challenge to finding the best online backup provider is the lack of reliable reviews. There is no shortage of articles reviewing cloud backup services – almost every Information Technology magazine and website has one. The problem is that almost all of them are not up to date with the quickly changing world of web backup. The backup providers change the services and plans rapidly in order to stay both profitable and competitive. New services are added while some existing features are taken away, often to the dismay of the existing customers. So while general guidelines provided in review articles are still useful and valid, specific backup provider recommendations become completely useless if an article is more than a year old.

To help you stay up to date on what’s going on in the backup industry, here is the list of useful features and the companies that provide them so you can easily choose the one that’s right for you.

1. Free Trial/Free Limited Membership.

‘Try before you buy’ is an excellent strategy when choosing a backup service. Only after you use one for some time you will be able to determine how well it fits you. Does the backup software work well with your firewall? Is it compatible with your Operating System? Does it overtax your not-so-new desktop or laptop? Can you browse the Internet easily while the backup service is running in the background? Is the speed of the backup sufficient? These and many other questions are best answered by simply using the service for several weeks.
In the past, it seldom was possible since relatively few providers allowed free trial. Luckily, this has changed. The following free trials are available: CrashPlan, Nomadesk and MiMedia – 30 days, Carbonite – 15 days, KineticD and SOS Online Backup -14 days. In addition, you can use a limited storage free of charge indefinitely: IDrive – 5 GB, MozyHome – 2 GB. Norton Online Backup gives you 5GB free for 30 days, and CrashPlan lets you use their software to backup locally or to a friend indefinitely and completely free (Read more about it in the article about this CrashPlan feature).
2. Unlimited Storage.

If you have hundreds of Gigabytes of home movies that you want to back up, paying per Gigabyte is impractical. A few companies added a feature of unlimited volume of backup. As a reversal of the trend, MozyHome recently announced that it would no longer provide unlimited flat rate service. That certainly made quite a few users upset, especially the ones that already backed up large amounts of data. Sending hundreds of Gigabytes of data to your backup provider can take months. This makes switching to a new provider extremely cumbersome – another reason to choose your provider wisely.
Even with Mozy leaving the scene, several options for flat rate unlimited storage are still available. The yearly costs of such services are: CrashPlan and IDrive – $49.99, Carbonite – $54.99. Keep in mind though that full backup can take months, and after you exceed a certain size threshold (usually 100-200 GB) these companies will cap your backup speed.
3. Multiple computers.

Almost everyone has several computers at home, and the companies love charging generously for that extra feature. Especially the ones that provide unlimited storage. This is understandable since otherwise the customers would be able to back up the whole Universe for a flat fee (at least, in theory). The simple solution for technically savvy is to set up a shared network data storage at home. It can allow for all the files being accessed and backed up from one computer.

If setting up a home network is not the option, use the provides that let you backup from multiple destinations for only a reasonable surcharge. IDrive lets you back up from 5 PCs for $99.50 a year but the storage is limited to 50GB. KineticD lets you back up from unlimited number of PCs but for a fee of $2.00 per Gigabyte yearly. This fee can still be a good option if your data size is small but not practical if you hoard a lot of stuff on your Hard Drive. SoS Online Backup lets you back up from up to five PC, and so is Norton Online Backup but it limits storage to only 25GB.
4. Shared folder.

Years ago, most consumers used no more than one computer on the average. Today, we are surrounded by smart electronic devices that store data. The home and office computer, a laptop, a smart phone, an eBook reader. The ability of all these devices to talk to each other is a great convenience. Online file backup services help you with that as an extra perk of their services, by allowing the access to the same files from multiple locations. Many companies provide these services now. The most convenient and versatile is still Dropbox. It works on all devices and synchronizes files seamlessly in the background, moving your photos, smartphone videos, eBooks, and anything else around and making them available anywhere. Four Gigabytes are free so whatever your backup service is, Dropbox is still a recommended extra.
5. Backing up emails and mobile data.

Not all valuable data resides on your hard drive. Your phone contacts and pictures, Gmail, Facebook, as well as other social services data is valuable and losing it permanently is highly undesirable. Unfortunately, there is no ‘set it and forget it solution’. Backup of Gmail and other Google services is reviewed in the Google Services Backup article. IDrive and SOS Online Backup started providing an option to backup mobile phones and tablet devices – both Android and iPhones/IPads.

As data grows both in size and variety, the web backup companies wok hard to add a comprehensive list of features to their services. Without a doubt, more major changes are going to happen in teh fast growing field of online backup.

Backup Google Account Data

An overview of options to backup Gmail messages, Gmail contacts, Google Documents, and other data in your Google account.

Yesterday, Google lost data for 100,000 Gmail accounts (CNN Money, Computer World) due to a computer problem. What happens if they loose yours? How is it going to affect your business and personal data? Maybe you should start thinking of a Google backup solution before something happens. 100,000 accounts is a very small percentage, and Google will probably restore most of it. You data is much safer on Google servers than on your home PC anyway. Still, an extra backup seems like a sensible thing to do.

The problem is that your data is spread across different Google applications and there is no single solution that takes care of complete backup. Let’s hope that Google realizes the need for a centralized backup solution and delivers it fast. In the meantime, you have to come to your own rescue. Here is an overview of simple steps that you can take now. Most of them are manual procedures that need to be done periodically. Not exactly a cutting edge technology solution, but it works.

Gmail Messages

Inbox and other folders. You can download a copy of every message in Gmail to an email client. Here are the instructions from Google on how to do it with POP

Gmail Contacts

Again, Google provides instructions on their help pages on exporting Gmail contacts.

Google Documents

Google docs is a great way to keep all your work organized and in one place. If you are an active user, here is how create a backup. Open your Google Documents page. There is a pane in the middle that displays your documents one per line. Select some documents (one is enough), right-click and choose “download” from the menu. A pop-up window will appear.

Google Docs popu menu

Google Docs backup menu

Switch tabs to “All Items”. Choose the format you want to use for each document type. Click the button. Save the zipped file locally, preferably in a location that gets backed up.

Picasa photos

You have a local copy of your pictures on your hard drive already. Picasa provides it’s own backup utilities but if you back up your whole disk then there is no need for that.

Google Bookmarks

Go to your Google bookmarks webpage. Click on ‘Export’ under ‘Tools’, on the right side of the page.

Google Calendar

There is no backup utility for it. You can use Calendar Sync to sync events between Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook Calendar. You can read more at this Google help page. I did not find this feature particularly useful for me.

Google Reader

Less used than other apps, Google Reader is a great tool . If you use it, you probably don’t want to loose your subscriptions – it is like losing your browser bookmarks. Luckily, you can save all your subscriptions. Go to ‘Settings’ in the upper right corner, choose ‘Import/Export’ tab.

Google Account security

Not a backup procedure but since we are talking about your Google data security – you can hack-proof your Google accounts with the new two-step verification. If you choose to enable it, signing in your account from an unknown computer will require receiving a code on a mobile device of your choice and confirming it. Read more in this official Google Enterprise Blog article.

We only covered Google backup for the main Google online storage services. The remote backup services did not quite catch up with the recent explosive growth of cloud computing, Web 2.0 and Social media sites. Let’s hope they do in the near future. In the mean time, these simple steps should keep you safe.

Web Backup – Five Things To Look For When Choosing Online Backup Service

The number of online backup providers is constantly growing to accommodate the increasing popularity of web backup services. Recommendations for best choices become obsolete in a matter of months. In order to find and configure the online data backup solution that is best for your needs, you need to know what to look for in the myriad of features. It is really not that complicated. Here are five things you should be paying attention to when choosing web backup and configuring it for safe and worry-free use.

One. Reliability
This is the hardest to quantify but important to keep in mind. Your online file backup will not do you any good if the online backup company goes out of business or loses your data. There are two precautions you can take. First, go with a reputable company that has a reliability record. Check customer reviews and look specifically for complaints about lost data. Second, test your backup. Move some of the backed up files to a different location or a flash drive, and test the recovery component of your online backup solution. If your test fails, figure out what went wrong. Did you make a mistake when configuring your backup application, or is it the provider’s fault? If so, change to a different web backup service and ask for a refund. How often should you test? A good practice is to test your backup as soon as it completes for the first time, and then test again after about a month. If everything works well on both occasions then you can check less frequently.

Two. Price
Let’s face it, extra cost is the number one reason why people don’t backup their files (along with the bad habit of procrastinating on important but not urgent decisions). Most backup companies charge per year per gigabyte stored. To figure out your yearly cost, multiply by the number of gigabytes that you plan to store. Most backup providers now have unlimited plans. Compare them also since they can be a better deal if you plan to store a lot of data. Also, estimate the price of a similar size external hard drive. While online remote backup gives many advantages, it would be wise to compare the cost of both solutions.

Three. Privacy
A web backup company is not likely to steal your data. A company employee is a different story. If you plan to store any type of sensitive data then you want to go with a backup service provider that lets you use encryption and never sends unencrypted data over the Web. Most companies that have this extra security are eager to advertise it. Which means that if encryption is not mentioned in the summary of features, you can assume that this particular backup plan does not have it. Keep in mind though that unless you took precautions to secure your home computer with antivirus, firewall, and anti-spyware tools, the chances are greater for your information to be stolen directly from it than from a web backup location.

Four. Scheduling and incremental backup
Your online backup is only useful if it is up-to-date. How frequently do you make major changes to your information? This should be the determining factor of the web backup schedule. The backup software should also be able to figure out the list of updated files and only backup them. This is known as an incremental backup. It is especially important for web backup because it is done via your Internet connection, and full backup can take many days to complete. Do you often move the files around your hard drives? In this case, you need software that is smart enough to realize that and update the location of the file, rather than backup the moved file all over again.

Five. Versioning – keep more than just the latest copy
Neglecting this feature is the frequent cause of data loss, and the reason why many on-the-fly data backup solutions (such as RAID arrays) are not adequate to protect you fully. The reason is as follows: data loss is often a result of either a file corruption, or an accidental overwrite of a useful document with wrong information. You might not realize that your data has been long gone until much later, at which point your only hope of recovery is a backup that stores old versions of the files. This often overlooked feature is absolutely critical for safe online backup!

Final Remarks
You can get an overall idea about different backup service providers from their websites and customer reviews. But you will not know for sure that you found what you’ve been looking for until you try the backup software yourself. Free trials come handy for that. Most web backup providers offer them now. Another point to consider is your internet connection speed and the effect that running backup will have on your web browsing experience and other network intensive activities. Once again, no review will be as good as your own test. Download and run a trial version of software, and see if web backup is the best solution for your data protection needs.

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Backup Software Review – Backup to a Friend Part Three

This is the third and final part of the backup software review article that explains how to setup a backup to your friend’s computer using CrashPlan. Read the first part and the second part.

After we set up the backup as described in the previous article, backup was running smoothly without any need for more manual work.Take a look at my friend’s computer snapshot:

There are several new things you can notice. First, there is the message that I accepted his invitation. Second, there are two backup destinations. That is because he is already a subscriber to CrashPlan Central (paid service). Which brings us to a couple of things we did not quite like:
1. We could only backup the same selection of files to all backup destinations. As you can see, my friend wants to backup 900 Gigabytes! He can back up all he wants to CrashPlan Central servers but I have no intention of wasting that much hard drive space on him. Not to mention the Internet traffic. It would be much better if there was an option to backup only important files to both destinations! If you only want to back up once then it is not a problem.
2. It seems that only one destination can be used at one time.

Now, some good news. Both of us have an internet connection with 10Mbps inbound and only 1Mbps, according to the speed tests. This is a standard speed for a cable modem connection. Somehow, CrashPlan software manages to run almost at twice that speed – 1.9 Mbps. The software is supposed to be smart enough to slow down when you are using your computer to access the Internet, and run at full speed when you are away. We did not use it long enough to tell you how well this works in practice. There are many parameters that allow you to fine tune the backup. Given our bad luck fiddling with the bind address as mentioned before, we wisely chose to leave the advanced features alone and use the default settings.

In conclusion of our CrashPlan backup software review, we would like to say that this program works quite nicely,although setting it up can be a little painful. Hopefully, this guide will make it easier for you if you decide to use a similar setup to keep your data safe.

How does it fare against the competition? Well, there is no competition as far as we know. Which is quite unfortunate. Backing up to another computer is a great solution that combines the strong points of backing up to another hard drive and backing up to web backup provider. So for now, we are going to continue to use this one. Will let you know how it turns out.

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Backup Software Review – Backup to a Friend Part Two

This is the second part of the backup software review article that explains how to setup a backup to your friend’s computer using CrashPlan. The first part is here.

The screenshots are for Windows computers but you can do the same on Mac OS or Linux. My friend already had Crashplan installed so he could skip steps 1-3.

1. Both: Go to crashplan.com and download home version. It comes with 30 days free use of CrashPlan Central. For the purpose of what we are doing here, it is irrelevant.

2. Both: install CrashPlan. Straightforward.

3. Both: Start Crashplan and register your account when prompted. Even though we do not plan to use web backup to their servers, this is a necessary step. Choose secure password!

4. Friend: To open CrashPlan at any time, find it in your “Programs” menu, or find and click the green house icon in your tray (lower right corner of your screen). Go to “Friends” tab and click on “Invite Friends”:

We will talk about settings later.

This will open a web browser window. Login with your email and password if necessary. Your friend should enter your email (same as you used to register CrashPlan) and click “Add”.

5. You: Open your Crashplan and go to “Backup” tab.

You should see Backup Request from your friend – click “Accept”. Your friend’s name now also appears in “Backup Destinations”.

6. Both: In the same tab, look at “Files to Back Up” section. Click “Change” and select the files that need to be backed up. Pretty straightforward! You can modify your selection later.

7. Both: View your connection settings. Either look at the picture in part 4 and click where we showed you, or go to “Settings” tab and click “Configure” next to “Inbound backup from other computers”.

Now, do you know the difference between “view” and “edit”? Well, we didn’t. We decided that the four zeroes in that “Listen bind address” can’t be good, and wasted hours trying to put something else there. Don’t make our mistake and leave that field alone!

You can change the archive location – this is the place where your friend’s encrypted backup will go. You can also change the listen port.

8. Both: Speaking of ports – this is the reason why you needed to open that tab (by the way, you can close it now). You need to have this port open so that the other person can connect to you. As we already mentioned in the first part of this mini-guide you need to open port 4242 in your router and/or your software firewall.

Once you do this, you and your friend are ready to start backing up to each other! We will let you know how it worked for us in the third (and last) part of this backup software review.

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Backup Software Review – Backup to a Friend Part One

Savvy computer users have seen enough data disasters to keep multiple copies of their important data. A low tech but effective way is to copy to another computer – either at home or at a friend’s place. This process is usually manual and prone to errors and shortcomings. Things just got better! This first backup software review article is about a handy program made by CrashPlan.com that automates the whole process and does not cost you a dime.

First, a few words about backing up to a friend. People often think that this is not secure. In fact, it is more secure than most other methods – mainly because you will always know when your friend’s computer is having a hard drive failure and can quickly make other backup arrangements.

Now about the Crashplan application. It is a Swiss army knife of backup, and that is what makes it so great! This program allows you to do all three things:

  1. Backup to another media locally (and external hard drive).
  2. Backup to a friend (that is, any other computer on the Internet that runs the same software and allows you to connect to it).
  3. Back up to CrashPlan’ own storage facility (called CrashPlan Central). This is a regular web backup, a paid service that competes with other backup providers.That is how CrashPlan makes money. It used to be one of the first companies that allowed unlimited backup at no extra cost, at the time when everyone else was charging 15 cents per gigabyte per year. The owners of Terabyte drives jumped on the opportunity, and that is when we first noticed the company. Since then, many others offered similar deals.

This article is only about backing up to a friend. But having a piece of software that can do all the backups that you need is an extra bonus! We will tell you at the end of this article series how it worked out for us.

The software is completely free but you and your friend need extra storage space. You back up your data to your friend, and he/she backs up to you. So both of you need extra room on your hard drives – this is the only cost of this solution.

Last week, we decided to run a test and see how this would work for us. It took us a little bit of time to have everything configured correctly. We took the screenshots of the whole process and will post a step-by-step guide which will allow you to have the whole thing up and running very quickly. For now, a quick overview of how you can set it up for yourself:

1. Both you and your friend go to crashplan.com, download and install the software.

2. Both need to register with them with your email and password.

3. You send an invitation to your friend to do mutual backup.

4. Your computers need to be accessible to each other. There are two things that get in the way – routers and software firewalls. They are protecting you from potentially malicious programs trying to access your computer from the outside, and block all the other incoming traffic as well. You need to reconfigure them so that CrashPlan connections are allowed. This procedure is known as opening a port in your firewall, or port forwarding in your router. Unfortunately, firewalls and routers usually have confusing interfaces, making it hard to do. If you have either a router or a firewall (and you should, by the way), the best way is to google your particular device or program name. Most likely you will find a step-by-step guide.

This is the hardest part. After that, you are done! You can get more details and read a step-by-step guide in the second part of the Crashplan backup software review here.

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Should I use my photo sharing site to backup photos?

For some reason, this question is asked a lot. Online image galleries become bigger and better, especially the paid ones. And people just don’t like to pay twice — since their photos are online already, why not use the same service to backup photos.
Digital Profile

Here are four questions you should ask yourself to decide if this is right for you:

  1. Aside from your images, how much data do you need to backup?For example, my digital photos are about 20 percent of all the data I need to backup. So this does not solve anything for me – I still need to find a way to backup the remaining 80 percent. Is it the case for you also? Or do you have less than 10 gigabytes of data that needs to be backed up, and all the rest is your photos? Then read the rest of this article.
  2. Are you a data hoarder, or do you keep only the good images? Do you come from a five day vacation with thousands of images and barely have time to look at them all, but still want to store all of them safely? Then maybe you don’t want to upload everything to your online albums. On the other hand, if you mercilessly delete anything with a hint of out-of -focus and only leave good shots to posterity, then maybe you can backup photos to your online gallery site. Most people are somewhere in between.
  3. Are you a serious photographer who shoots in raw format and edits every shot?Raw format is perfect for image editing but cannot be used in online galleries. If your photos are in jpeg format and you don’t edit much then you are fine.
  4. Do you use your online albums regularly? Your photos are not safe online either. Companies go out of business, change the terms of their service, or just loose customer data. Not the End of the World — you still have your photos on your hard drive. You will just need to find a new online photo album site. But if you ‘set it and forget it’ – upload your pictures and don’t go back to look at them for months and years, then there is a good chance that you will not notice when your backup photos go missing online. Then one day your good old hard drive dies, and your photos are gone. Not a good solution for you. On the other hand, if you constantly upload new pictures and work with your online galleries then you are fine. It is not very likely that both accidents happen simultaneously. And if they do, read the last paragraph of this article.

As you can see, using online galleries to backup photos is not something that is good for everyone. If you are still interested then you need to find a suitable photo sharing site, or check if the one you are currently using will work. For the purposes of backup, you definitely need the following features:

  1. Enough online storage space for all your photos (obviously).
  2. Ability to quickly upload a large batch of photos.
  3. Make sure that the pictures are stored in the original format and not resized or compressed. Digital camera photos have resolution larger than computer screens, so web based viewers show them in reduced size. But you want your original high quality picture to still be available to you, don’t you?
  4. Ability to retrieve all photos in a batch. If you want to get thousands of your photos back, clicking “Save As” a thousand times is not the way to go.

There are photo sharing sites that let you do all the above. But you still want to use them as your photo album, and there are many features that you want just for that purpose. If you are active on social sites then you want to be able to directly link to your images from your blog or Facebook page. If you are concerned with privacy then you might want a site that allows you to restrict access to only your friends. Some sites have ugly or cumbersome interfaces. And so on. Finding a place that has all what you need can be tricky. While many sites are free, be prepared to pay if you want the best.

And finally, don’t backup photos to the Web only. The best solution is to burn a DVD copy as well. This common wisdom applies to all media – you should have two backup copies of every important file.

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Web Backup Protects You From Data Loss

The hard drive in your computer will fail. It is not a matter of if, but only a matter of when. Hard drives have moving parts, and their lifetime is limited. Industry estimates of a hard drive life expectancy is five years, but more than 10 percent fail within the first year. In most cases, data loss is unrecoverable. Unless you saved a copy – like doing a web backup for instance.

How will losing all data on your PC affect you? For many people, a relatively minor data loss such as losing Web browser bookmarks or Outlook contacts is a source of significant distress. Not to mention personal financial data, digital photos, homework assignments, Office documents, emails, mp3 collections, and so on. It is hard to realize how much we all depend on digital media until it is all gone.

Data backup seems like a good idea. Not that you did not know that before. Most probably, you’ve been thinking about some sort of backup. You are not alone – a survey by a hard drive manufacturer reveals that more than 70% of all data loss victims were considering doing some sort of backup but never took action. There is only one sure way not to become part of that statistics – create an action plan now. Because “should do it some time” things never get done.
Online, or web backup is becoming increasingly popular as fast Internet access becomes a commonplace. Is web backup the best option? It depends on your needs. Let’s look at the alternatives.

1. Burn CDs or DVDs
If you have a burner, this is a fast way to dramatically improve your protection from data loss. If you have not done so, spend half an hour collecting the most important files on your hard drive, and burn a copy today. A partial protection is better than none. What are the disadvantages? A single DVD only stores 4GB of data – it might be to little for you. It is a one time archiving rather than an up-to-date backup. Most importantly, DVDs don’t last as long as people think. No one knows for sure what the lifetime is. The main factor is the quality of the dye in the blank DVDs (What were you looking for when buying yours – the quality or the price?) And since nobody checks their backup DVDs regularly, there is a chance that the data will not be there when you need it.

2. External hard drive
This is a popular solution and a viable option. The disadvantages? Since they are likely to be next to your computer they don’t protect against fire, theft, or major electrical surge. Significant extra cost and complexity of setup is what most people mention as a reason for not using external storage backup. Still, it is a viable alternative to web backup and might be the best option for you. If you decide to go with this option, make sure that you have a dedicated drive that you use only for backup.

3. Web backup offers the best degree of reliability if you choose a reputable provider. Many free options are available for small volumes of data while full backup will require a subscription – you either pay per gigabyte, or pay yearly for unlimited size. Setup is usually very simple – all you need to do is select the folders that need to be copied, and select the frequency of backups. Many fine tuning options are usually available for advanced users.
The disadvantage of web backup is that you absolutely need a fast Internet connection. And if you want to back up a lot (100GB or more) then it will take many days to do initial backup, and many days to recover all data. Since your data is going to be stored at a remote location, you might want to choose a vendor that has an option of data encryption.

So what type of backup is right for you? For most people, the deciding factor is the cost. And direct price comparison is hard to make. External hard drive requires larger initial investment while web backup is based on a yearly fee. Since the storage prices are constantly dropping, getting an external drive is hardly a long term investment. I usually compare the cost of external storage to the price of a two-year online backup plan. And use two backup solutions for the most critical data. The only bad decision is no decision at all.

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