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.