I am a big fan of backups ever since my office building had a fire one afternoon. An electrical short in the office directly below mine caused the fire, and I fortunately wasn’t there when the fire started – I had left the office to run an errand. But when I came back and saw the fire engines circled around my office building, my heart skipped a beat. Yes, I had done plenty of backups of my data, indeed just that morning I had made one. And my backup was sitting right next to the computer on my desk! A lot of good that was going to do me now, to be sure. Fortunately, nothing in my office was harmed, and I learned a valuable lesson.
The first rule of backups: make a habit of taking them to another location.
With the advances of broadband and better Web services technologies, you now have a lot of different choices when it comes to storing your data offsite. Depending on how much money you want to spend, you can accomplish this with pennies, a few or hundreds of dollars. Let’s start with the pennies first.
The simplest strategy is to burn CDs or DVDs with your data, and take them somewhere else on a regular basis. When you have accumulated a bunch of discs, though, this gets somewhat difficult to manage. One of my readers has a great take on this: “You can use my rule of thumb: Whenever you visit your mom, take a new backup and keep it at her house. If she nags you about not seeing her often enough, it means your backup is not
Next up in the cost curve is using one of the resellers of Amazon’s S3 storage API. The two services that I tried are ElephantDrive.com and JungleDisk.com. They use small applications that communicate with Amazon’s storage repository. They both encrypt and then move your data up into cyberspace. The downside is that Jungle doesn’t currently offer synchronization with your data on your hard disk, so you have to do some work to manage the updates on your own — although they have promised to be working on a solution. They are also fairly slow at sending the files up to Amazon — 150 MB took 45 minutes for one service, and two hours for the other.
The two Amazon services are dirt cheap — you will be hard pressed to spend more than $10 a year for 2 GB of data. Amazon has published their storage API and we can expect more players to enter this space. Jungle handles both Macs and Windows, while Elephant is Windows-only. Both are small start-ups, which may be an issue because who knows how long they will be around. I want to save my data someplace and then the company disappears. On the other hand, “We have released all our source code on how we do the encryption and how we store the information on S3,” says Jungle Dave Wright, the head guy there. “Users can feel confident that there are other tools where they can get copies of their data off of S3.” And at these prices this can be just one of many places that holds your data.
A better solution on the synchronization scene is from FolderShare.com, which used to be owned by Iomega but is now part of the Redmond Borg. You install the software on two PCs, and they work on both Mac and Windows. Any files in a specific directory that you designate that gets saved on one gets copied to the other. It is presently free, too.
One company that has been around for a while in this space is MyDocsOnline.com. They offer a confusing array of pricing plans, but to use their backup service you get 5 GB for about $100/year. They are competing with Xdrive, which is owned now by AOL and will be offering 4 GB for free starting next month. Another company here in the mid-price bracket is Box.net, who offers 4 GB for about $60/year. Some other solutions offered by my readers include Datadepositbox.com, carbonite.com, and LogMeIn. These are all-Windows solutions as far as I know at present.
I have been using MyDocs for years, and like the system. Uploads are fast, and they also support WebDAV, which makes it easier to mount the server on your desktop and save files to it. Synchronization isn’t as much of an issue if you can just delete and replace the entire data store with a clean set of files, which is what I do.
At the top end of the market are companies like eVault and Iron Mountain that offer online storage for larger enterprises. These typically start around $100 a month for 5GB of storage. Apple also has its .Mac offering too. It costs $200 a year for 4 GB of storage.
No matter which service you use, start to do something today about saving offsite copies of your data. Don’t wait for a fire or other disaster to get going on this.