How I Became a Believer in Online Backups

I’ve written about the importance of having multiple backups of critical data in the past, and despite having taken quite a few precautions with important data, I found myself facing a situation where both of my physical drives containing important information were compromised.

This week, I decided to wipe my primary hard drive and install Windows 8 on it. This move was intended to give me more writing material as Windows 8 has a whole slew of different processes that beginners and experienced users alike might need some assistance with. During the initial installation of Windows 8, I wiped Disk 0 by deleting the partition tables and formatting the drive. Windows 8 created four partitions and installed itself on the drive after much hassle. I believe I had to tell it to install four times before it actually took.

Once Windows 8 was on the system, I began experiencing some serious issues. The screen flickered at random moments, windows I had opened would glitch and become grey boxes of nothing, and despite having the updated drivers for my hardware, things crashed constantly. I must have rebooted my machine three times per hour while using Windows 8. Needless to say, the Release Preview is probably the buggiest version of Windows I’ve ever run. Compared to the Windows 7 beta, this was a nightmare.

So my recourse was to revert back to Windows 7. I went through the Windows 7 installer, and deleted the partition tables on disk 0 once again (just as I had before) and everything went smoothly from there. Once the system booted, I discovered that what my system called disk 0 actually changed from the Windows 8 installer to the Windows 7 installer. I have two internal hard drives, each the exact same size and model number. That second hard drive held my backup data. All of my movies, music, and some of my work files.

This was not a fun situation, as you can imagine.

What About External Drives?

The question of why I didn’t use external drives is a valid one. I actually do have external drives serving as backup devices, though in this instance I trusted two internal drives as the external drives were underpowered for video editing.

I have a virtual graveyard of external drives sitting in my closet. Five or six drives from Western Digital, Seagate, and others that gave up the ghost before it was their time. Perhaps I have bad luck with these things, but those are the facts.

External drives are a great storage and backup option if you’re willing to fill it and put it away. In a studio setting, we had a closet full of drives, each labeled with whatever footage was on it. After a film was completed, the G-Raid drives used in its production were locked away in a closet, never to be heard from again. This was our safety precaution to prevent something bad happening to archive footage we may need later on. In the documentary industry, having a cache of archive footage is one of the most valuable things you can have.

In that environment, cloud storage would not have worked. It would have taken months, even on a fiber connection, to upload the sheer volume of bits associated with this data. Facilitating the upload would have been an IT nightmare.

We did, however, end up purchasing a storage server capable of holding the data from the dozens and dozens of G-Raid drives that filled our cabinets. That storage server was no bargain, and for a home office setup like mine, is entirely impractical.

Downsides of Cloud Backup Services

If you’re on an internet connection with a bandwidth limit, you’re going to have a very hard time backing up more than the bare essentials. HD video, a large music collection, and perhaps a giant photo library could take a very long time to upload. If you hit your bandwidth limit for the month, you might suffer the wrath of your ISP.

Not all cloud backup services are created equal, either. Some give you the benefit of browser-level access to your data while others require you to install special software to retrieve your data. Prices can very widely as well. For a comprehensive backup solution consisting of 500 GB or more, you might end up paying anywhere from $15 to $150 per month. Professional access with multiple logins or additional storage can run into the hundreds or even thousands. You may also be metered by how much you download, should restoring from a backup be necessary.

Your access is limited by your Internet connection. Backing up even a relatively small amount of data can take quite a long time. I’m uploading 100 GB of information as I’m writing this, and I’m on day two of the process.

My Solution – IDrive

After having suffered the loss of some of my important data, I decided to seek out some online storage options to find the solution that fits best with my particular needs. The majority of my critical data is HD video, so capacity and upload/download speed is important. I’m also on a limited budget.

After considering services from Mozy, Carbonite, and even Google Drive, I decided to go with IDrive. IDrive isn’t a product of Apple, but of Pro Softnet, a company that focuses on IT storage and backup solutions for users ranging from home consumers to large enterprises.

IDrive is a cross-platform software and web application solution for continuous data backup. It is presently only available on Windows and OS X, though you can connect a single account to multiple systems. In my case, my HP Windows desktop and MacBook Pro are connected and synced with the service.

IDrive gives you the ability to set 256-bit AES encryption on the client side with a private key option. This key isn’t held by IDrive, but by yourself. This makes you the only person with access to your data.

You can also back up a lot more than just your desktop and laptop computer. IDrive gives you the ability to back up your PCs, Macs, iPhones, iPads and Android devices into a single account.

I emailed Raghu Kulkarni, the CEO of Pro Softnet to discuss potential future features of the IDrive service. “We have many upcoming features planned.” He said, “There would be more social media integration, better sharing, and full desktop-like features for the mobile apps, and finally sync integration.”

My personal experience with the software has been somewhere in the middle of the road. The software itself could be more intuitive, and it’s hard to tell when you’re backing up and when you aren’t. The interface is different on OS X and Windows, so there is a slight adjustment period when switching between systems.

The web interface, however, is quite pleasant. Everything is simple and intuitive. I’d actually much rather use the Web interface to retrieve a file than the software.

A 500 GB plan runs about $14.95 per month, making it one of the more inexpensive solutions I’ve come across during my research.

Other Options

Carbonite is a trusted name in data backup and security. Instead of paying for capacity, you’re actually paying for the features you wish to take advantage of. Carbonite offers three different yearly plans for home and home office users.

The Home plan is available for Mac and PC, and gives you the ability to back up an unlimited amount of data on from one computer and access that data from the Web. This plan runs $59 per year.

The HomePlus plan, available only for Windows, gives you everything the Home plan does plus external drive and mirror backups. This plan will run you $99/year.

At $149/year, the HomePremium plan gives you everything above plus a courier recovery service which enables you to have a copy of your backup shipped to you rather than having to download it directly from the site. This makes recovery much more practical if you’re in a situation where bandwidth is limited. Again, this is Windows only and limited to one computer.

Mozy offers some pretty straightforward plans for home users. You could spend $5.99 per month for 50GB of storage for one computer or $9.99 per month for 125 GB for up to three computers. You can pay more for more storage, and business plans are certainly more robust.

Mozy’s data transfers are encrypted at what it calls a military level via SSL. Once in the data center, data is kept on SAS70 and ISO certified servers. Mozy also offers customers the ability to store versions of files which allow you to restore backups of file versions up to 30 days in the past. Incremental backups are also available, giving you the ability to only upload the portions of files that have changed. This keeps your bandwidth use down as you alter documents and other data.

IBackup offers fairly robust backup solutions for home users, as well. Like IDrive, you pay for the space you use. Plans are available at 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 300 GB levels starting at $10-300 per month with yearly plans available at a slight monthly discount.

Like Mozy, versioning is supported across all plans. It’s also available on Mac and PC, with mobile devices such as an iPhone supported as well.

Final Thoughts

It really doesn’t matter where you back up your data, as long as you have back ups and the solution you decide on works for your particular needs. Not everyone will appreciate uploading 50+ GB of data to the cloud at first, but once the upload is complete, you can rest assured that no fire, flood, or theft can take away your important photos and documents.

I may be a professional on a budget, but it helps to know that my business is protected from any physical circumstance that might occur at my home office. With a backup kept somewhere in a data center far away, perhaps I can put this pile of hard drives to better use.

What about you? What do you do to back up your data?

13 comments On How I Became a Believer in Online Backups

  • Great post Matt, makes me wanna check out IDrive for my audio files. I have three separate backups, but you’re right, you never know. Thanks!

  • I have an iMac and a MacBook Pro both have TimeMachine configured to share the same 1TB external hard drive(my prime backup). I guess my secondary would be my Dropbox account setup on both machines. Since I only have 2.8GB of space in Dropbox, I’m considering using my Windows SkyDrive 25GB storage. As a web graphic designer, I save a lot of Illustrator and Photoshop files in which they range up to 40MB a piece. Over time, that’s going to take up my 2.8GB Dropbox space. The reason I save them to my Dropbox account is to access them on my iMac at home or my MacBook Pro when I’m not at home. I don’t really have a budget to purchase online storage so I’ll use whatever free alternative I can get. What I would like to see TimeMachine do is recognize a cloud storage device as an option to backup to. Great article, by the way, Matt :). Thanks for sharing.

  • I use CrashPlan. It’s much cheaper than the above plans you listed. I’m disappointed you didn’t mention it especially since it was getting a lot of publicity a few months ago. I checked all the prices, CP is pretty damn cheap. I have unlimited space for up to 10 computers and I bought the 4-year family plan for $288 total. (~$6 a month for up to 10 computers is nothing to sneeze at.) All the other plans are so expensive and limited.

    Is there a reason you overlooked it? Especially since the only unlimited plan you mentioned was Carbonite’s single computer $60 plan when I’m paying $72 a year for up to 10 computers. I’d be interested in knowing if you think CrashPlan wouldn’t work for you for some reason. Because it works well for me. Especially with the iOS and Android apps that let me view and download any backed up files from anywhere. It basically means I always have all my files with me even if all I have is my phone. Which is a really good feeling.

    • I didn’t mention it because I haven’t had personal experience with it, but thanks for mentioning it here. It sounds like a good addition to any shortlist.

      • I did a lot of research when I made my decision and CrashPlan was getting a lot of reviews and had the best price/storage value that I could see. If I could change one thing though it would be that the backup handler didn’t run in Java, but that’s just a personal preference.

    • They are pretty good. I use them for personal needs & for some small businesses needs. Not to mention, assuming you set it up right, it can be HIPAA compliant.

    • I am using CrashPlan for almost 5 months now and it’s really good

  • Amazon S3 service is a true gem.
    iv’e been using it for a while now. you pay as you go, and the prices are crazy-cheap.

  • I signed up for Carbonite and 1 month later my pc was crashed by a virus, Carbonite did save the day

  • I totally sympathize. I managed to lose my music server drive and backup (with over 50,000 songs in itunes) through a bizarre series of events. I did have other backups of content in various places, but even rebuilding the library from various sources was a daunting project. I need to look at online backup, too, so I appreciate this list.

  • Maximilian Majewski

    Wuala is also a great service, which many seem to miss out. It offers high security also. I personally use Google Drive now, for most of my smaller files and documents. Skydrive I use for anything larger, since I got the 25 GB upgrade for free 🙂

  • Wouldn’t work for most Canadians. I’m on the Rogers Ultimate plan with 75 down and 2 up.. Backing up 9TB of data would take years, literally.

  • You should have used the good practice of unplugging your data drive for a windows installation. It would have saved you. On the upside, you got to research online backup!

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Ryan Matthew Pierson