Backing Up To the Cloud

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This post is the second in a series on Cloud Computing. See the first article here.

Let me tell you about the time I lost my data. Well, it wasn’t actually mine. Being a technology worker, most of my time is spent protecting other people’s data, but much like a teacher calls her students “my kids” I call my customers’ documents “my data.”

In this case, I had foolishly allowed a server disk to exist without redundancy. That means when the drive failed (as all disk drives do, eventually), the server crashed. When the server crashed, everyone’s computers started vomiting errors. When that happens, people start speaking in tongues and their heads spin around backwards. The technical term for this is “Business Continuity Interruption.”

“It’s all okay,” I reassured, “I have a backup!”

Well, several hours and several buckets worth of nervous sweat later, I realized the backups were corrupt. The tapes were completely unreadable. At this point, I’m thinking of polishing off my resume and skipping town.

My last resort was to bring the disk drive to a company that could break it apart and copy the data, bit-by-bit onto a new disk. Three days later, we received a new disk (with “most” of the data) and a $1,800 bill.

In return for my heroic data recovery efforts, I earned some new ulcers and a valuable lesson:

Don’t mess around with your data.

If you don’t want to experience the cold wash of dread that comes with losing all your photos and spreadsheets, you should pick a backup strategy and implement it. Data backup is as old as the PC itself, but it has always been complicated and time-consuming. With the advent of cloud computing, it has become more accessible than ever.

Note: If you don’t know what the cloud is, read my previous post on cloud computing.

When you back up your data to the cloud, you trust a team of experts to ensure the backed up data is never lost or corrupted. It’s fair to say they know a lot more about this than you, and their bevy of servers and hard disks is a lot more reliable than that laptop you left in the hot car while shopping at the mall yesterday.

Most services today also allow you to access your data from any device with an internet connection. It’s nice to know you can access that mortgage spreadsheet you created on your home computer from your iPhone at the lender’s office.

Since this is the new hot thing, there are many companies competing for leadership in the space. There are also many different pricing models, so you should really shop around before deciding on a service.

Features

Here are some things to look for in a backup service:

Security

You are trusting strangers to host your private data for you. You should read their security statement, and it should be in plain English, not some legalese double-talk. Here is a great example: http://www.dropbox.com/help/27. If you don’t feel comfortable with the measures taken to secure your data, don’t use the service.

Ease of Use

The software better be really easy to install and maintain, or you won’t use it properly. You might accidentally put the data in the wrong location, or not set your folder to sync. The only thing worse than no backup is a broken backup.

Accessible Anywhere

You should be able to access your backed up data from your home computer, work laptop, mobile phone, and tablet computer. You’re on the go all the time, and your data should be available wherever you are.

Company Viability

If your backup company goes out of business, what happens to your data? Better to use one of the big players in the market and not have to worry about it.

Company Reliability

Your data should be readily available almost 100% of the time, and the service’s terms and conditions should state this explicity. Also, look up the company on the internet, and add the words “outage” or “data lost” to see if they’ve had issues in the past.

Computer Performance

If your backup software slows down your computer, you might turn it off. (I once had a user who turned off her antivirus software that brought her computer to its knees, right before a Nigerian scam email was sent to all her friends from her personal email address.) There should be almost no perceptible performance drop when using syncing software, the initial backup excepted. If your data is backed up, and your computer is much slower, drop the service.

Network Performance

These programs transfer a LOT of data across your internet connection. However, they should be smart about it, and it shouldn’t affect your normal working internet speeds. I have seen some backups cripple a network (I won’t name names, but they’re not in the below list). If this happens to you, switch.

Services

Here are some of the top services in this space. They all have their strengths, and you should do some extra research before committing to one. All of these services offer a free trial.

Dropbox

The current leader in this space, Dropbox installs easily and works silently. You get 2GB of free storage, and prices start at $9.99 / month for 50GB. It works on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X operating systems and Android, iOS, Blackberry, and Windows Mobile devices.

Sugarsync

SugarSync is very similar to Dropbox in behavior and usage, except it’s not limited to a single folder. You get 5GB free storage, and plans start at $4.99 / month for 30GB. It works on Windows and Mac OS X operating systems and Android, iOS, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, and Symbian devices.

Microsoft SkyDrive

Microsoft is now offering Office for free as a cloud application, and SkyDrive is intended to be used as storage for Office Web Apps. It behaves a little differently, as you can use it like a hard drive, but all of your data is stored offline (not synched locally). 5GB is free (25GB counting Office Web Apps documents). Works on Windows only.

IDrive

IDrive is more of a pure backup software, with the internet behaving as your backup device. It does have the synchronization features similar to Dropbox, but backup plans are created and managed by the user, which may be more difficult to use. You get 5GB for free, and plans start at $4.95 per month for 150GB (watch for overuse fees). Runs on Windows, Mac OS X, and iPhone.

Mozy

Mozy is another backup like IDrive, and it has sync features in Beta. You get 2GB for free and plans start at $5.99 / month for 50GB. It runs on Windows and Mac OS X operating systems and sync will include iOS and Android devices.

Amazon Cloud Drive

Amazon Cloud Drive is new to the game, but Amazon may just be the king of cloud computing. Heck, even Dropbox uses Amazon S3 to store your files. It’s for a more Do-It-Yourself user, as you must manually sync your files. 5GB is included for free, but plans are cheap and start at $20 / year for 20GB. ACD works via a web interface, so no software is installed on your computer.

box

Box is focused more on the business consumer, but works great for personal use as well. 5GB storage for free, and prices start at $9.99 / month for 25GB. Works on PC and iPhone, with Mac OS X support coming soon.

Your Turn

What about you? What are you using for your backup, and what are your likes and dislikes? For the record, I personally use Dropbox and have been very happy with it. However, these services all have a little have something that makes them special.

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One Response to “Backing Up To the Cloud”

  1. Steve Adkins Says:

    I’ve tried the Skybox program and found it not user friendly. Files have to be uploaded ONE AT A TIME and the office suite kept freezing up.

    I also looked at DropBox and it looks a lot more easier to use but have yet to install and set it up. But I will have to check out some of the others that offer more free storage before I make a decision.

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