Backup Strategies

As the IT guy at work, I'm responsible for making sure that we've got good backups available in case anything goes wrong. Like many corporations we use tape backup which we rotate off site. It works reasonably well as we've got it down to a routine, with daily and weekly backup tapes, ensuring that we can roll back 1-5 days or 1-5 weeks. (Or less, as we also use ShadowCopy on our servers.)

At home though, it's a different story. I find its way harder to get into a backup schedule at home, for a variety of reasons. Despite making sure we have backups at work, I've been notoriously bad about backing up the data on my personal machines.

This obviously leads to the inevitable "What If" questions… what if the house burns down? What if a computer was stolen? What happens if I lost my laptop? What happens if we have a catastrophic hard drive failure? What if… So last week I decided to actually deal with this issue.

Acronis True Image

I installed a copy of Acronis True Image (an older version) that Acronis was generous enough to provide to me a year or so ago. I managed to backup my laptop to an external USB hard drive, which was great. But there's this thing about backups… as my friend John once said "The value is not in the backup, it's in the restore." To complete a backup test, I decided to restore it to another machine that I have in the office.

It was a no-go. Not the fault of Acronis, to be sure. I've heard great things about their products, and I'm sure it would have worked just fine. The issue is that I backed up 200GB of stuff, and the machine I could mess around with only has a 75GB drive. It just won't fit.

So I've still got that backup, but it's not really as portable as I want. And while the new version of Acronis has a "set it and forget it" feature, this one doesn't. So that still leaves me needing to manually trigger backups which, as I mentioned earlier, I'm not very good at remembering to do. So I gave up on Acronis, looking for a better solution.

One thing I would say about Acronis is that I'm not really a fan of the restore interface. It strikes me much like the old Norton Ghost versions which aren't quite clearly explained. I don't use this product much, so what I'd like to see are screens that read something like the following:

  • What file would you like to restore FROM?
    • Show the list of drives, but mark which are internal and which are external drives
  • Where would you like to restore TO?
    • Show the list of drives, again mark which are internal vs external
    • Clearly explain that the drive you select here will be overwritten

I just really didn't find it was worded quite like that, which made me a little nervous.

Mozy

So at any rate, I kept looking, and re-visited Mozy, eventually holding my breath and shelling out $9.90 for a month of backup to test it out for our PC's.

Mozy seems pretty slick. It basically works like this:

  • Flag the files you want to back up
  • It compresses and encrypts them
  • It uploads them to Mozy's server
  • They are available to restore

The actual backup interface is pretty simple, and you can pick the speed it uploads at if you want to scale up/down your upload speeds. The shot below is a backup in progress. Keep in mind that I don't have much bandwidth here at home, since I'm running over a wireless G connection.

There is something misleading about the image above though… You'd think that pressing "Cancel Backup" would actually cancel the backup. It doesn't. It stops it temporarily, as you can see below:

I also tested the restore. Again, the interface is pretty simple, as you can see below:

It took about two minutes to "find the file on the server", and then the restore of the file was pretty much instant. The file works just fine.

Some of the things that really sell me on Mozy are:

  • It has "set it and forget it" scheduling. Set the backup files and it just works away in the background
  • It is on a remote server. So I don't have to remember to burn discs or write to tape and take it away
  • It only backs up the changes going forward, so it won't consume all my bandwidth while I'm trying to use it

One thing to be aware of though, is that you do need bandwidth to upload your data to their servers. Dee's backup is over 12GB, and has been working for about 2 days now to send it all along at about 800kbps. That may seem like a lot of time, but the peace of mind of having the family photos backed up is worth it.

My Verdict

I'm pretty frugal when it comes to my software, but so far, I'd recommend this one. I think it has some serious advantages over traditional backup methods, gives good peace of mind and, at $4.95 per month for unlimited backup for home users, it's pretty affordable.

If you're interested, you can find out more at www.mozy.com/home.  I was also made aware by email of a full review at onlinebackupsreview.com, where you can also save 20% with a Mozy Promotional Code.

6 thoughts on “Backup Strategies

  1. I was in the same boat. I have Backup4All running at home to backup from one computer to another, but it didn't solve the doomsday scenarios. It was getting harder to burn dvds due to the size of the backups. I now have a pair of external drives that I keep one off site, and one on-line (rotating whenever I remember).

    I looked at Mozy and Carbonite one time. I can't remember why I didn't like them, whether it was issues with versioning, size limitations or something else. I tried another company for a year, but they shut their service down (30 days notice and refunded the remaining money; nice).

    I'm now using Jungle Disk which uses Amazon's storage system. 2 bucks for the service per month, plus storage and traffic fees (which are paid direct to Amazon). First month was expensive, but I'm counting on the traffic fees to get a lot less. I can have multiple computers on this plan.

    After 30 days, I'm happy. It has an RSS feed which tells me the status of each backup. It also only sends the changed portions to reduce traffic. And, I can access the files from anywhere, if necessary.

    Since this system is just one component of my plan, if the service craps out tomorrow, I'll just find another one. I haven't lost anything other than the time to find another plan.

  2. I've used Mozy for a couple years, and I've found it to be relaible. I haven't had to restore too frequently, but when I have it's been straightforward and fairly quick.

    Restoring single files can be done right from Windows Explorer. Larger backups require you to wait until they've put the files into one or more large Zip files, then download these files.

    My only problem is that sometimes I forget to tell Mozy about major changes to my file system.

  3. @ Jon, glad to hear you're happy with it, and thanks for the heads up on the file structure change.

    @ JP, yes, guilty as charged. I wear a few hats.

    @ Omar, good to know there are other alternatives out there. I elected for Mozy partly because I didn't want to get into a pay for bandwidth scenario. Could be short sighted though, but who really knows till you're a few months in, right?

  4. I forgot another reason I went with Jungle Disk. Steve Gibson of Spinrite was ecstatic about its security system. Neither Amazon or Jungle Disk could access my data if they tried.

    And maybe I'm wrong on choosing the pay as you load model. I just uploaded over a gig of photos last night. At 15 cents a gig plus 10 cents per month storage, it doesn't seem bad, but I seem to keep doing this.

  5. Mozy is a very nice backup service and one of our top picks. However, in online backup services one size does not fit all. Make sure that you investigate multiple services before you purchase. Most have a Free Trial account. Many are targeted say at data storage only, but for files that change frequently a syncing and reversioning backup service might be better. Also, test a restore. You may find backing up is easy, but restore much more painful.

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