Online backup

Computer Matters Newsletter 1 – Online backup

Taken from my first newsletter back in May 2007

As always, I hope all is well. Here is my first newsletter as promised….I hope you find it useful.

When trying to decide what to write about in this first newsletter, it was a very easy decision. Backup is key for anyone with a computer and it is a lack of backups that cause the most distress after a computer disaster or theft.

Computers can be repaired or replaced. Data cannot. Without proper backup, there is a risk of losing all those photos, that music collection, personal and business documents and all those emails you have.

In my opinion, any form of backup is a good start and already keeps you a step ahead of many computer users. However, any “off-site” backup is getting you in the right direction – since “on-site” backups can be stolen, lost or damaged e.g. by fire.

Furthermore, the more regularly you backup the better. If you diarise to do something weekly and you stick to it – it’s a good start, daily is even better. Automated backups (reliable ones) are truly the way forward….I say “reliable” since many automated schedulers are not reliable and just do not take place.

Another issue to consider is security. Making a backup is one thing, but if it is not secure, one does not want it to get in to the wrong hands.

To suffice all these requirements, online backup is really the best way forward for most users. It is automated, it is off-site and it is secure.

Just as an aside, even as I write this email in word, I am clicking “save” on every paragraph – it is just good practice. If I was working on a desktop and there was a sudden power-cut, there is no guarantee of document recovery even with the “auto-save” features in word.

In this email I will write briefly about storage capacities, summarise different forms of backup and end of with two recommendations for online backup services that you could setup immediately.

Storage capacities: These are measured in bytes, kilobytes (KB), megabytes(MB), gigabytes(GB), or even terabytes.

Examples of storage requirements:

1. Word/Excel/pdf documents take up anything from 10KB and up depending on its content. Documents with photos will always take a higher capacity. Most of my documents are around 50KB in size. I have personally amassed 2,200 in “my documents” taking up approx 700MB of space

2. Music mp3 files – the average song recorded at a good sound quality, is about 1MB per minute. So a music 70 minute album in mp3 format is typically around 70MB. Following this though, 10 albums will be around 700MB and 100 albums will be 7GB.

3. Photos – a good quality photo is about 1MB, I personally have now amassed approx 10,000 photos taking up approx 10GB

4. Emails – users of outlook can have emails from 10MB rising to 2GB or more. I try to keep my outlook files at under 200MB by using archiving techniques. I will cover issues regarding Outlook such as archiving proper backup in other newsletters.

There are many ways to backup, such as using: –

(a) “usb key” also called a “usb flash drive”, “usb drive” or “disk on key”
available storage range from small capacities like 128MB – 8GB and growing!
The usb flash drive is the modern replacement to the floppy drive, with greater storage and improved reliability and portability. In fact, you will generally not be able to buy a computer with a floppy disk drive any more….so if you still have stuff on floppies, it is time to transfer them to a USB drive.

These are easy to use – when you plug them in, they just appear as an additional drive like a “D” drive in “My Computer”. You then just drag files to the relevant drive in explorer or save any file to the drive. They are also very portable – I carry one often in my pocket.

The downsides are: they are easy to lose (I have lost one), they can break (I have seen that happen) and data on them can be lost or stolen (I have heard of this also – it was stolen with a laptop). Encryption solutions are available, but not as standard.

This is certainly not a practical solution to serious backup but an excellent way to transfer files around.

(b) DVD storage 8GB and increasing / CD storage – 740MB
Update 2008: Blueray is now entering the arena with storage capacities as high as 50GB!

DVD storage is quite reliable and the storage capacity is cheap per GB. If you use a “writeable only” DVD, the data cannot be tampered with and should last a lifetime.

Downsides: Writing to a DVD generally requires a little more expertise and a special program, a DVD write process can go wrong or be disturbed, it is time consuming to check that a write was 100% successful, DVD’s can be broken, DVD’s with scratches are harder to read and some drives have trouble with certain DVD’s. Writing a DVD can be very slow. DVD’s can be broken in half. It is not really possible to efficiently use DVD’s for automated backup. Data stored on a DVD is generally not secure i.e. accessible to anyone who looks at the DVD.

Upsides: DVD’s can easily be stored off-site. Data on a dvd is usually safe.

(c) External Hard Disk – storage anything from 40GB – 1000GB and growing

This is the fasted form of backup and can be automated reliably.

The biggest downsides are that this is not an off-site backup, it is not generally secure and hard disks can break-down.

(d) Online backup – storage for any capacity but realistically under 40GB at present

As I have already made clear, this is my favourite form of backup which has taken off big time since the advent of broadband. It is automated, secure and off-site. It is also generally very easy to use once set-up.

The biggest downside I can think of is that the very first backup can take a long time….perhaps 2GB every 24 hours depending on your broadband connection. However, once the initial backup is complete, future backups are incremental and will always take less time. Also, if you often tend to use GPRS while travelling to connect to broadband (i.e. you pay for every bit of data you send and receive) then any online backup can be very costly with this type of connection. The solution is simply to turn the online backup off when travelling.

There are two services I have experience with and I use them both for different reasons.

Depositit

This is an excellent solution for a business and they email you every time a successful backup is made. You can also store multiple cycles of data (e.g. 30 days of different backups of your documents, so that you can restore previous versions). They are a UK based company also.

Of course, deposit is secure and automated.

The downside is that it can get “quite” costly if you backup more than about 7GB of data (compressed) then prices start to go up and up. I say “quite” since in relative costs, it is cheap for the peace of mind and the service….starting cost of just £120+vat for 4GB storage (compressed), it is worth every penny to backup documents…which exactly what I do with my 700MB of documents. Also, you can use once licence on more than one computer.

Carbonite

An American company offering a very cheap home solution for up to 40GB of storage….at only $90 (£45) for two years! They do not have prices increases for increased use of storage, so your fee with them is fixed. It is completely automated, secure and extremely easy to use. You can even use the link above for a free 14-day trial to see how easy it is.

Downsides: they do not email you when a backup is complete and it is not possible to store multiple cycles of a backup. So this is not an effective business backup solution on its own. It is just limited to one computer, so for more than one computer you will need to pay another whopping $90 for two years.

Because Carbonite is so incredibly cheap, I use them to backup almost everything on my computer including the 10GB of photos and all my music.

Carbonite works very well in conjunction with Depositit, so my recommendation is to setup both and use the latter for “My documents” without any music or photos and then use Carbonite for the rest. However, if cost is an issue, start with Carbonite.

The bottom line is that if you have not got an automated off-site backup, please set one up now – it will take 10-15 minutes of your time and it is worth it just for the feeling of knowing that your data and precious photos are safe.

Feel free to checkout my websites:
http://www.urgoing.to
http://www.friedman.co.uk

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