Read This Before Choosing An Online Backup Provider

protect data   Read This Before Choosing An Online Backup ProviderBacking up your files is a no-brainer – at least it should be. Hardware failure, security breaches, natural disasters, thieving scumbags and clumsiness can all lead to heart-in-mouth moments when you realise that your precious data might be gone for good. Data recovery where possible can cost thousands, but you should find a personal online backup service for less than $100 per year.

Local backups are the easiest and cheapest solutions, requiring a one-off fee (usually an external hard drive) and one of many free software options like Time Machine for Mac or similar third party software for Windows and Linux users. Online backup is a little different, and with so many different companies offering different plans to backup your data it can be confusing.

I’ve recently been digging around to find an online backup solution that fits my needs, and in doing so I’ve stumbled across a few things you should be aware of when doing the same.

Online Backup and Cloud Storage Aren’t The Same

This may seem obvious, but I’ve seen plenty of FAQs over the last week to learn that there must be a large percentage of people who don’t realise there is a difference between online backup and online storage. Online storage services – like Google Drive, SkyDrive and Dropbox are considerably different in that they are designed to facilitate regular access via the web, mobile apps and a desktop app that quite often integrates into your operating system.

features   Read This Before Choosing An Online Backup Provider

Cloud backup is different in that it usually runs constantly in the background, uploading data as and when it’s changed in a non-intrusive way. Recovering this data from another location is not as easy, with many backup vendors not supporting retrieval of data from the web (only through the desktop interface). This differs for each company of course, but the differences in the two services remain the same.

cloud services   Read This Before Choosing An Online Backup Provider

Accessing your cloud storage is meant to be easy – many web apps plug straight into a Box or Dropbox account, and collaboration is usually baked-in. Online backup is not built for such easy access, instead it’s designed to restore data occasionally and not sync whole folders across devices. Most of us probably have a use for both cloud storage and online backup so instead of going for one or the other, pick both and then backup your Dropbox folder and Google Drive too. Just in case.

Be Aware Of File Restrictions

Some online backup services don’t allow you to backup certain file types. These usually include .EXE and .DLL Windows application files, as well as .APP Mac applications. Similarly, some vendors (like Carbonite) either do not automatically backup videos or have a list of excluded files that the software will miss. Other vendors don’t have such restrictions, so be sure to check before you reach for your wallet.

excluded filetypes   Read This Before Choosing An Online Backup Provider

Restricting .EXE files makes sense on paper – these are either program launchers or installers, so what’s the problem? Well if you’re like me and you’ve got a lot of older software (e.g. DOS games, self-extracting archives) backed up somewhere which you don’t want to have to find again, this is a bit of a pain. Files over 4GB are also restricted by some few vendors until you manually back them up, not ideal if you keep disk images around because you’ve no longer got an optical drive (netbook, MacBook Air and Pro Retina owners take note) or you work with long rushes of uncompressed video.

Don’t Assume Your External Drives Are Covered

One thing that surprised me while exhausting all possibilities for online backup was that many vendors do not support external hard drives, and even those that do sometimes impose some restrictions that you need to be aware of. While it is understandable why restrictions might be imposed on network-attached storage (NAS) and external drives, I wasn’t prepared to open my wallet until I found a backup solution that could guarantee my external drive full of irreplaceable photos, videos and documents would be safe too.

external drive   Read This Before Choosing An Online Backup Provider

Once I’d found a handful of services, I then had to check whether the drive needed to be permanently attached or not. Seeing as I’m a laptop user and do not own a desktop at the moment, the longer I could go without reminding my backup provider that I did indeed still have my data the better. Some have a 30 day limit, whereby if your drive isn’t connected for 30 days then the data is interpreted as “deleted” and you’ll have to start all over again. The vendor I eventually chose did not, so be sure to shop around if this is a priority for you.

Don’t Forget About Bandwidth Limitations

The initial backup of my local machine took a day over my current rather meagre connection with only 0.6MB/sec upstream. My laptop is new, and thus is still fairly devoid of precious documents and memories – with my old laptop and external drive storing most of it. Luckily my ISP (like many others) does not count upload data towards my total quota, but if it did I’d be in trouble.

speedtest   Read This Before Choosing An Online Backup Provider

For downloads it’s another story. If I were to restore my 1.5TB hard drive that is currently full I would wipe out my bandwidth cap (and then some), which beggars the question – how does one restore such a backup? Many providers offer a data restoration service via a hard drive which they mail out, then expect back in the post. I have yet to see a service include this in the yearly backup fee, and if this interests you expect to pay upwards of $100 for the service. Many also offer a similar service for adding data, known as seeding but again don’t expect it to be included in your overall price.

So Who Did I Choose and Why?

In the end, after much deliberation, I went for CrashPlan‘s initial 30 day trial. Why? Because for slightly more than what Carbonite (easily my second choice) offer, they ticked all the boxes. I can choose which file types are excluded, and that means .EXE files are backed up safely. My external hard drive is included in the yearly fee, and I don’t have to plug it in every 30 days to remind the service that it’s still there. The software is simple yet powerful enough, CPU usage can be restricted when I’m busy and run rampant when I’m not. I can access also access my backups from the iOS app should I need to, and they’ve recently added Australian servers which fits my current locale.

crashplan   Read This Before Choosing An Online Backup Provider

CrashPlan did the job for me, but they’re by no means the be-all and end-all of online backup services. Shop around and find the solution that works for you. Don’t forget to add your thoughts, own tips and past experiences in the comments below this post.

Image Credit: Intro (Shutterstock), External HDD (C. A. Muller)

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24 Comments -

0 votes

Tom

Agree with your reasoning. The other item is system performance drain. I originally used Carbonite, but found on my Mac the resource drain was extensive. This was not due to a new OSX release and, I just needed to wait for an update. The issue continued throughout 2010 so when my subscription ended I went with Crashplan after a lot of performance testing. I agree with your analysis of file type restrictions and networked drives. The only negative with Crashplan as you point out is upload speed, and I probably would need to move up to the business plan is that I would like my upload faster, lots of pictures, but eventually it all gets there. Crashplan did implement some improved upload speeds and tweaks in their latest version.

0 votes

Jon Smith

Well I don’t really have to decide when I grabbed free 25GB from Box compared any of the other free providers

0 votes

Tim Brookes

I have 50GB of Box storage and it’s virtually useless. There’s no proper desktop syncing software that doesn’t require an enterprise/business package, meaning I’m stuck with the useless uploader and (decent) mobile apps. It’s ok for getting screenshots from my iPhone to my laptop, but since I bought a MacBook Pro that happens automatically through iCloud…

I also have 25GB of Skydrive, just sitting there waiting for a rainy day. The only service I use with any degree of regularity is Google Drive, and that’s probably the least amount of free storage I have (aside from Dropbox).

0 votes

Andrea

I found a good use of my SkyDrive 25GB with Duplicati (http://www.duplicati.com/), it also integrates with S3, etc…

0 votes

Tim Brookes

Thanks for that, I will check it out.

0 votes

VS Vishnu

bandwitdth limited..

0 votes

MdNor

Ubuntu One is definitely decent for individual user and Ubuntu One just launch referral program. CrashPlan and BitCasa definitely better for larger scale online backup.

If you are looking for online backup for archive purposes. Newly launched Amazon Glacier is definitely among the best.

0 votes

AP

Glad to know about other options.

0 votes

Tim Brookes

Ubuntu One is a decent service, though it’s not really a cloud backup solution – more of a cloud storage service to keep things synced across multiple devices.

For me, 5GB isn’t enough either – but at least it’s deeply integrated into the OS.

0 votes

Leonard Douglass

An alternative is recycling an old computer and installing Windows Home Server. Once it is up and running it backs up all the computers on my home network every night. It prompts if it can’t wake them up. I took an old Dell, installed a 640 GB Hard Drive, bought it a small UPS, and put it in Service in September 2009. Its still going strong and I know that my systems (up to 10) are backed up. In the 3 years (next month) it has used 1/2 the 640 Gb. It also gives me network storage where I can archive material (documents, newsletters, Manuals, Pictures, etc) in a public folder and access them from any computer on my network. I like and use Dropbox but i view it a transient storage not a Backup.

Regards Len Douglass

0 votes

Tim Brookes

Hi Leonard, thanks for your input. Unfortunately Windows Home Server will soon no longer exist, as detailed by James in his rant about it here: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/windows-opinion/

I often looked at WHS as a good solution that I’d eventually set up (even though I now use a Mac, I was still eyeing it up) but unfortunately it looks like Microsoft is retiring it with no affordable replacement on the way. You can keep using the version you’ve got for now of course, but just be aware that MS are ceasing development and instead putting the functionality into Windows Server 2012 which costs around $400. Not cost effective!

Also don’t forget that online backup is a remote solution that protects you against flooding, fires and clumsiness and that’s why I’d recommend both local and online backups for those with data they simply couldn’t live without!

Tim

0 votes

GrrGrrr

thanks Tim, nice and useful article.

0 votes

Tim Brookes

Glad it helped you out! Also glad to see your comments appearing at last ;)

0 votes

AP

Thanks for enlighting that certain kind of files are excluded.

0 votes

Tim Brookes

I was surprised when I found out, so I had to share!

0 votes

Dan

Thanks, great article.

0 votes

R

Just keep in mind that cloud backup shouldn’t be the only backup you have. Cloud services also lose data sometimes.

0 votes

Shakirah Faleh Lai

Yeah, multiple back up in traditional ways can be count on.

0 votes

Tim Brookes

That’s very true, though I’d expect most large-scale backup solutions to have backups of backups! Regardless, you’re correct – local backups are also very important, and way more convenient!

0 votes

Edgar Meixueiro

I just use Skydrive. I need no more.

0 votes

Tim Brookes

Fair enough, did you grab 25GB of space at the right time? It’s good that Skydrive has decent integration with the two major OSes and mobile, something that Box lacks.

0 votes

Edgar Meixueiro

I did get the 25GB. So, I think I was lucky. I’m not really a power user, so Skydrive does the job fine for me just fine. Greetings. I’ve used other alternatives like Mozy, SugarSync, Dropbox but since Skydrive was updated, I think it is pretty good, not to say the other ara bad options, it’s just that Skydrive is ok for me particularly.

0 votes

xbalesx

Thanks 2 all that have commented, your insight and knowledge sharing is appreciated. Just wanted to say thanks from someone that does read and appreciate the comments people take the time to leave.

0 votes

dragonmouth

One problem with online backup and cloud storage is that one loses control over one’s data. Color me paranoid but I don’t want to hear OOOPS, we had a security breach and X terabytes of data got wiped out, or OOOPS the roof collapsed and we will be offline for months, or OOOPS we just went out of business.