Backing 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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