Friday, February 11, 2011

Tech Tip: Online Backup Services

This one is for the techies out there. I wanted to share my experiences with backup, mostly relating to online backup, and get feedback on what you do for backup. You are backing up your data, right?

I have experienced my fair share of data loss over the years... luckily I have learned from these mistakes and never lost anything that could not be replaced. A few years ago, I was using a Windows Small Business Server for my data storage. It was was easy to use and was a great single point for storage. I had the server configured to backup the data to a drive attached to a Linksys NSLU2 (network attached storage). One day, my computer's hard drive crashed and I needed to get my data back. When I went to the Small Business Server, it had also started to fail, and I discovered the backups from this server had not been completing successfully for months, so only some of my data was recoverable. I was not using RAID because I figured I had myself covered with the backup to the NAS. It was this particular incident that started my paranoia. I now use at least 3 methods for backing up my data. My data also includes anything on my wife's laptop, and that is just as important!

The lesson I learned was that backups must be monitored to make sure they are working. Do not get used to them working every day and never assume they are always working. So, what do we do for backup now? I setup Microsoft Windows Home Server as our primary point of storage for all of our data, including our pictures, videos, music and documents. The Home Server will also perform full backups of each of our computers and get any data that we forget to store there in the first place. The Home Server has multiple hard drives with multiple copies of the data (using drive extender technology), and I have also added a separate hard drive outside of the built-in redundancy to keep yet another copy of the data. I then backup the data from this separate hard drive using Carbonite. Carbonite does not support the Home Server drive extender technology, which is the reason for this additional drive.

I have mixed opinions on Carbonite that I wanted to share. I use it primarily because of the price... unlimited storage for a fixed price per year, and I got an even better deal by signing up for 3 years up-front. The service is built for someone who does not know what they need to backup, and I do not really think it is meant for someone like me. By default, media files such as videos, and other system files such as certain types of installation files, are excluded from the backup set with Carbonite by default (some file types can be overridden and manually added back in, but some cannot be backed up at all). Today, I have over 140GB of data backed up by Carbonite. I have a lot more content than this, including TiVo files, other video files, ISO images of software installers, etc, but Carbonite does not handle these well. They implement bandwidth restrictions once you get over 35GB, which I hit a long time ago. They implement even slower throttles when you hit 200GB, so I need to make sure I do not hit that limit or I could risk delays in my backup of my important documents and files.

I have also tried Mozy. Mozy is a great service, too, but it is more expensive than Carbonite and they have storage limits (50GB or 125GB). Mozy allows you to easily select files for your backup set, and even backup locally to removable hard drives. There are no default file exclusions, so everything in the selected folders will be backed up with no worries about files being excluded. The software was easy to install and configure, and easy to tune for someone like me who likes to get under the hood.

I recently learned of a service called CrashPlan which has all of the benefits of Mozy, and the price model of Carbonite, which makes it a very attractive option. I am very likely to consider this service when my Carbonite subscription runs out next year. I will most likely sign up a few months before Carbonite subscription ends, so I can begin to seed the backup and make sure my data is protected there before I lose access to the files protected by Carbonite. My plan would be to continue my practice of using the Home Server for centralized storage, and just pay for a single computer license of CrashPlan to backup the Home Server online.

Have you tried Carbonite, Mozy, CrashPlan or Windows Home Server? Please feel free to comment and let me know your preference.

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