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Web-based Backup Solutions: Which One Is Right for You?

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More and more people are considering the two aspects of online backups: the "traditional" backup solutions that back up specific files or drives to online services, and backups that put a staggering amount of information "in the cloud." Jeremy Wright shows why a balance of the two enables users to be both mobile and confident that they will never again lose a major presentation just because their two-year-old thought their laptop was thirsty.

For most individuals—and almost every business in the world—backups are both a necessity and a pain in the figurative posterior. For some, this pain comes because backups, particularly tape backups, can be difficult to manage. For others, it is because increasing data creation by users requires larger and higher capacity backup systems. And for others, it is that backups are simply not simple in the way that antivirus or even firewalls are now simple.

Either way, the cost, complexity and confusion for businesses and individuals are increasing. It should come as no surprise, then, that more and more people are wondering what happened to online backups. In the heyday of the ’90s, one of the key features of the Internet was supposed to be the ability to seamlessly, securely, and inexpensively store our files there.

The earliest solutions came in the form of services such as X-Drive which, although popular, simply never gained mass appeal. Most of these services were merely 10MB–25MB of space on some server, not really "backup" in the more traditional sense.

On the flip side, an increasing number of SoHo and home users have begun to realize that backups are just as important as, if not more critical than, the new mainstays of PC life: antivirus, antispyware, and firewalls. In fact, if David Friend of Carbonite is to be believed, fast, effective and affordable backups would make many of those technologies, which he calls "reactionary," obsolete.

These two forces—the desire to get at your data from anywhere and the need for more cost-effective backups—have caused a veritable rush of new Web-based backup solutions to spring up in the last few years.

This article examines two aspects to online backups. The first are "traditional" backup solutions brought to the online world. These solutions enable users to back up specific files or their entire hard drives to online services. The second is a growing tendency by users to put a staggering amount of information "in the cloud." Information such as bookmarks (del.icio.us), photos (Flickr), and email (Gmail) are discussed.

In fact, many smart users are turning to a balance between the two worlds: keeping backups of their daily information such as email and bookmarks on Gmail and delicious while backing up their hard drives in case of catastrophic events. This balance enables users to be both mobile and confident that they will never again lose a major presentation just because their two-year-old thought their laptop was thirsty.

Why Backups Suck

Personally, I have always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with storage and backups. Although I’ve always loved seeing how the technology evolved, I’ve hated the complexity, the cost, and the inability for a backup solution to "just work." Whether it was installing a new set of storage clusters at a major hospital or simply getting one-click (never mind no-click) home backups to function on a regular basis, I have come to the conclusion that backups are a pain.

And, truth be told, as a result I don’t back up anywhere near as often as I should. If you’re honest with yourself, you probably don’t, either, though you (like me) will kick yourself if you’re ever in a situation in which backups would have come in just a little bit handy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried a variety of solutions. First, I’d sync up my laptop and my desktop, so that both always had my current files on there. This was fine, except that email wasn’t so easy. So I started having my mail server forward all emails to my Gmail account. But then I had two copies of emails, neither of which always had the entire conversation in them. Then I grabbed a USB-based hard drive that I attached to the computer, but the damned thing worked only half the time, required me to schedule backups (which only worked half the time), and sometimes the software (which I won’t name) simply stopped working.

A few months ago, I decided to just suck it up and order some space at a file-server host so I could dump files there once a week, but dumping 20GB of data every week got old real, real quick.

It was at that point that I realized there must be something smarter out there. I mean, in my enterprise life we’d begun to play around with streaming data to the backup clusters, so why wasn’t there something similar for me at home? Thankfully, I found out, there are quite a few options for users who don’t feel like spending $100–$250 on a backup drive, want the peace of mind that a professional backup solution provides but want to skip the complexity.

Over the course of this article, we will be exploring several of the solutions that I have taken a look at. Many of these solutions involve getting past the bottlenecks that have plagued online backups for so many years. Until recently, the biggest problem with online backups was that backing up massive amounts of data simply took too much time. Between increasing broadband penetration (and speed) and the capability for software to stream in the background, you no longer need to wait through a 20GB dump. It can happen while you sleep or in drips and drops throughout your workday.

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