Toolie Travel Blog

A million-mile flyer talks about the life of a business traveler.

Newsletter: Online Backup for Busy Travelers

From time to time, I report on useful technology for business travelers. This month I want to talk about data protection while you're on the road.

For years I've carried a small portable drive for handling my nightly backups. Having your own backup drive may be fast and efficient, but with the wide availability of high-speed Internet connections in even the most modest hotels, it's time to take a serious look at using online backup while you're on the road.

Online Backup Programs You've Heard About

There are two big players in the online backup market whose names you've no doubt heard in the media: Mozy and Carbonite. I've used MozyPro, the business version of their software in the past. I registered 3 computers with them and backed up my files incrementally over time. I was paying nearly $60/month at the time, and when one of my older computers failed, I was able to recover the files I had worked on, which was terrific.

I just reviewed the pricing for MozyPro, and it's about the same as it was when I was using a couple of years ago. For the 83 GB of files I would want to back up nightly, I would be paying $41.50 plus the monthly fee of $4.95 for just one computer. For me the price became prohibitive to use online backup for two computers, so I went back to local backups on an external hard drive.

Carbonite is the other service you've heard about, and several of my clients use it and like it very much. Their website offers an unlimited backup for $54.95/year, but they point out that they only back up certain kinds of files for that fee: email, photos, documents, settings, and music. You can also add videos, files over 4GB in size, and executable files. It is not designed to be what is known as a "drive image" backup or snapshot of your entire machine. Restoring your computer would mean reinstalling all of your software and putting these files back where they belonged.

Carbonite works all the time in the background, backing up when your computer is idle. MozyPro can be set to do the same thing. Both services will require you to keep your computer on all the time, and it may take several days to do the initial backup. I remember mine taking 3 days (60 gigabytes, remember?), but after that backups took just an hour or so because it was incrementally backing up only what had changed.

One issue you encounter with both of these services is the retention policy. Typically files are deleted after 30 days, so neither service is good for long-term storage. Most people only keep a few days' worth of backups anyway, so if you're only interested in offline backups, then these services are fine.

The Amazon S3 Alternatives

Amazon S3 is one of the best "cloud storage" options you've never heard of. "S3" stands for Simple Storage Service, and it's used by programmers and Internet Marketers to make their content available to users.

Why do I mention Amazon S3? Because of the extremely low costs involved. Right now I have about 26 GB of files stored on Amazon S3, and my bill hasn't ever reached $5 per month to store them. Amazon charges not only for the storage but for retrieval requests, but the costs are negligible.

Also Amazon S3 can be used for long-term storage, not just for backups. You don't access Amazon S3 using a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) program; you must use a special access tool such as Cloudberry Lab's S3 Explorer (Freeware). What is also special about Amazon S3 is that they use alphanumeric security keys in place of a username and password. These keys are long and difficult/impossible to memorize, and less likely to be hacked by prying eyes.

Amazon S3 by itself does not have backup capability, but here are 2 programs you can consider using to handle the backup functions and storing your backups online.

  • Zmanda Cloud Backup for Windows
    Zmanda uses Amazon S3 for its storage, and lets you configure what is configured when using their desktop software. You can have it back up files locally and then schedule back files to be copied to your Amazon S3 account, or you can back up directly to Amazon S3 You pay a monthly licensing fee to use the software, but you are billed directly by Amazon S3 for the storage fees. Zmanda has a nice cost calculator on their website, so you can figure out in advance approximately how much you'll pay per month to run backups.

  • Cloudberry Lab Online Backup
    Cloudberry Lab's Online Backup has many of the same features, but instead of paying a monthly fee for the software, you buy it outright, (US$29.99) then pay annually for maintenance updates (which they say are 20% of the original price, or US$6.00). This backup software backs up directly to Amazon S3, but it offers "differential" backup, so that you're not backing up all the files every cycle. That keeps your Amazon S3 data in/out costs down.

Getting in the Backup Habit

Whether you choose to bring a backup drive or rely on the online backup alternatives described above, the most important thing is to get in the habit of running backups. If you aren't used to having your laptop on all night, this might take some getting used to. Don't worry; modern laptops are built for nearly continuous operation, and they'll hold up as long as they're well-ventilated.

If you choose an online backup service, you can plug in your laptop at the hotel and leave it running all night so that the backups can make it to your service's storage locations. You also save on baggage weight by having one less thing to carry.

Are you using an online backup service? If so, let me know which one and what your experiences have been by commenting on this newsletter.
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