By now, you probably know that you can choose from more than two dozen different online backup services that take your desktop data and make copies of it in "the cloud." (I maintain a list of many of them here.) They all work in a similar fashion: a small software agent monitors any new files that you create on your PC and it makes copies of them over an encrypted link to the provider’s Internet data center. With so many similar contenders in the field, how do you know which to choose?
My recommendation is to start with Microsoft's Skydrive.com, which offers 25 GB of free storage for every Windows user. You need to be running at least XP with Service Pack 2 or later.
Bigger storage needs
If you have a lot of storage contained on a few PCs, you’re better off spending a few bucks on BackBlaze and Tilana, both of which support an unlimited amount of storage per PC for $50 a year. BackBlaze also supports multiple PC accounts on both Macs and Windows.
If you are in the opposite situation, with a few critical files amounting to relatively little storage, but spread across a lot of different computers, Data Deposit Box may be right for you. It has no limit on the number of computers that can use the service, but charges $2/GB per month for its storage. Some of the other providers on the list also offer accounts with unlimited users that are an attractive choice for enterprises that want to manage all of their accounts from a single control point.
But picking the right provider is much more than just figuring out the costs per gigabyte of the storage and whether a vendor has provided the right kinds of security and reliability for their service. There are a lot of other considerations to bear in mind.
Seven Key Online Backup Issues
A St. Louis-based systems engineer with over 15 years of experience shared with us his list of top the top issues for those considering online backup to confront.
1) There is a lot of data that's not being backed up on local PCs that IT doesn't necessarily know about.
2) There is a lot of data being backed up that is useless
3) The backups you do have aren't tested to make sure they're always valid copies
4) The backups would take too long to restore, and in the meantime your application would be down
5) The backups are inefficient, cost a lot, and are rarely, if ever, used
6) You had backups, but your data was silently corrupted and you didn't notice until it was too late to restore
7) You had backups of your data, but no machine to restore service on
This engineer recommends that high availability and disaster recovery are the new backup--if you can't bring your application back up quickly, it doesn't matter much if you have the data on a tape offsite. He recommends users consider Teneros's DR-as-a-service where you can spin up a copy of critical servers, as needed.
Given these many issues, a good place to start is with a reliable vendor. These are worth considering:
An unusual provider, 3X.com sells you a storage appliance that you initially put on your local network to make the backups. As you might know, the first time you use any of these services it take days or weeks to migrate all your data up to their servers across the Internet because of the bandwidth and latency limitations of your connection. The same is true when you go to restore all this data. 3X gets around this by having the storage appliance first sit on your network, and then later when the time comes to make incremental backups – which take much less time – you can move the appliance to a secure remote location, like Dick Cheney, and have the security that the backups will continue with relative speed. When you need to restore an entire machine, you can move the appliance back to your local net. The appliances start at $2500 and you can see a screencast video here on how they work.
If you like 3X because there isn't anyone else who has possession of your data besides yourself, you might want to consider CrashPlan Pro, which runs on your own PCs and is free of charge, or can backup to their servers too.
Long a reliable name in the removable strage game, Iomega also has an offering here.
Backupify.com has taken the novel idea of using the cloud to back up the cloud and run with it. The company provides low-cost backups of Wordpress, Facebook, Twitter, Google Docs, and other Web services. You will need to grant them authorization for access to your accounts; in some cases, this will mean they store your identity, which could be an issue for some shops. I had trouble getting the Wordpress backups to work, but otherwise it is a pretty nifty service.
Not all backup vendors store previous versions of each file, but BackBlaze does. It stores four weeks' worth of previous versions, while SOS keeps all previous history on its servers.
If support is your priority
Adding collaboration tools
Several of the online backup vendors have begun to branch out and support collaboration tools to make it easier for work teams to share information. Box.net is notable in this arena: you can fax documents, print out your digital images, and have them put into the U.S. postal mail, or send files to Kinko's to be picked up later, as well as automatically post files to your blog, send files directly from within Outlook, share and edit your spreadsheets, or convert audio files into speech.
As you can see, the world of online backups is constantly evolving and expanding, making it hard sometimes to keep up with the latest features from each of the providers!
David Strom is a veteran technology journalist and frequent contributor to eSecurityPlanet.com and other Internet.com sites.