Is Your Data Safe? Probably Not. Would You Pay $5 a Month to Protect it All?

By Jason Dunn on Friday, May 26, 2006

>>> More info here

This is a bit off-topic for this site, but I'm very passionate about the subject of data backup so please give this article a read. I've seen so many people lose their data; photos of the family reunion, important tax files, videos of the kids, and it all could have been prevented. Myself, I lost an Outlook PST file once with a lot of data in it, and I was determined to never lose data again. That's usually the way it happens - people don't care about data backup until their hard drive crashes, their laptop is stolen, or there's some sort of disaster; once they lose their data, then they realize how important it is. Imagine if you woke up tomorrow morning and all your computers and data were missing, but in their place was enough money to replace them. You still wouldn't be pleased, would you? Your data is uniquely yours, and it can't be easily replaced. I've finally found an affordable, "magic bullet" solution that I want to share with everyone.

I use several methods to back up my data: first, I use a free Windows Live service named FolderShare, which replicates the My Documents folder across my five PCs. If one goes down, I simply move to another one and keep working. But I also have a media server with 70GB or so of music and videos, which is too much data to replicate to my laptops, so I also have an external hard drive as one level of backup, and a network-attached hard drive as a second level of backup. The key to a good backup strategy is that it's fully automated - if you have a backup solution that relies on you remembering to connect a hard drive or burn a CD/DVD, sooner or later that system is going to fail.
No Off-Site Backups
The one flaw in my backup strategy is that all my data backups are on site, meaning in my home. If someone breaks into my house and steals all my computer gear, there goes my data. If there's a fire, there goes my data. I looked a several online data backup services, but for the amount of data I wanted to back up (at least 30 GB) it would cost me $400+ a month. For a few years I tried to get my own offsite system in place by having a friend set up an FTP server and I'd back up to it. I never got very far with that - his PC would crash, he'd lose his Internet connection, or the FTP server would break and it would take him weeks to fix it. The system just wasn't stable. I gave up and accepted the fact that local backup was the best I could do. Sure, I had a few DVDs worth of data off-site, but it wasn't automated or consistent.

A few months back, I discovered a service called Carbonite and posted about it on Digital Media Thoughts. They offered unlimited photo backup for $29.95 a month, but it was limited to photos. I started a conversation with them, and they told me they were launching a new service that would back up an unlimited amount of data for $49.95 a year. Shocked I was hooked on the concept, because it was so ground-breaking, and shortly thereafter I began testing the service.

Almost Too Good To Be True
It works really simply - in fact, they've designed this for computers users that don't know very much. Power users may be miffed at the lack of options, but the basics are there: for $5 a month (or $49.95 per year) you get a software client you install on a single PC. By default it will back up everything in your My Documents folder, but you can manually select which files and folders you want backed up by right-clicking on them. Files tagged to be backed up have a small yellow dot in the lower left-hand coner of the icon. Once that file is backed up, the dot turns green. It's a brilliant way to know your data is backed up. The client isn't perfect - there are a few minor bugs and polishing that needs to be done, but the core functionality is there.

I know what you may be thinking - too good to be true? Try it out for yourself: they have a 15 day free trial that requires no credit card to activate - you just sign up with an email address and download the software (downloading the software helps support this site). I was determined to see if Carbonite would break with the amount of data I was uploading (sometimes "unlimited" is just a marketing term, not reality), so after I uploaded 30 GB of my documents and photos, I started a backup of an additional 70 GB worth of music and videos. Carbonite is taking it all! :way to go: Restoring the data is simple as well - it installs an icon in your My Computer folder, and you can browse and restore your uploaded data as if it were a local drive. Slick.

My highest recommendation for a product is when I use it myself, and Carbonite has finally given me a viable and affordable solution to back up 100 GB of my data. This thing is so good I'm installing it on family member computers, reccomending it to clients, and ordering my friends to install it so they never complain to me about lost data. Wink Regardless of whether or not you have a backup solution in place, I urge you to give Carbonite a try. The trial is free, requires no credit card to start, and it's incredibly simple to use. [Affiliate]

[As a side note, if you'd like to sign up as a Carbonite affiliate yourself and promote the software to friends and family, you can sign up here]

UPDATE: It's come to my attention that there are, in fact, some limits to Carbonite's storage offering. From what I've been told by a Carbonite representative, "unlimited" is a marketing term that Carbonite uses to avoid questions from inexperienced computer users who don't know what "50 gigabytes" means. The Carbonite FAQ says you can back up "As much as you have". But they also state in the fine print that they will terminate the account of anyone they feel is abusing the service. What constitutes abuse? It seems, for now, anything over 125 GB will trigger an email from support stating that the user is trying to back up too much data - which is why I thought it was really "unlimited" when I had backed up my 100 GB of data and didn't get any type of warning. The 125 GB threshold is apparently a moving target that may change, and there's also some discussion from Carbonite about making a $99/year "pro" level plan with no limits. I evidently made a bad decision when I believed that "unlimited" really meant "as much data as you have". So for anyone with 125 GB of data or more, it seems Carbonite is not a good choice (for now). If you have less data than that, however, I still strongly recommend their service because for the price, there's really nothing out there that can beat it.

Jason Dunn owns and operates Thoughts Media Inc., a company dedicated to creating the best in online communities. He enjoys mobile devices, digital media content creation/editing, and pretty much all technology. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his lovely wife, and his sometimes obedient dog.

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