December 12, 2008

My Thoughts on Online Backup

Filed under: Main — Tags: , — admin @ 12:01 am

I’m a big fan of backing up computer files. I’ve got backup programs running automatically on all my computers, with robust external hard drives storing safety copies of my stuff. I use all the backup tricks in the world, save one: online backup. My reason is that I don’t trust it.

Thanks to a fast Internet connection, it’s now possible to backup your computer to a hard drive elsewhere — an online storage and backup system or server. Such a process would have been laboriously slow in the olden days, but today it’s a piece of cake.

The online backup works like this: You pay for a service that provides you with disk storage on the Internet. Then using backup software, either your normal backup program properly configured or customized stuff, your files are all copied to that computer “up” on the Internet.

As you continue to use your computer, the changes in the your files are echoed to the backup copy on the Internet. That way you don’t need to worry about lengthy backup procedures or even have to remind yourself or the computer to backup. In fact, because the computer backs up as you use it, you don’t have to worry about keeping the system on all the time just to meet a 3:00 AM scheduled backup.

Another advantage to online backup: fire protection! Though I regularly backup my computers, to be truly secure I should place all the backup drives into a fire safe. The disaster doesn’t even need to be a fire; it could be a tree falling on the house or even a burglar. With online backup, such things are not a concern because the safety copy of your files is elsewhere.

It’s that “elsewhere” part that is my biggest reservation against using online backup. I am uncomfortable with having my data on some other hard drive. It’s not that I have files I don’t want anyone to see. It’s that technically there is only an employee’s ethics standing between him and my data. If he wants to peek, he can do it on a remote disk. Such peeking is not possible when the backup is on my external backup hard drive in my office.

Perhaps I’m being a little whack here, but I’m just really uncomfortable with keeping my important files on a remote computer run by some company that might be bought or go bankrupt. In that case, who knows what would happen to my data? Nope, I’m a local backup guy until someone can really convince me otherwise.


  1. Good timing with this. I FINALLY set up an automatic backup last night (despite the fact that I had a 300 GB external drive sitting here for a year) and am feeling a lot better about my data.

    About online backup: I use Dreamhost as my web host and they offer free 50GB storage for backups. That’s enough for my business files, anyway. I agree that it is a little uncomfortable not knowing what will happen to the backups or if they get hacked, etc, but I guess I’d rather risk that than losing everything.

    Comment by jamh51 — December 12, 2008 @ 12:26 pm

  2. By the way, I’m using the built-in NTbackup (yeah it’s really basic, I know, but it works for my purposes). What software do you use to back up your files?

    Comment by jamh51 — December 12, 2008 @ 12:26 pm

  3. I use Time Machine on the Mac, and the PC Complete Backup that comes with Windows Vista Business/Ultimate. On regular Vista/XP systems I use Windows Vista backup. It’s scheduled to backup my stuff regularly, like once a night or once a week depending on the PC. Additionally I also manually copy and archive files that I’m working on, mostly to SD cards. On the Mac, I have a script that runs once a month that archives all my files to a second external hard drive.

    While I think Windows Backup is okay, it’s stupid about backing up to a network drive. I’m just talking a local drive hosted on the network, not a server. I’ve not tried to configure Windows Backup to backup to a mapped drive on the Internet, though that would be interesting.

    Another thing not to trust about these companies is when (okay, well, IF) they go bankrupt, what happens to the data? Consider an on-line backup company goes belly-up and then they just auction off the lot of their hard drives. What then? Scary thought.

    Comment by admin — December 12, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

  4. Actually, I use an online backup system. Though not any of the commercial ones – I just have an old PC in my workplace that runs linux (that way I don’t have to reboot it every few days). I do a backup generally once a week/month – I SSH into the machine and transfer files. Encrypted transfer and remote storage – peace of mind… plus, the machine is password protected and is difficult to access (physically or online) by anyone else. Works pretty well.

    If I really wanted more protection, I could attach an external hard drive to the remote machine, and use a backup program like rdiff-backup (does an incremental backup) with an encryption scheme (I always want to keep my external HDs encrypted).

    Comment by sriksrid — December 16, 2008 @ 8:46 am

  5. I’m using rsync on my Mac to create a shadow copy of my files on an external drive, that in addition to Time Machine. I wonder if that would work in your situation sriksrid? Or perhaps the robocopy utility in Windows.

    Comment by admin — December 16, 2008 @ 8:51 am

  6. Robocopy looks really handy – I don’t own a Mac, so I can’t comment on rsync. I will definitely give robocopy a spin one of these days. There is also something called SyncToy for Windows that I’ve used to backup my files – the regular Vista Sync can’t sync with my external HD.
    Do you use any encryption software for your data, Dan? I use Truecrypt, but it uses file containers – I haven’t figured out how to make it work on a file-by-file basis…

    Comment by sriksrid — December 16, 2008 @ 10:33 am

  7. Interesting question. No, I do not use any encryption software. I messed around with DES for a while, but couldn’t find any real practical use for it. I suppose I’m just not in a situation where A) I have really sensitive data or B) there is an opportunity for someone to grab it. Good question, though. I’ll have to look into TrueCrypt. Thanks!

    Comment by admin — December 16, 2008 @ 12:18 pm

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