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Storage

Group Review

Five of the best online backup services

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It's a fact of modern life that archiving data is essential to prevent a data disaster. Still, something like one third of computers are never backed up, according to 2,257 respondents in a recent Backblaze poll carried out by Harris Interactive. The survey came to the dismal conclusion that a scant 7% of users practice safe computing by archiving their systems on a daily (or nightly) basis.


It's a fact of modern life that archiving data is essential to prevent a data disaster. Still, something like one third of computers are never backed up, according to 2,257 respondents in a recent Backblaze poll carried out by Harris Interactive. The survey came to the dismal conclusion that a scant 7% of users practice safe computing by archiving their systems on a daily (or nightly) basis.

"It's pitiful how few people protect their key data," says Dave Simpson, senior analyst at the market analysis firm 451 Group. "Once it's gone, it's gone."

In place of the traditional technique of storing backups on an external hard drive, an increasingly popular remedy is to use an online backup service that saves the data on servers in the cloud. You don't need any extra hardware and once it's been set up, the system can automatically do the deed when the computer is idle.

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"Online backup is a real alternative to local backups," adds Simpson. "It is a popular option to storing backups on a hard drive."

In the two years since we last looked at this area, a lot has changed. To begin with, there are now nearly four dozen companies selling online backup services. They have more automatic features; and, besides restoring files to the host computer, many (although not all) of the services now allow you to retrieve the stored files with a smartphone or tablet or to email them to a friend or colleague.

But while saving your files to the cloud is convenient and a good way to automate your backups, it has its disadvantages. First, the initial backup can be painfully slow, taking as much as several days, depending on the amount of data and the speed of your Internet connection. The good news is that only the first backup is this slow. After that, updates with new data take 10 or 15 minutes, on average.

Equally frustrating is that many online storage services only back up your personal files, those you create, and not those that the system requires to boot up, for example. This means that you're only partially protected.

With several dozen services out there, by far the hardest part is deciding which online backup service to use. I signed up for five of the most well known online backup services: Backblaze, Carbonite, CrashPlan, Mozy and Norton Online Backup. I tested them by backing up a desktop PC with Windows 7 Professional (some of these also work with Macs as well).

While all of the tested services do the same basic task, saving your files to the cloud, they exhibit a variety of features and pricing options that make it relatively easy to choose among them, depending on what your needs are.

Test methodology

To measure how these online backup services compare, I downloaded each application and checked out its features. I performed backups and updates and restored a variety of files on an Acer Veriton M4 desktop PC with Windows 7 Professional. I began by backing up the system using Norton Ghost 15 with a LaCie 2big USB 3.0 external hard drive.

After getting familiar with the service, I timed how long it took to perform an initial backup of the system using the service's default settings. I noted the connection speed and how much data was moved. Because the amount of data varied depending on what types of files the application handled, the timing here is more a point of information than a way to compare the services.

If the application supported it, I then did a full backup of the system's C: drive, a total of 35.4GB of data.

To see how each handles new data, I added a folder containing 25MB of assorted files, including images, video and office files, to the system. I timed how long it took to make the incremental backup.

To mimic what happens if data is lost or corrupted, I then deleted a 10MB WMV video file and timed how long it took to search for the file with the online backup system. Lastly, I timed how long it took to restore the lost file.

When I was done, I restored the system to its original specs and repeated the sequence with the next service.


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