Online Backup BasicsMatthew Cox
It’s the type of disaster all of us would prefer to avoid: An electrical surge destroys your computer, spilled coffee soaks your laptop, or the hard drive on your desktop crashes. Before you know it, everything stored on your computer is gone -- family photos, music collections, crucial tax information -- and there may be no way of getting get it back.
But now, with the widespread availability of online computer backup services, it’s a loss that you can avert for pennies a day.
Online backup services automatically backup your files over the Internet and store a second -- or even third -- copy of your computer data miles away, where no coffee spill can reach it.
Online Backup Basics
Not long ago, off-site backup services used to be the province of banks, corporations, and governments -- organizations with more to lose from a system failure that the rest of us. And the service was expensive, putting it out of reach for most home computer users. Advances in technology, however, now mean off-site storage is available for the rest of us.
“For people who don’t like to be bothered by details, it’s an inexpensive way to go,” says Steve Epner, founder of the 33-year-old Independent Computer Consultants Association (ICCA), a non-profit organization that represents computer consultants.
Consider some of its benefits:
Peace of mind. Many online backup companies cut their teeth by serving the business community. Being reliable is their business. Once you hire a service, you no longer have to worry about backing up your files to CDs, an external hard drive, flash drives, or other media. Let's face it: how often did you really back up your data on your own anyway?
Your data is stored off site. As opposed to your CDs or external hard drive, your files are stored in a different location than your computer. This means if a fire, flood, hurricane, or other disaster strikes -- your files are safe miles away.
You're in control. You decide what to backup -- the entire contents of your home computer, or just your most important files. Once you've gone through the initial backup, new files and photographs can be backed up as frequently as you want, automatically, and without disturbing the old ones.
Reasonable rates. Improvements in computer servers make it possible for online backup companies to store increasingly large volumes of data at a low cost. You can find online backup services for as low at $10 a month.
Finding and Using Off-site Services
Before signing up, spend time doing your homework. Experts offer these tips to help get you started.
Make sure it’s secure. Most online backup services offer encryption to protect a user’s privacy. Many services also store your data in encrypted form, keeping employees of the backup service from reading them, says Joshua Musicant, an agent for the consumer help service Geek Squad.
Find out if the company offers layers of protection. What if the backup company experiences a glitch and my files aren't saved? Many backup service providers offer redundant backup, meaning that they don't just rely on one computer server to keep your data -- they have a backup of your backup.
Find the right product for your needs. If you are backing up a relatively small number of files, you may be happy with a service that costs less than one offering unlimited data storage.
Test the data recovery process. After you’ve signed up, do a test to make sure the data recovery process works. You want to avoid the tragedy some people experienced during Hurricane Katrina. Some businesses lost data during the hurricane because they’d purchased backup service they never bothered to test, Epner says: “When they tried to recover later, there was nothing there. It was horrible.”
Be patient. Even with the fastest home Internet connection, the initial backup can take hours, days -- even longer. Subsequent backups are much faster, as is retrieving files you’ve already copied. You can use your computer while you wait.
“People are starting to realize that if you have, say, a flood in your basement, or a power outage, all of your data can be lost,” says Musicant, of the Geek Squad. With off-site storage, he says, “Anything that happens, you’re completely covered.”
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