There are plenty of reasons to perform frequent backups.  While most people seem to think of hardware failures first, it’s far more common for people to accidentally delete or modify files.  Regardless of the cause, it’s helpful to be able to roll-back to earlier versions of files.  While modern operating systems provide various methods of creating backups, there’s one problem: Protecting the backups themselves.  In the past, I used to back up to DVDs and have friends keep copies at their houses.  It’s not an elegant solution, but it does provide some level of “off-site” protection.  The problem is maintaining the backup media with updates and performing a restore process (the latter of which would likely cost me a beer or two).  Clearly, there’s room for improvement.

One excellent option is to back up your data to the Internet.  A few years ago, bandwidth and storage limitations would have made this process difficult and costly.  Today, there are numerous online sites that provide backup services.  Some provide free trials or a limited amount of space that is available almost instantly.  For more information and reviews on available options, see:

Or, just visit the various vendors’ web sites (they’re usually pretty good about telling you what features they can provide).

I’ve tried several of these products, but I’ve been using Mozy for over a year, and I’ve been really happy with it.  Here are some benefits:

  • Off-site protection: Data is transferred to an Internet data center that probably has better power, networking, and cooling support than my home office.
  • Efficient file transfers: The Mozy client determines binary-level difference in files.  It then compresses and encrypts the data before transferring it to an online server.
  • Automated operations: Most backup clients are able to monitor for file changes and then send them periodically or based on a schedule.  The main benefit is that the weak link in most backup plans (humans) are eliminated.
  • Convenient Restore Options: Mozy provides the ability to perform restores using Windows Explorer integration (i.e., by right-clicking a file and choose a prior version), by using their web site, or by using a drive icon that allows you to browse directly to your files.  Compare that to tape backups, and it’s easy to see the benefits.
  • Revision tracking: Mozy lets you restore from previous versions of files.  This, to me, is a useful feature.  Again, it’s far more likely for me to accidentally modify or delete a file than it for an entire hard disk to fail.
  • A non-intrusive client: The last thing I want to install on my computer is a memory hog or something that will scan every file I use.  Mozy works on a scheduled basis, so it minimizes the overall impact.  Usually, I don’t even notice it.

Of course, many of those features apply to other products and services.  Some client software was either buggy or overly-intrusive (in my opinion), so that’s certainly something to keep in mind when you evaluate online backup solutions.

In addition to providing personal-level service, many companies also focus on enterprise-level services.  There are some issue, as well.  For example, in the United States, upstream bandwidth is quite limited.  Transfer a few gigabytes of data can take a long time.  Overall, though, backing up over the Internet is an excellent (and available) option.  Check it out, and let me know what you think!

P.S.  If you decide to try Mozy, please use my referral code: (we’ll both get an extra 250MB of free storage space).

Update: I recently subscribed to the Mozy service to get unlimited storage.  It took about 5 days, but I ended up backing up 15GB of data over the Internet.  Overall, the process went very smoothly.