Today there is no excuse to backup your files. You don’t even need to purchase any additional equipment. All you need to do is sign up with a service, install the software, follow the directions and before you know it your data is safe and sound, even if your computer isn’t.
Why Online Backup?
Backing up to an Internet service makes a ton of sense, for three important reasons: For one, the data is stored off site, usually in Fort Knox-type secure servers. This means that in case of flood or fire or other property damage, you’re covered.
A second argument for going with online backup is because it’s automated. There’s no need to insert or even have any CDs or DVDs or plug in a USB drive that may be susceptible to the calamities listed above. Online backup services automate the process of getting your files from your machines to the backed up storage, usually on a daily basis, and in some cases, they’ll watch folders or files you’ve protected and upload the changes on the spot.
Finally, when you back up to online storage with most of these services, you’ll not only have access to your files from any Web browser, but with some services, such as SOS and MiMedia, you can share the files to contacts via links in e-mail or even view photos in the web interface. MiMedia goes even beyond this with the ability to play video and music files.
Stay in Sync
In addition to the traditional online backup services listed below, you might consider syncing services like SugarSync, DropBox, Nomadesk, and Syncplicity. These keep folders on multiple computers up to date with any added or changed files. They also usually keep a copy in the cloud, so you could use one of these as a sort of minimal, hands-off form of online backup. A couple of services, like Nomadesk and MiMedia fall somewhere in between regular online backup and syncing services.
Price and Other Considerations
Within traditional online backup, services you have further subdivisions. One is price: Some, like Carbonite and Mozy, offer unlimited storage—but only for one PC. Others like SOS charge by the gigabyte, but let you backup multiple machines. In the end, expect to pay from $5 to $10 a month for a reasonable amount of backup. The unlimited providers will tell you that their option is best, but from what I’ve heard from industry executives, the average user backs up from 10 to 20GB, so you may find a better deal with a multi-PC plan than an unlimited.
Another differentiation is whether the service keeps all previous file versions when you save a change. Most do this, but the better ones like SOS even keep files that you delete from your protected machine. Since accidental deletions are a real possibility, this feature can really be a lifesaver, and is one reason why SOS is our Editors’ Choice.Other niceties to look for in online backup are the ability to share files from your online storage and marks in Windows Explorer entries that show which files are backed up. Right-click menu options in the better products like SOS and Norton Online Backup also let you tell the service to back up a file or folder immediately.
Another option is to go with your security software provider’s online backup. Most of the big suites now include at least some level of remote backup storage, and some rebrand products listed here. Webroot, for example, rebrands SugarSync.
As you can see, though it seems like a simple concept at first blush—store files from my PC on a server on the internet—there are plenty of options and features involved. After careful reading of the reviews below, you should be equipped to make the choice of which service best fits your needs. Note: this isn’t every online backup service in the world, but we think these are most of the best. We’ll be updating this roundup as we look at more of them.
Here are my top three picks for online backup services at home.
$54.95/year for one PC with unlimited storage
Carbonite is a mature online backup service, but it lacks many desirable features you’ll find in the competition. It offers unlimited remote backup storage, and handily marks backed-up files in Windows Explorer. It also has a good Mac version and a so-so iPhone app. But an account only covers one PC and its backup servers aren’t geographically redundant. It also lacks file sharing or viewing, live protection, and doesn’t back up external or network drives.
IDrive (Spring 2010)
$4.95/month per PC with 150GB
IDrive’s support for up to five computers in one account, version saving, Web interface and fast operation are welcome, but you can’t mix Macs and PCs, and there are still some rough edges, compared with the competition. Still, the service is much improved since our last review.
Mozy improves ease of use and setup, but still supports just one computer per account and doesn’t let you back up network or removable drives. That keeps it a step behind the competition.