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Online Backups Might Just Save Your Proverbial Bacon

By  Aug 24, 2010

Topics: General Computing

Do you think that a once-a-week backup to your external hard drive is all you need to do to protect your precious photos, music files, videos and more? Think again. You're one catastrophe away from losing everything!

What if your hard drive died tomorrow? I mean pushing up daisies, gone off to the big bit bucket in the sky dead. Would every picture, email, video, music file and anything else you love go with it? Are you ready for a dose of cold, hard reality?

Oh, you have a backup drive and you back everything up weekly? That's really nice, but what if your house burns and your computer and backup drive are burned to cinders? What if some meth-head dirtbag breaks in and steals both your computer and your backup drive? Are you ready to deal with that reality?

If you're like most of us, you are woefully unprepared to deal with that kind of catastrophic loss. And even those of us who use backup drives and back up our data religiously are only partially prepared.

This is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night. In fact, if it's not keeping you up, I'd ask you to consider a few points:

  • When was the last time you took a picture with a camera using film? How many priceless photos of your kids, your spouse, or your latest fishing trip are on your drive?
  • Do you keep a handwritten address book, or do you keep all of your contact information for friends, family and work on your computer, in Outlook perhaps? What about your Outlook calendar that's chock full of anniversary, birthday, and other important reminders?
  • How many registration numbers, product numbers and the like have you received via email after making online purchases? If you lost all of those, how many pieces of software would have to be repurchased?
  • Did you use a digital video camera to shoot video at your child's first birthday or at your parents' 50th wedding anniversary? Are you using one of the newer video cameras that shoots your video straight to a hard drive on the camera, for you to copy onto your computer?
  • Do you buy music online? If so, how many hundreds or thousands of dollars do you and/or your children have wrapped up in digital music? How many hours do you have invested in ripping your CDs to your hard drive, finding album artwork, and entering proper tag information? Want to do all that again?
  • Are you a writer, artist, or scrapbooker? If so, how do you feel about losing every piece of work you've ever done? Could you recreate your masterpieces if they went poof?
  • Does your office back up your work files for you, or are you toast if your drive bites it? Do you think losing that annual report you've been working on for three months is going to do much for your popularity in the office? What about all of your contacts that you've spent years accumulating? Can you picture your work Rolodex going up in smoke? If your calendar is lost, how will you know where to be and when?
  • Are you an avid gamer? Have you put literally hundreds of hours into a video game? How would you feel if you had to start over, from scratch?
  • Have you scanned old family photos, drawings your kids made for you, and other priceless family artifacts? What if those were gone forever?
  • You've spent years surfing the Internet and accumulated a set of bookmarks to every place online that means anything to you - do you really want to start over finding everything again?
  • Do you keep your finances on your computer? If so, do you have any idea how much information you've accumulated, and what you stand to lose if your drive goes belly up?

If none of this has made your stomach tighten up a bit, you've either got nerves of steel or you're strangely absent from reality. To say that our lives today are on our computers is an understatement of epic proportions. So, what does a guy do when he runs a backup once or twice a week to an external drive? Isn't that good enough? Well, it is a good start, but as we've discussed, if your backup drive is destroyed or stolen, the backup really doesn't you much good, does it? You could, of course, use two external drives and rotate your backups in and out of a fire safe or safety deposit box. I considered this solution, but dismissed the idea when I considered just how unlikely it would be that I would remember to swap out backup
drives each week. And getting them to my safety deposit box at the bank? Forget about it. I have too many work and family commitments to think I could ever be that disciplined.

So, I had been pondering for months (years, really) how to secure my growing amount of irreplaceable data. Then one night about a year ago, I saw a television advertisement for Carbonite (www.carbonite.com) which is an online backup provider. Like I am with almost any televised technology ad, I was skeptical. It sounded too good to be true - about 50 bucks for an unlimited backup. Really?

I started reading reviews about Carbonite and talked to a friend who was using it, and it really appeared to be legit, secure, and easy to setup and use. So, I visited the company's site, read more about it, and then signed up for the free trial. I have to tell you, it was one of the easiest setups I've ever been through. In fact, if you store your documents in My Documents, pictures in My Pictures, and so on, there's really no setup needed as Carbonite knows to back up these standard locations
without you lifting a finger. That said, if you store files in a different scheme, you can tell Carbonite to back up specific folders of your choosing.

Once you set it up, Carbonite chugs away in the background, backing up each and every file of your choosing. Best of all, it does all of this while you do other things. My initial backup - which is about 85GB - has been running for more than a week and while the initial backup itself is slower than Christmas, it hasn't affected how quickly my PC operates. So, aside from seeing the Carbonite InfoCenter window (which you can hide) and seeing my hard drive light flickering, I wouldn't have a
clue that anything was happening. Better yet, once the initial backup is done, Carbonite just backs up files that have been added, changed or deleted. You can also add new folders and files to the list of items to be backed up anytime.

If you want to know what's been backed up and what hasn't, you need only look at the small green and orange dots that are added to each file and folder icon. Green indicates that the file or folder is backed up. Orange indicates that a file or folder has not yet been backed up, but is slated to be backed up soon.

Choosing new folders or files to be backed up couldn't be easier. Right-click the folder or file, select Carbonite, and choose Back This Up. It's that simple.

For fun, I deleted a non-essential file that had already been backed up, then chose to restore the file from Carbonite. In a matter of seconds, I had my file back, safe and sound.

Now, you might think I am advocating not using backup drives in lieu of Carbonite. However, I am suggesting that you use both a backup drive that runs automated backups at least once a week (I do two per week) and that you back up files with Carbonite or another online backup service of your choice.

This covers all of your bases. If your hard drive kicks the bucket, you accidentally delete a file that you need, or whatever, you have your local backup right at your fingertips. However, if you were to have a fire or theft, you can then restore everything - every digital scrap that means anything to you - via Carbonite.

Of course, there are many online backup providers to choose from - Carbonite is far from the only game in town. Check out Mozy, BackBlaze, or iDrive, to name a few. Just don't wait too long!