Online backups: Easier, faster, safer

By Jay Dougherty, DPA

Washington : There's a lot to be said for the idea of online backup. You get a copy of your important data and system files in a remote location. You can access the backup from any computer that has an internet connection. And you can even use the backup to share your data, if desirable, with others.

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But one significant problem has prevented most folks from taking advantage of the online backup solutions available: their internet connections were too slow to make the process bearable.

A lot has changed over the past year, however, to make the reality of online backup more palatable. First, Internet connections continue to get faster, with broadband gaining traction around the world and, thanks to fibre rollouts giving cable and DSL real competition, forcing internet providers to offer higher and higher speeds for less money.

Second, online backup services have gotten smarter about how they use your internet connection, making the prospect of backing up your data over even a relatively slow internet connection more realistic.

Mozy ( and Carbonite ( both employ a "slow go" approach to backing up your computer. To overcome the drawback of slower Internet connections making online backup an unrealistic option, these services both employ smart applications that, once installed on your PC, take care of backing up your data behind the scenes. The backups occur so slowly that you probably won't even be aware that they're occurring.

If you end up doing something intensive online – such as game playing or video conferencing – you can temporarily suspend both Mozy and Carbonite until you've finished. It makes sense to compare these services because both employ essentially the same backup model and both appear intent on remaining competitive with one another in terms of the service offered.

Should you ever need to restore a file, you just log in to your account and select the files you wish to restore. Doing an "image" backup of your entire hard drive and restoring an entire computer using one of these services is not possible.

If you're not sure whether online backup is for you, Mozy offers a free trial that does not require you to give out a credit card but does provide you with two gigabytes of storage space for your backups. That's enough to back up many people's most precious data files – ones you'd never want to lose under any circumstances.

And while many of the applications required to use online backup are Windows-only, Mozy now offers a beta version of its Mac-compatible client. Mozy's unlimited plan removes limitations on storage space and costs $4.95 per month or $54.45 per year.

Carbonite also offers a free trial, but it's limited to 15 days rather than two gigabytes. The upside is that should you decide to make online backup a part of your strategy for data security, you can get an unlimited storage option for a bit less than Mozy charges: $4.16 per month or $49.95 per year – less if you choose a two-year option.

Privacy is obviously a concern of most computer users these days, and both Mozy and Carbonite insist that your data will be encrypted and safe from prying eyes. The full privacy policies of both companies are readily available.

Taking a slightly different approach to online backup is XDrive (, which has been around for many years now but is finally becoming a more realistic option for those with faster Internet connections.

Instead of taking the slow, behind-the-scenes approach to backing up your data, XDrive's Windows-compatible installation lets you use the service as though it were an external hard drive connected directly to your PC. Once XDrive is installed, you simply drag and drop files to your XDrive or set up a backup routine with your backup application of choice.

The backups do not occur slowly, over time, but immediately, using all of the bandwidth available to you, so XDrive makes senses for those with a good Internet connection. XDrive offer five gigabytes of storage space for free. Fifty gigabytes of storage runs for $9.95 per month.

Although many of us are loathe to take on yet another monthly or yearly subscription charge, the security offered by online backup services is compelling – and may even be cost-effective, if you consider that a typical external hard drive and enclosure runs for about $200 dollars.

Ideally, any backup you make should be stored off-site anyway, in case of an on-site disaster, and few computer users who make backups bother to take them off site.

Online backup accomplishes that task easily and often transparently. What's more, if Google gets into the online backup market – as has been rumoured, with its yet-to-be-announced product GDrive – you can expect the price of online backup to come down in a hurry.