Review of Online Backup Services

I go on and on about how important backup up your data is. All hard disks fail eventually, and when they do, you’ll lose all your stuff–including your personal pictures and home videos.

So, you need to backup. I tell most people to buy a USB drive a bit bigger than their computer’s C:\ drive and use that for backups. That works well and protects you from a failed hard disk or accidentally deleted files–but it doesn’t protect you from fire or theft, because you’d lose your backup drive, too.

Businesses do off-site backups for disaster recovery. Basically they take their backup drives or tapes to a different location that they can get to if something goes really bad. That doesn’t work well for people, though, because even if you buy a second external drive and take it to a friend’s house, you’ll forget to do it regularly. For the home user (myself included), backups must be automated or they’ll be forgotten.

Enter online backup services, which copy files from your computer to a server on the Internet. When you lose your data, you download it back from them. I checked out the major online backup services and found one that’s working for me.

Online backup services either charge based on how many GB of data you upload or they give you a flat monthly rate. Some of those with the flat monthly rate cap the amount of data you can store to, say, 100GB. I have about a terabyte (1,000 GB) to backup. That means paying per GB is out of the question for me, and I’m way past any caps. If you don’t have as much data, the math might be different.

Consider customer service as you’re evaluating online backups. When you do need to restore files, you’ll discover that it’s not the backing up that’s important–it’s the restoring. You’ll be really disappointed in the service if you can’t access your files or if some of your files are missing.

Most of these services offer similar feature sets–they backup and restore your files. Some of the distinguishing features are:

  • Support for MacOS X and Linux in addition to Windows
  • Storing multiple revisions of a file (in case you need to go back to a version of a Word file from two months ago)
  • Sharing files with other users
  • Software includes local backup capabilities (not required with Windows Vista or Windows 7)
  • Business, enterprise, or server backup (note that I focus on backups for home users)

The limitations were more important than the features to me. Some limitations of different services include:

  • Limiting the amount of backups per month
  • Not backup up network drives
  • Not backing up external drives
  • Not backing up large files over a specific size

I also recommend picking one of the big services–you don’t want your backup service going out of business. Keep these factors in mind as you review my notes of the individual services.

Unlimited Online Backup Services

If you have more than 100GB of data, I suggest choosing an unlimited backup service. I can’t fathom how they can make money redundantly storing a terabyte of data for me for $5/month, but it’s not my problem!

Update (2/7/2011): Oh, the irony of that previous statement. When I first wrote this on January 27, 2010 (about a year ago), Mozy offered unlimited backup for $5/month. I used the service for a year, and stored about 1TB of data on their servers. It took about 11 months just to get that 1TB of data uploaded across my Internet connection. Then, Mozy upped my rates just a bit–from $5/mo to $89.99/mo–an 18x increase. A 2TB hard disk only costs about $80 and will last many years, so clearly Mozy is no longer a good value. I can’t imagine why they don’t come up with a more reasonable plan for those of us with lots of data–clearly they could make a profit at a much lower price point. Instead of waiting another year to upload my data to another backup service, I’m going back to my previous offsite backup technique: backing up to an external hard disk, and then storing it at a friend’s house. My new 2TB eSATA external hard disk is $104 shipped: Fantom G-Force 2 TB USB 2.0/eSATA Hard Drive GF2000EU. I plan to write a script to copy all my files to it. Then, I’ll take it to a friend’s house for safe storage. In a month, I’ll do the same to a second external disk, and swap it out when I next visit the friend–that way, I always have one disk safely stored off-site. Backups will be a month old, but that’s way better than nothing.

One last thing: BOO MOZYHOME. You wasted my time and annoyed me.

Carbonite – $5/month Unlimited

Users complain Carbonite won’t backup all file types, even if you select them. This is okay for the average user. If you’re a developer and you want to make sure your MSIs are backed up, you can manually choose to backup other file types.

Carbonite won’t backup external drives, which is a problem for me. Otherwise, they’re very comparable to MozyHome.

CrashPlan – $4.50/month Unlimited

CrashPlan can store multiple versions of a file (in case you need to go back to an earlier revision) and they provide both local and off-site backups. Of course, you don’t really need the local backups if you’re using Vista or Windows 7, because they have backup software built-in.

CrashPlan offers a “seeding” service which starts your backup by shipping storage the old fashioned way–with UPS. This helps to overcome the VERY LONG initial backup period. For MozyHome, the initial backup has taken months. I didn’t mind waiting because I have local backups anyway, but if you’re willing to spend some time with shipping, this is a nice feature.

CrashPlan charges you more for constant backup without ads, so you might not actually get the $4.50/month price and be happy with it.

CrashPlan also offers a Linux client.

ElephantDrive – $5/month Unlimited

ElephantDrive works, but they limit files to 1 GB each. If you upgrade to their $10/month plan (which allows up to 4 computers to be backed up), they’ll backup files up to 2GB in size. I still need bigger files, but most people don’t.

You can also use it for file sharing on the Internet, because you can upload any file.

Like CrashPlan, ElephantDrive can store multiple revisions of files.

BackBlaze – $5/month Unlimited

Files are limited to 4GB each and they can store multiple revisions of files.

Space-Limited Online Backup Services

If you don’t have that much data, these might be good for you:

iDrive – $5/month for 150GB or $15/month for 500GB

Free 2GB backups and they store multiple versions of your files.

SpiderOak – $10/mo per 10GB or $100/year per 100GB

They support Windows, MacOS X, and Linux and store multiple versions of files, but the per-gigabyte pricing would get expensive for me. They provide file-sharing capabilities, too

Dropbox: $10/month for 10GB or $20/month for 100GB

They support Windows, MacOS X, and Linux. Like MozyHome, they give you 2GB for free. DropBox makes sharing files with other users easier, so it actually provides services beyond basic backup and restore.

SOSOnline: $30/year for 5GB or $50/year for 15GB

Their software provides local backup, too. The low storage limits eliminated SOSOnline as an option for me.

IBackup: $1/gb/month

IBackup is more of a business-oriented service, and their pricing reflects that. Supports Windows, MacOS X, and Linux. Their simple pricing plan turns out to be awful if you have large amounts of data, as I do.

Summary

There are MANY other online backup services that I haven’t reviewed: Syncplicity, Humyo, Data Desposit Box, Zectar Zumodrive, Livedrive, Microsoft Live Mesh, BullGuard, Fabrik, and others! As I mentioned above, try to stick with one of the big providers to reduce the risk that they’ll have terrible service when you need a restore or that they go bankrupt on you.

If you have real-world experience with a backup service, please describe it in the comments.

This entry was posted in Backup, Featured, Tips and tagged , , by Tony Northrup. Bookmark the permalink.

About Tony Northrup

Tony Northrup, MVP, MCITP, MCPD, MCSE, MCTS, and CISSP, is a Windows consultant and author living in Waterford, Connecticut, in the United States. Tony started programming before Windows 1.0 was released, but has focused on Windows administration and development for the last fifteen years. He has written more than two dozen books covering Windows development, networking, and security. Among other titles, Tony is coauthor of the Windows 7 Resource Kit, the Windows Vista Resource Kit, and Windows Server 2008 Networking and Network Access Protection (NAP). When he's not writing, Tony enjoys photography, travel, and being awesome. Tony lives with his girlfriend, Chelsea, her daughter, Madelyn, and three dogs. You can learn more about Tony by visiting his personal website at http://www.northrup.org and his photography portfolio at http://northrupphotography.com.

5 thoughts on “Review of Online Backup Services

    • That’s good, and I do that, too. But it won’t protect you in the event of theft, fire, or natural disaster–and those things happen all the time.
      Imagine if someone broke into your house and stole your computer and your backup disk–every digital file you’ve ever had would be gone forever. With an online backup, you just buy a new computer and download your stuff.

      So, it’s insurance, basically.

  1. I see that Dmailer is not shown in the list and don’t know really why they aren’t because they offer better services than all of this and for sure is a lot cheaper.
    I am using http://www.dmailer.com/dmailer-backup.html for more than 1 year and i must say that i didn’t encountered any problems like i did with a lot of other softwares i tested. And the thing is that the software is free to use no matter what and you only have to pay if you want onlin storage for your backup higher than 3gb.

  2. What about ability to fully re-create your system?

    Don’t just need data files, but would need to restore apps, registry, etc.. Are these truly FULL SYSTEM BACKUPS or just data files? If a drive or PC fails and I buy a new drive or PC (and install the same OS), do I get my SYSTEM back or just my data?

    Thanks!

    • Just your data, which means you would need to re-install Windows, re-install all your applications, and then restore your files. I haven’t found an online backup system that does full System Restore-style backups.

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