We previously reviewed the best way to backup your files to offline storage (e.g. an external hard drive) but that is susceptible to loss if disaster strikes – external storage may be stolen or damaged by fire/flood etc. Whilst we still recommend this type of backup for ease of use, online backup services are increasingly common – they are often called ‘cloud’ storage because your data is stored in the cloud (networked online storage).
Online backup services take 2 approaches: 1. Synchronization (synch) services offer less storage for free but they backup your files automatically. Such services use a program that runs behind the scenes and uploads your files across the internet whenever they are created or saved. This automatic process means that your online backup will always be current – essential if you need to restore files from it.
2. Basic storage space on the web where you have to manually upload your files for safe keeping. This provides the most free storage but when you add new files or amend existing ones you have to remember to upload them – there is no automatic backup so your backup may quickly become out of date unless you keep to a regular schedule.
There are many free online backup services but some of the most popular are:
MozyHome Free – 2GB of free storage space and automatic file synchronization. Bandwidth throttling, version history (restore previous versions of a file up to 30 days in the past) and only backs up new or changed files. Easy to use and popular with home users.
Dropbox – 2GB of free storage space and automatic file synchronization. Remote file access and folder/file sharing, manual bandwidth limits to stop it hogging your internet connection. Very popular service but in June/July Dropbox made the headlines due to a security lapse (accounts could be accessed without a password for a few hours) and misguided terms of service (since changed) that initially seemed to give them a license to any data you uploaded…
SugarSynch – 5GB of free online backup space and automatic file synchronization – keeps your files updated across all your computers. Remote file access and folder/file sharing.
Windows Live SkyDrive (Microsoft) – 25GB of free online backup space. Basic storage space (no synchronization). However, you can add Windows Live Mesh to synch up to 5GB of files to your SkyDrive storage. Individual file sizes limited to 100MB and limited to 5 files at a time unless you install the Silverlight based tool to allow drag and drop uploading of files.
Possible Issues With Online Backup Services
1. Time to upload/download files – Broadband is much quicker at downloading than uploading so even a small initial backup of a few GB of data may take a terribly long time to upload – possibly days rather than hours! Fortunately, once you have done the initial backup, synch services only try to upload files that are new or changed – and, even then, most will only upload the changed part of the file to save time.
Likewise, if you have 5GB stored online and need to download it all (perhaps to a new computer) be prepared for that to take up to a day or more depending on your broadband speed.
2. Security – Whilst online backup offers better security against physical damage than storage in your own home, it brings with it a host of other security risks. The experience of Dropbox earlier this year put a rather large cloud in the idea of cloud storage as a secure medium… Trusting a company, even (or especially?) a large one, to host your personal data presents a certain amount of risk – whether from hacking, mistake or nosy staff!
Think carefully about the confidentiality of any files you entrust to online storage (especially if you aim to share them with others) – not just about obvious things like your accounts/personal pictures but less obvious ‘gotchas’ e.g. if you upload illegal music/copyrighted files, you may be in for a nasty surprise – many online storage companies reserve the right to take any action they deem appropriate if they are notified of copyright issues…
Free online backup services can be a useful addition to (not a replacement for) your existing backup at home. Keeping copies of your files in the cloud lets you synch with your other computers and share files, not just keep backups for safety. However, there are issues you should be aware of.
Be careful who you trust – we wrote last week about a ‘free’ online backup service which would cost you money to restore your files… Fortunately the services we listed above are long established and do offer genuine free options but we strongly recommend reading the full feature list and terms and conditions of a service before opting to transfer your private data into their safekeeping.