File Synchronization Services
There are several low-cost data backup solutions available that provide real-time file synchronization. Services like Box.com and Dropbox.com are primarily for file synchronization and sharing.
Having your files synchronized with these services is similar to having a real-time mirrored backup. However, the local client for these services requires that you put your synchronized files into the Box or Dropbox folder. It’s not possible to have other folders backed up. This makes setup and usage difficult if you want to continue using your default system/user folders for photos, videos, music, and documents.
Cloud Backup Services
Services like BlackBlaze, Carbonite, CrashPlan, iDrive and Mozy are primarily designed to provide cloud backup rather than file synchronization and collaborative file sharing.
The chart below (provided by BlackBlaze) compares several backup services. It offers a helpful rundown of what to look for in a backup service. Click the image for a larger view.
Because the chart was created by BlackBlaze, it’s not surprising that the features highlighted present their backup service in a favorable light.
The Locate Lost Computer feature is a nice addition, and it’s exclusive to BlackBlaze, but it’s already included with iCloud on Apple computers, and easily available from other sources such as PREYProject.com for other platforms.
The service most similar to BlackBlaze in features and benefits seems to be CrashPlan. However, the CrashPlan client software for desktop computers runs on top of Java which potentially introduces one more layer of complexity and security vulnerability.
Here are some comments from CrashPlan users. (source)
- “They’re relying on a bundled Java 7 JRE hidden inside their app bundle. Whether or not it’s worth installing now depends on why you’re avoiding it now. If you’re concerned about security issues with a full install of Java on your Mac, this should avoid that. If you’re concerned about performance, not much is different from how things were a year or so ago.” (Jonathan, 18 April 2014)
- “CrashPlan caused my Mac grief and performance issues on a i7 iMac with SSD. Couldn’t imagine what it would be like on older Macs.” (SCrossman, 19 April 2014)
- “I’m also waiting for a native client. I had to add that weird Java hack a while back to increase the memory used by Crashplan’s client so it wouldn’t crash all the time with my (large) dataset, but now of course it consumes quite a bit of memory idling around. If I had to do it over again, I’d probably have gone with Backblaze.” (Brad Oliver, 21 April 2014)
- “The problem with Backblaze is, they delete any files they haven’t seen for 30 days. To my understanding, this means if you have a rarely attached external drive (a drive archiving older files, for instance), you can’t really back it up there. Crashplan doesn’t have this limitation. You can hook up an ‘archive’ drive, let it back up, and those files will be retained indefinitely.” (ZnU, 21 April 2014)
- More benefits can be found in the Tim Fisher CrashPlan review.
Cloud Backup Limitations
- For people with multiple terabytes of data, such as huge photo collections or videos, it can take days or weeks to get all your files backed up.
- With large database files that are constantly being updated, such as a large Outlook PST file, the current will repeatedly be perceived as having changed and be in perpetual need of being backed up.
- People working with video files will always be days behind on having their data backed up.
- Cloud backups aren’t ideal for those needing a quick and complete system recovery, including all operating system files and settings.
Benefits of Local Backups
- Local backups are fast and instantly available.
- Large files can be quickly backed up or mirrored.
Cloud backup services and external hard drive backups each have advantages and disadvantages. That’s what makes it hard to decide which one to choose.
By using both systems, you can get all the benefits they have to offer. When you read the list below, you’ll realize that you wouldn’t want to be with only one solution.
Hybrid Backup System
These are the benefits of using a hybrid backup system:
- Current Data Backup (Cloud & Drive Backup). For people who run an automated backup to an external hard drive on a daily or weekly basis, the most recent data may not always be available. Cloud backup services typically backup and synchronize in realtime as you work. Local backup software can do this as well, but sometimes this isn’t as reliable or could slow down the computer. Larger files, such as videos, may be more likely to get backed up to a local drive sooner than they will with cloud services since uploading gigabytes of data takes time. So, in this regard, both services offer equal benefits.
- Disaster Recovery (Cloud Backup). In the event of a tornado, fire, flood, or other disaster, it’s important to have an off-site backup. Using a cloud backup service provides this advantage.
- Image Recovery (Drive Backup). If your computer crashes, how much time will it take to install the operating system, all programs, and reconfigure everything to work again? It could take days, unless you have an image backup in which case it could take about 20 minutes. Image backups are a copy of your entire hard drive at a point in time. When you recover an image, it includes everything on your drive as if nothing ever happened. You can restore an image backup to a brand new drive, even a larger faster drive, and keep working after a hard drive crash. This is what makes an image backup so helpful. You can make an image backup using software like Acronis True Image.
- Physical Data Security (Drive Backup). If you’re using a cloud service like Dropbox, and have the unfortunate experience of letting go a disgruntled employee, you may wake up to find all of your data is missing — if you’ve not quickly changed the password required to access the cloud account and disconnected any shared access. Or, even in a situation where the login to your cloud storage gets compromised, a malicious hacker could delete all the files. With a local hard drive backup, a person would need physical access to your facility to get at the data.
- Recovery Speed (Drive Backup). We all know that it can take many hours to download files from the Internet. Recovering an entire hard drive of data can take hours or days depending on your connection speed. Using an attached hard drive is much faster if you’re restoring data after a system crash.
- Reliability (Cloud Backup). A cloud backup is an independent system and can alert you via email if something is wrong. However, an external hard drive backup can fail for any number of reasons without you necessarily being aware of it:
- If a user disconnects the drive (by ejecting it in Windows), the back software won’t run as scheduled.
- If the external drive has the power cord accidentally unplugged, or if the power adapter fails, the backup won’t run.
- If the external drive data cable becomes disconnected, the backup won’t run.
- If the external drive fails or crashes, the backup won’t run.
- If the backup software freezes up, or stops running properly, the backup won’t run.
- Theft Prevention (Cloud Backup). If someone breaks into your office or store, and takes your equipment along with your backup drive, you will have lost all your data. In this regard, a cloud backup is helpful.
To create your own hybrid solution, begin using a cloud synchronization service like Box.com to have a shared folder across your business computers. You could also choose to use a service like Carbonite for cloud backups and share the files through your local network (instead of using cloud-sync sharing). Then, on one of those computers, connect an external drive for backups. You could use the backup software included with Windows or purchase something like Acronis True Image.