Online backup services keep your data safe

CrashPlan has a screen that shows a progress bar with an estimate of how long it will take to finish (except, of course, when it is working in the background). The service can also back up the contents of an external hard drive.

CrashPlan uses 448-bit key Blowfish encryption (the free version uses 128-bit Blowfish encryption). Unlike the other applications reviewed here, which have deadlines after which deleted files are removed, files backed up to CrashPlan and then deleted from your hard drive are never removed unless you do it manually, according to the company.

CrashPlan colocates its servers at several data centers throughout the U.S., but doesn't mirror backups.

Test results

Uploading backup data to CrashPlan's servers was slow -- it stopped several times during the process, once for a little over an hour. As a result, it took 4 hours and 7 minutes to save 321MB during the initial backup.

At a Glance

CrashPlan

Codefortytwo Software

Price: Free (backup to other computers only); $25/year (CrashPlan+ w/10GB online storage); $50/year (CrashPlan+ w/unlimited online storage); $120/year (CrashPlan+ Family w/unlimited online storage for 2-10 computers)

Works with: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris, iOS, Android, Windows Phone

Pros: Can back up entire computer; compatible with a variety of operating systems; service never deletes data

Cons: Slow transfers; doesn't visually mark files ready for back up

Archiving the entire C: drive took four days, 20 hours and five minutes, four times longer than the next closest service, Norton Online Backup.

I was able to back up the system's C: drive to a 250GB Western Digital external drive in 2 hours and 6 minutes, midway between Norton Online Backup and Mozy.

The service's ability to perform a 25MB incremental backup took just 1 minute and 3 seconds, the fastest of this gang of five. Like the others, CrashPlan searched for a lost file quickly, at 2.3 seconds, and restored it 35.6 seconds.

Bottom line

CrashPlan offers some innovative services and the ability to save your backups on other computers. However, uploading backups to CrashPlan is slow, which can be a problem.

MozyHome

With a name like MozyHome, you'd expect a warm and fuzzy backup service that's aimed at nontechnical types who don't want complicated backup choices. In fact, Mozy should satisfy the needs of technophobes and tech experts alike.

The service has software for Windows PCs and Macs (but not Linux systems). It also has smartphone apps for accessing archived data; the apps work on iOS and Android devices, but not BlackBerry phones.

The software can be accessed from a task tray icon, which leads to several windows for overall status, for settings and for restoring data. It all works well together and Mozy keeps a detailed log file of what the software has done.

Like Carbonite, Mozy shows what files are going to be backed up with small yellow dots and those that have already been backed up with green dots. This makes visually scanning for backup status easy.

Online backups can be scheduled for any time you want (for example, during lunch or overnight). The default backup settings archive video, music, document, email and contact files, browser favorites and financial records; however, it can handle individual files or the entire drive, including system files. It can back up data on an external hard drive. You can restore anything from a single file to the entire backup; files stay available for 30 days after being deleted.

Mozy recently announced its new Dropbox-like Stash service, which allows users to access active files from multiple computers. There is also a business version called MozyPro that offers a number of prices, depending on how many licenses you need and how much data you plan to store.

Mozy offers its users the choice of using either 448-bit Blowfish encryption or 256-bit AES encryption; its hardware is colocated at server farms in Europe and the U.S. Instead of mirroring data, Mozy uses Distributed Reed-Solomon error correction, which divides the data into 12 data blocks that are spread around its servers. Should a drive go dead, Mozy only needs nine of those pieces to recover the entire file.

Test results

Mozy's default backup stored 160MB of files from my test machine in 2 hours, 8 minutes and 54 seconds.

At a Glance

MozyHome

Decho Corp.

Price: $66/year or $6/month for 50GB; $111/year or $10/month for 125GB

Works with: Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, Android

Pros: Can back up entire computer online; backups can be done with an external drive; 2GB free service; marks files ready for back up

Cons: Doesn't offer unlimited storage

It was able to transfer and save the entire C: drive in 22 hours and 11 minutes, three days faster than with CrashPlan but six hours slower than with Norton Online Backup.

A 25MB incremental backup took 5 minutes and 7 seconds. I was able to search for a lost file in 4.6 seconds, the slowest time of the applications reviewed here but still acceptable. The file was recovered in 34.8 seconds.

I was able to back up the entire system to an external hard drive in 20 minutes and 17 seconds -- by far, the quickest of the group; the drive didn't need to be reformatted.

The company once offered unlimited storage; currently, it charges $66 a year for 50GB for one computer. Each additional system costs another $2 a month. There's also a 125GB plan that includes backups from up to three computers for $110 per year. Mozy gives you up to 2GB of storage space free, so if you don't have much to back up, you can do it on the cheap.

Bottom line

Overall, MozyHome does an excellent job of keeping your most precious digital possessions safe, secure and ready to be restored in the event of a computer disaster.

Norton Online Backup

Although Symantec is better known for its security and virus-protection programs, Norton Online Backup is also part of the company's arsenal.

Norton is available for Macs and PCs, but not Linux systems. The vendor also offers Norton Connect, a beta iOS app that lets you download archived files. (Symantec had a similar Android app that it pulled from the market last October; the site says that it is working on a new version.)

Norton's home screen lets you back up your system immediately, restore files, download files or change the settings. A log lets you know the details as well as displays a green check mark or a red X that shows whether the task was completed.

As is the case with the other applications reviewed here, Norton's default settings copy only basic files, including contacts, financial files, pictures, browser favorites and documents. The interface includes check boxes to quickly add music, email and video. You can add any folder or file manually; you can also copy your entire drive, including system files. The program provides a progress bar and displays the percentage of the task that's been completed, the amount of data and the number of files being moved.

While the software can back up a connected external hard drive, it won't back up the system to an external hard drive. Backups can be scheduled, but the program doesn't support continuous backups of files as they are saved.

At any time, you can restore a lost file or rebuild the entire computer from the stored online data. Deleted files stay active on Norton's servers for 90 days.

In addition to restoring any stored file, Norton provides a great way to share material with colleagues or friends via email. All you do is select the file and the service emails a link to anyone; the process can be password-protected.

Norton colocates its servers at several data centers in the U.S. and the U.K. and uses a 128-bit SSL encryption key for online transfers and 256-bit AES encryption on its servers. Data is mirrored at two locations, just in case there's a failure or disaster.

Test results

The initial default backup amounted to 1,226 files (190MB); it was completed in just 1 hour, 2 minutes and 7 seconds.

At a Glance

Norton Online Backup

Decho Corp.

Price: $50/year for 25GB of backups for up to five computers

Works with: Windows, Mac OS X, iOS

Pros: Can back up entire drive; licensed for up to five computers; fast data flow

Cons: Doesn't back up to an external drive; iOS app is beta and there's no Android app

It took Norton 15 hours and 21 minutes to archive the contents of the system's C: drive, six times faster than CrashPlan took to do the same thing.

I was able to perform an incremental backup with 25MB of data in 7 minutes and 23 seconds and the service was able to locate a deleted file in 2.7 seconds. I recovered it in 1 minute and 45 seconds.

Norton Online Backup has a 30-day free trial period; after that, it costs $50 for 25GB. There's no unlimited capacity plan, but a single subscription can accommodate five separate computers, something others charge an extra $2 or $5 for.

Bottom line

The software may be showing its age, but the service is fast and rock-solid.

Conclusions

This story shows the bifurcation of the online backup business these days. Some applications let you archive only your photos, music, videos and other personal files; others can save the entire contents of your hard drive.

Of the two applications in the first category, both have positives and negatives. Backblaze does a thorough initial backup but doesn't offer mobile apps that let you grab files from a smartphone while you're on the go. In contrast, Carbonite has apps for iOS, Android and BlackBerry devices, but it is the most expensive service that I looked at.

Three of the five backup services that I looked at could copy the entire hard drive to online servers, but they differed in many ways. Norton Online Backup lacks recent creature comforts, like the ability to augment online services with a local backup on an external hard drive. By comparison, CrashPlan seems to have it all, but its full system upload at more than four days was too slow to be practical.

That leaves Mozy Home as the winner. It may not be perfect, but it offers a great mix of economy, security and features. I just wish that it kept deleted files forever.

How we tested

To measure how these online backup services compare, I downloaded each application and checked out its features. I performed backups and updates and restored a variety of files on an Acer Veriton M4 desktop PC with Windows 7 Professional. I began by backing up the system using Norton Ghost 15 with a LaCie 2big USB 3.0 external hard drive.

After getting familiar with the service, I timed how long it took to perform an initial backup of the system using the service's default settings. I noted the connection speed and how much data was moved. Because the amount of data varied depending on what types of files the application handled, the timing here is more a point of information than a way to compare the services.

If the application supported it, I then did a full backup of the system's C: drive -- a total of 35.4GB of data.

To see how each handles new data, I added a folder containing 25MB of assorted files, including images, video and Office files, to the system. I timed how long it took to make the incremental backup.

To mimic what happens if data is lost or corrupted, I then deleted a 10MB WMV video file and timed how long it took to search for the file with the online backup system. Lastly, I timed how long it took to restore the lost file.

When I was done, I restored the system to its original specs and repeated the sequence with the next service.

This story, "Online backup services keep your data safe" was originally published by Computerworld.

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