Cloud-based backup services come as close as you can get to making this necessary, but oh-so-avoidable chore hassle-free. Even if you already back up your data to an external hard drive, you need a cloud service in case that drive is destroyed along with your PC and the original data if a catastrophe strikes.
Many cloud services promise to simplify and automate the tedium of data backups, but some are too expensive, some are too complex, and some simply fail woefully. Here are four that deliver.
It doesn't get much easier than Backblaze. Once you install the software, it scans your computer and backs up your data. For $5 a month, or $50 per year, Backblaze will back up an unlimited amount of data, including data stored on external drives or across multiple Windows or Mac PCs.
By default, Backblaze will back up all of your data other than the operating system and applications, and it updates when you add or edit files. Backblaze estimates that most home networks will be able to upload about 2GB of data per day, but you can manually control the throttling to use more network bandwidth and accelerate the backup speed.
Backblaze encrypts your data in transit and on its servers, but you can set up your own encryption key to make sure even Backblaze employees can't access your data. The company maintains file version history going back four weeks.
When you need to restore a file, you can do so via the Web interface. If you'd prefer, Backblaze can ship up to 64GB of data to you on a USB thumbdrive, or your entire backup on an external hard drive via FedEx. There's also an iOS app that lets you view and access your backed-up data from your iPhone or iPad.
If you have concerns about the cloud, CrashPlan offers a unique service with its CrashPlan Free option. You get a secure account code to share with family or friends and create a private backup network: Their data is backed up to your PC, and your data is backed up to theirs. No party can see the others' information. The one caveat is that each computer must have sufficient available storage capacity to accommodate the incoming data (the service works with connected external drives).
CrashPlan also offers a more traditional cloud service that's similar to Backblaze. For $60 per year, you can get a CrashPlan+ Unlimited account to back up an unlimited amount of data to CrashPlan's servers. That plan is valid for only one PC, though. For multiple PCs, you have to buy the CrashPlan+ Family Unlimited plan, which costs $150 per year.
With CrashPlan, you can also configure the backup to use multiple destinations. You can back up your data to the cloud, but you can also back up to an external hard drive, another PC on your network, or to a friend or family member's PC (as with CrashPlan Free). Once you set it up, your data will be continuously and simultaneously backed up to all designated destinations, so you can have local copies of your data, as well as a copy stored safely offsite.
CrashPlan has apps for iPhone and iPad, as well as Android and Windows Phone mobile devices. You can view, download, or share any file you have backed up to CrashPlan from virtually anywhere using your smartphone or tablet.
Mozy has a unique feature that might make it more appealing for some users. Mozy Stash is a designated folder that automatically syncs data (you don't have to wait for a backup to start) across computers and mobile devices. You can drop your most important files here to make sure they're always available. Similar to the mobile apps from Backblaze and CrashPlan, the Mozy mobile apps also let you access and retrieve your backed-up data even if it's not synced through Mozy Stash.
Depending on your needs, though, Mozy can be expensive. Mozy offers a 50GB plan for $66 per year, or a 125GB plan for $110 per year. Depending on how much data you need to back up, though, and how many PCs you're backing up, Mozy might be a more affordable choice than CrashPlan.
For example, the Mozy 125GB plan is valid for three PCs just like the CrashPlan+ Family Unlimited plan, but you can add PCs for $2 each per month (or $10 per year). You can also add 20GB of storage capacity for the same $2 per month or $10 per year. If you had five PCs and only 150GB or so of data to back up, you'd have to get two CrashPlan+ Family Unlimited accounts for $300 per year, but you could use Mozy with the additional PCs and storage capacity for just $150 per year.
In addition to multiple online backup plans, iDrive gives you the option to seed your data to the cloud using an external USB hard drive. With the iDrive Express plan (available free once a year for Pro Personal users and thrice yearly for Pro Business users), iDrive supplies you with the storage device. Rather than spending days--or even weeks--monopolizing your network bandwidth, and possibly exceeding your broadband provider's data cap, you back up your data locally to the drive and ship it back to iDrive to be copied to your account.
Like Mozy, iDrive doesn't offer unlimited backup capacity. iDrive is more affordable than Mozy, though, when it comes to larger storage needs.
The base iDrive Pro Personal plan provides 150GB of storage for only $50 per year--less than half the cost of Mozy's 125GB plan. iDrive also offers a 500GB plan for $150 per year, and a 1TB plan for $300 per year. Buying that much space on Mozy would cost significantly more. For larger backup needs, however, iDrive is pricier than the unlimited plans offered by Backblaze and CrashPlan.
No more excuses
Don't play Russian roulette with your digital life. It's only a matter of time before you lose all of your photos, music, contact information, financial data, or other sensitive documents because you couldn't be bothered to back them up. You owe it to yourself to invest some time to explore these cloud services, and choose a solution that works for you to safeguard your data.
This story, "Easy Save: 4 services that take the pain out of backups" was originally published by PCWorld.