February 06, 2012, 2:26 PM — It's a fact of modern life that archiving data is essential to prevent a data disaster. Still, something like one-third of computers are never backed up, according to 2,257 respondents in a recent Backblaze poll carried out by Harris Interactive. The survey came to the dismal conclusion that a scant 7% of users practice safe computing by archiving their systems on a daily (or nightly) basis.
"It's pitiful how few people protect their key data," says Dave Simpson, senior analyst at the market analysis firm 451 Group. "Once it's gone, it's gone."
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In place of the traditional technique of storing backups on an external hard drive, an increasingly popular remedy is to use an online backup service that saves the data on servers in the cloud. You don't need any extra hardware and once it's been set up, the system can automatically do the deed when the computer is idle.
"Online backup is a real alternative to local backups," adds Simpson. "It is a popular option to storing backups on a hard drive."
In the two years since we last looked at this area, a lot has changed. To begin with, there are now nearly four dozen companies selling online backup services. They have more automatic features; and, besides restoring files to the host computer, many (although not all) of the services now allow you to retrieve the stored files with a smartphone or tablet or to email them to a friend or colleague.
But while saving your files to the cloud is convenient and a good way to automate your backups, it has its disadvantages. First, the initial backup can be painfully slow, taking as much as several days, depending on the amount of data and the speed of your Internet connection. The good news is that only the first backup is this slow. After that, updates with new data take 10 or 15 minutes, on average.
Equally frustrating is that many online storage services only back up your personal files -- those you create -- and not those that the system requires to boot up, for example. This means that you're only partially protected.