September 07, 2009, 8:42 PM — Backups work best when you have multiple copies, at least one of which is both current and offsite. OS X's Time Machine feature plus high-capacity, low-cost hard drives make it possible to back up regularly and to rotate drives through backup sets and store a full backup somewhere away from the data that's on it.
But what about when the worst happens? When fire strikes, a lightning bolt fries your computers and backup drives, or a burglar runs away with the goods? A drive stored offsite helps--but the files stored on it are out of date the second it's unplugged and lugged away. An online backup service can be the perfect addition to your backup plan.
With large amounts of storage and faster Internet connections, backing up your files online has become more viable. These hosted backup providers can also add depth to your archives, since most of them store data in such a way that you can retrieve several--or even several hundred--previous versions of a modified file.
Here's a look at eight services with OS X software to manage automated backups.
How we tested
Testing a slew of online backup services isn't for the fainthearted. Using a Comcast Internet connection that's described as 15 Mbps downstream and 2 Mbps upstream, but frequently provides far higher rates, we installed each of the software packages and selected at least 10GB of files to back up, up to 100GB in some cases. We used the services for a few weeks (in the case of Mozy and CrashPlan, I had been using the services for years and months, respectively, and examined large current backup sets as well as performing additional tests) and tested restoring backed up files as well.
How they work
All the hosted backup services we looked at use OS X software to synchronize data on one or more of your computers with their hard drives and services elsewhere on the Internet. All support OS X 10.4 and later (including Snow Leopard, although come companies have noted minor compatibility issues), as well as Windows and, in some cases, Linux.
Your initial backup requires you to upload every byte of data. Only one service, CrashPlan Central, lets you jumpstart that process by loading a drive it sends you with up to 1 TB of data ($125 for ground or $145 for 2-day shipping, prepaid both ways).
The services store your data on massive server farms that might have hundreds or thousands of terabytes of storage. Companies provide few details on their Web sites about where and how they store data. Jungle Disk is unique in relying on cloud-based metered storage, with a choice between parent company Rackspace and Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3).