What to look for in online backups

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3. Decide what type(s) of backup you want done

  • How frequently: Daily/weekly? Every time a file is saved? Every time a file is written to?
  • What types of files/data: Structured (email and databases), unstructured (documents, images, video), or both?
  • Do you want to save previous versions, and if so, how often (every time a change is done? Every 5 minutes? Daily?), and how many (up to 4? 12?)?
  • What types of data do/don't you want backed up? (e.g., no MP3s)

4. Questions to ask a potential provider

  • Are backups full or incremental? (This impacts bandwidth consumption, and how long a save takes - especially important for email!)
  • Does each computer need an agent program installed? Can the agent be set to throttle down when it detects keyboard/mouse activity?
  • How flexible/granular is the do/don't save configuration (e.g., per directory/subdirectory, by data type)
  • How many data centers do you have, and where are they?
  • What encryption is used for the backup connections, and for stored data?
  • Can files/directories be retrieved via a web browser? What browsers do/don't you support?
  • How, and how much, do you charge? Per machine? Per gigabyte? Per account? Or some combination of the three?
  • Will you (for a price, of course) provide larger restores on DVD or hard drive? Can I send a DVD or hard drive in to initiate my backup?

5. Try before you buy

Try it, using a computer. Do files get backed up? How easy/hard is it to retrieve them, including from another computer? How long does a restore take?

And consider still doing local backups. They may be faster and easier to recover larger restores from.

But whatever you do, do something.

Daniel P. Dern is a freelance technology writer based in Newton Center, MA. His web site is www.dern.com and his technology blog is TryingTechnology.com.

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