Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Some general comments on backups

Given my last post about mozy doing away with their unlimited plan, and seeing all the reactions from people, some of which seemed to be in a panic at the thought of possibly not having a full complete backup for a few weeks, I thought it would be good to make a few suggestions about backing up data.

The first thing to realize is your backup is exactly what it says - a backup. It should be a secondary copy of your data, not your primary storage. Forgive my nerd analogy (you did read the title of this blog didn't you?) but it's like being on the USS Enterprise while fighting the Romulans. Captain Kirk doesn't use the backup systems first, he uses the primary systems. He only asks Scotty to engage the backup's when the primaries are in trouble.

That's what your online backup should be like. They should mainly just be used for when your primary data storage - your hard drive - is in trouble. So if your online backup goes away, it shouldn't be cause for panic. Because your primary system should still be in relatively good shape and the chances of the primary going down while the backup is down should be pretty small.

The thing to keep in mind here is making sure your primary is always in relatively good shape. There's a few simple things you can do to ensure that.

  1. Run a disk monitoring program in the background to keep tabs on your hard drive. A very basic, and free program, is HDD Health from panterasoft. It'll monitor your drives and let you know if they report any problems.
  2. If you want to be even more proactive, you can schedule windows to run a chkdsk every week or month. You can either schedule this as a task in windows, or you can run it yourself. You have a few choices as to how you want to run the command, as it can drastically effect how long it takes to run the check, and also whether or not you can use your PC while the check is running. You can run it as chkdsk c: /F /R /X. replace c: with whatever drive you want to check. This command will take the longest and possibly require you to reboot the pc and wait for it to finish before you can use your PC again. Having to reboot is almost a certainty if you are going to check drive C.  If you want to speed things up a bit, leave off /R, which does a more intensive scan of the disk looking for bad sectors on the disk. If chkdsk starts reporting bad sectors, it's time to replace the hard disk. You can look up the warranty on the hard drive to see if it's still covered.
  3. The other suggestion I have is to replace your hard drive once it's 2 years old. Hard drives are pretty reliable - i can't remember the last time I had one fail. But if you replace them every 2 years or so, you are even less likely to see a failure. Given how cheap HD's are (and they keep getting cheaper), you'll more then likely be able to be a hard drive twice as big as the one you are replacing, for less then it originally cost you. So not only will you be ensuring the reliability of your data storage, but you'll also get more space out of it. 
  4. If you replace your hard drives like I suggest, you can then use those hard drives as backups, in addition to any online backups. You can buy an external enclosure for the drive on newegg or amazon for $20 or so. 
One thing to remember if you replace your drives and you are not going to keep them or re-use them - make sure you wipe all the data on them, especially if you plan on selling them or giving them away to anyone else. You can use Eraser to securely delete the data from your drives. It's also free.

And for some more free and useful sofware, check out my post about gparted, which you can use to partition those new hard drives and copy data from one drive to another.

One last suggestion when it comes to replacing hard drives - keep your original drive on hand for at least a week or two before you erase it or do anything else to it. The most likely time for a new hard drive to fail is right when you first start using it, if there's was any sort of defect to it. Otherwise, any decent hard drive will most likely last you several years. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mozy ditches unlimited backup AND increases prices- time for mozy alternatives

Mozy sent out an email to (most) of their customers last night announcing they would be dropping their unlimited backup plan in favor of a tiered pricing plan. Mozy has offered their unlimited plan since 2006, so to be fair this isn't a bait and switch type scenario. And I can understand prices increase over time and they may need to adjust their pricing to stay in business. But I think they went about this the wrong way.

They claim that most of their users backup less then 50gb of data, so that is the new cap on the account. But to add insult to injury, they are going to charge you more for giving you less. I can understand if they want to get rid of those customers that are backing up 500+gb of data. But it seems like they want to get rid of some of the under 50gb data users as well. If it were me, I would not tell my customers "We are going to give you less now, AND we're going to charge you more for it as well".

Granted, it's only a dollar more per month. But it's a dollar more, AND getting less in exchange for that dollar. I think they should have at least kept the price the same. Or you can pay $10 a month for 125gb which will also let you back up 3 computers. Personally, if I am paying per gigabyte now, mozy should not be restricting me at all. I should be able to backup from as many sources as I want. If you want to back up additional computers, up to 5, it's an extra $2/month. Or it's $2/month for an extra 20gb of storage space.

So lets say someone is currently using 200gb of storage with mozy. Their monthly price would now go from $5/mo to either $22/mo or $14/mo if they upgrade to the 125gb/3pc plan.

I think 200gb is a moderate amount of use. For any users with a more extreme amount, say 500gb the cost becomes $48/mo under th 125gb/3pc plan. At that price point, you can BUY a 640gb hard drive. Why would anyone pay $50/mo when you can get a 640gb HD for less then the monthly price? Heck - you can get a terabyte drive for under $60.

It seems clear from their new pricing that mozy is actively trying to get rid of any users using more then say 200-250gb. I think they are also going to get rid of some of the users using under 50gb as well - they've gotten rid of me. There are still other online backup providers offering unlimited backups at the same price, or cheaper, then what mozy is now charging for the 50gb plan.

Carbonite offers unlimited backups for less then what mozy is charging for 50gb. 1 year of unlimited backup space will cost you $55. Mozy will cost you $66 for 50gb.

There's also backblaze which offers you unlimited backup for $5 a month per pc (or $4/mo if you pay for a year).

And there's crashplan which offers you 10gb for $2.50/mo down to $1.50/mo if you pay for 4 years.
But they also have 2 unlimited plans. The first one allows you to backup 1 pc and the price ranges from $5/mo down to $3/mo for a 4 year plan. Or you can get unlimited backups for up to 10 computers for prices between $12/mo down to $6/mo for the 4 year plan. A two year plan will come out costing $8.33/mo (or $3.75/mo for the single pc plan). And they are offering a 15% discount on all their plans right now for mozy customers

Livedrive also offers unlimited backups starting at $6.95/mo - price goes down if you sign up for a year. They do not throttle bandwidth and they support file versioning for up to 30 versions. They also support media streaming to the iphone and ipad.  Live drive offers some additional features, at additional pricing, which is aimed more at file sharing or file syncing. They give you a virtual briefcase which you can view through a browser or set up as a mapped drive on your pc. You can share files with other users or between multiple pc's. It also supports uploading files through an email attachment

And then we have Idrive, which while not unlimited, still offers what I consider to be much more reasonable data limts and prices then what mozy has decided to go with. For $5 (a dollar less then mozy) you get 150gb (3x what mozy gives) or for $15/mo you get 500gb of backup that you can use for up to 5 PCs. Plus they also do not automatically delete files and they work with external drives as well. A much better deal in my opinion then what mozy is offering now.

F-secure offers an unlimited backup option for 12 months for $49.99 which comes out to $4.16/mo. Although it looks like their online backup comes with the least features compared to any of the others. And it looks like you can only backup certain types of files.

Carbonite and backblaze both offer a 15 day trial. Crashplan has a 30 day trial and a money back guarantee. Or you can try their free version, which does not backup to their servers but does allow you to backup to any of your own external drives or even to the drives of friends and family with crashplan installed - a sort of cloud family backup solution. LiveDrive offers a 14 day trial. F-Secure comes with a 30 day trail.

Edit: Backblaze is now offering a 10% discount with the code 'byemozy'

Edit2: Happy to say crashplan seems to be working well at least as far as uploading goes. As far as I have seen, it has been uploading at the max speed that I have set it to and that my internet connection will support - around 2mbps. In about a day it has uploaded around 15gb of files.

Edit3: Well, looks like crashplan might have finally been flooded by mozy users. My upload speeds have been cut in half for the last 6 hours or so.

Edit4: Looks like crashplan flipped a switch somewhere. About an hour ago my uploads stopped completely for a few minutes, and then resumed but back at full speed again. So the slow down started at around 1pm and was corrected at around 11am the following day. Not too bad I guess.