Are Online Backup Services Reliable?

Online backup providers can be part of an effective backup and restore strategy for a small law firm.

By Erik J. Heels

First published 8/1/2004; Law Office Computing magazine, “Asked and Answered” column; publisher: James Publishing

Q: Are online backup services secure and reliable enough for law firms? Why or why not?

A: I have been using online backup services since 2000 and they have consistently provided mediocre service. That said, I think that online backup providers can be part of an effective backup and restore strategy for a small law firm.

I started using MacBackup.com for my Macintosh backup needs and WeSaveData.com for my PC backup needs, both of which were provided by Committed to Memory (committedtomemory.com). I liked using one provider for both my Macintosh and PC needs, but Committed To Memory changed ownership and ceased operations. In addition, there were problems with my restored data that resulted in 30 days of lost data.

In late 2000, I then briefly tried @backup.com for Windows backup, which I stopped using because I could not uninstall the software from the Control Panel’s “Add/Remove Software” utility. I had to manually edit the registry in order to fully remove the software.

In early 2002, I tried BackJack.com for Macintosh backups, but when I moved a large number of files from one directory to another, the software made two copies of all of my data. Their algorithm wasn’t sophisticated enough to figure out that the underlying files had not changed (and as of November 2003, this problem still exists).

Since late 2000, I have been more or less happy with Connected.com’s online backup service for Windows. I would be happier of they had Macintosh and Linux offerings, if customer service responded more quickly, if my backups always started and finished without hanging, and if their service plans were simpler. I purchased a now-discontinued (backupmystuff.com) B2C offering, and Connected is now clearly focusing on the B2B market. As such, there is not a lot available for those who want to back up data from two PCs and one server. Their low-end offerings are configured to allow backup only from the “C:” drive.

That said, Connected does a lot right.

1. First, backups can be scheduled automatically.

2. Second, data is encrypted with a user-selected key, which means that your data is not readable at the off-site location. It also means you won’t be able to recover your data if you lose or forget the key.

3. Third, your account can be protected with a password (and if you encrypt your data but don’t password-protect your account, anyone with access to your computer can discover your encryption key).

4. Fourth, you can restore data from a particular date.

5. Fifth, Connected is smart about how they backup data. Only changed data is backed up, and if you move data from one folder to another, Connected.com’s software is smart enough to figure this out and not re-copy the data (or charge you for twice the storage space).

The reason to have a backup strategy is so that you can restore data in an emergency. You can order your data on CD-ROMs from Connected.com, but doing a restore this way is a long slow process. The best place to have a backup is live on your LAN. I maintain two copies of my data on my LAN at all times, and I supplement this with online backup from Connected.com. I use the LAN backup for quickly restoring large amounts of data and Connected for restoring a handful of files. If you have more than two PCs, relying exclusively on an online backup service can quickly become expensive. Your money would be much better spent on a combination of backup hardware, software, and services that allows you to restore your data quickly in case of an emergency.

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