Backing up Your Documents

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Every hard drive ever manufactured will fail. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.

It’s a sobering though isn’t it? A couple of months ago, the disk in my Linux file server failed. The files I lost were not essential, but nevertheless I wish I had not lost them. Things that I had deemed irreplaceable (family photos) were already backed up, so they were safe, thankfully.

I heeded this warning and began to take stock of everything that was stored digitally, and decided whether it was sufficiently protected, or not, as the case turned out to be. From what I could see, there were two threat types. The first type was the one I had suffered, the disk failure. The second type was the catastrophic data loss resulting from flood, fire or theft.

The next step was to classify the types of things I had. There were things I would not want to lose under any circumstance; photos, development tools, operating systems, documents etc. And there were things I would not want to lose in the event of a disk failure, but wouldn’t be pressing on my mind in the event of a fire; things like movies, ebooks, music etc.

I decided to split my backup efforts in to two. Firstly, my main development desktop machine is backed up in its entirety using Acronis TrueImage. This creates an image of your hard drive for you to store some place safe. This effectively protects me from disk failure, as I can replace the disk, and reimage the machine back to it’s pre-failure state within minutes.

Whilst quick, easy and immensely powerful, Acronis can’t protect me from my house burning down. Well, it could, if I went to the trouble of creating a backup and storing it at my mother-in-law’s house. It just seems a little…well, you know.

I opted for an online backup service, but I wasn’t sure of which to choose. I’d been using Jungle Disk for about a year, but I’d been using it as an online disk, and wasn’t overly impressed with its performance.

As I’d heard many a good thing about Mozy, I thought I’d give it a try. I’d tried to use it a few months ago, but prior to Windows 7 RTM appearing, I’d been using Windows Server 2008 as my desktop OS, and Mozy block ‘personal’ accounts being used on a server OS, so I’d never really had a chance to use it.

The client’s pretty slick, and creating a backup was easy. I particularly like how it creates a snapshot of the files before uploading them. My backup (30 gigs worth) was uploading, and it had all been swimmingly easy. With Jungle Disk, getting at your files is trivial, as any of your S3  ‘buckets’ can be mounted as drives, but I was unfamiliar with Mozy’s restore procedure, so I thought I’d Google it. That was when I was sure I’d made a mistake. My search results for ‘mozy restore’ did not inspire confidence. The top 5 results featuring such pages as “It turns out Mozy isn’t so hot after all”, “Why you should avoid Mozy backups” and “Mozy Restore Sucks”.

I didn’t even let the upload complete. If this many people are having problems with Mozy, I wasn’t interested in whether it worked for me or not, I didn’t have confidence in it, and that was the end of it. I canned the upload and requested that they revert my account back to the “free” version. It took 3 days to get this response:

“Dear Valued Customer,

Your ticket has been transferred to the Customer Care Department. We are researching your request and should be able to respond within 5 business days.
If there are any extra charges during this wait time you will be refunded.”

5 days?? That would seem poor by any standard. This was 12 days ago, I’ve still not heard anything and I’m still on an “unlimited” account. I’ve just pinged a reminder – I’ll keep you posted.

Edit: They have now reverted the account for me. Loving the sense of hustle.

Edit: It gets better – they then sent me this email:

Dear ,
Your recent Support ticket Tim Haughton has been closed. Because we value your feedback, I would like to invite you to take our short Customer Satisfaction Survey. This survey should take just a few minutes to complete and your feedback will help us create a better product and customer support experience.

To take this short survey please visit the following link: Start Survey

Thank you,

Technical Support Representative
Customer Support

They couldn’t even be bothered to fill out my name, or the name of the representative!

So I definitely made the right call on Mozy. So, feeling burned, I remembered that JungleDisk has a backup feature. So I thought I’d give it a whirl.

The problem I had with JungleDisk was how it pitched itself. It was trying to provide a file system that is essentially a mounted bucket in the Amazon Cloud, offering limitless storage. It’s a noble and worthy aim, and I think they probably did as well as they could with it.

The problem with such ‘cloud drives’ is that as soon as you move away from having a local copy of everything, you run up against the limitations of the operating system. For example;

I back up the 2 gigabyte Windows 7 ISO image to JungleDisk. A number of days or weeks later, I browse to my ‘ISO’ folder on my mapped disk. It’s a fairly innocuous action, and what you would expect to happen is the appearance of a context menu. What actually happens, is JungleDisk commences downloading the entire 2 gig file in the background, locking Windows Explorer while it does it.

This is where it falls down. But – moving away from using JungleDisk as a disk, and instead using it as a backup utility, I am much more impressed. I create a scheduled job, tell it what and when to back up, and away it goes. It will wake my computer up if necessary and back up only the new and changed files.

I’m charged at most $0.18 per gigabyte per month. Whilst the allure of “unlimited storage” for $4.95 per month, like with Mozy, the word “unlimited” needs quite a few asterisks after it to cover the caveats. With JungleDisk, what you see is what you get.

How safe are your critical files?

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