Remote Backup Solutions

The next step in your backup solution is to create a remote backup. There are a number of ways of doing this. For example, when I was working on my dissertation I used to make tape backups of my hard drive and carry them to my office. That is one kind of remote (also known as offsite) backup, but the flaw here is obvious: You need to take the time and trouble to do it, and that violates our ground rules for effective backup.

Fortunately, there are options to let you backup automatically over the Internet, which are either free or low cost. In this article we will look at some of these options. Among them are Mozy, Carbonite, Dropbox, and Amazon Web Services. I want to look at each of these and explain the options. There are other options out there, and another one might be better for you, but the real point is that you ought to do something, and any of these is absolutely 100% better than not having a backup.


This was one of the first online backup solutions, and there is a lot to like. First of all, you can get 2GB of storage for free, and unlimited storage for $4.95 per month per computer (or an annual subscription for $54.45). And Mozy is a subsidiary of EMC corporation, a big company in the storage field, so you can probably expect it to be around for a while. (It is over 4 years old now.) Also it encrypts your data before it is sent, and then sends it with an SSL connection, so your data is reasonably safe from prying eyes. It supports Windows versions from Windows 2000 (or later) or Mac OS 10.4 (or later). Sadly, no Linux support, so it is not a solution I could use. One thing that I have a problem with is that the software runs in the background continuously, and it looks like you could accidently delete a file from your hard drive and find that Mozy went ahead and deleted it from your backup. You do get 30 days to restore it before Mozy deletes it permanently, but still, it is a risk.


This is often viewed as the major competitor to Mozy, and they are a lot alike. Both offer one year subscriptions for around $54.95. Carbonite does not have the 2GB free offer, but it does offer a 15-day free trial for its subscription service. Carbonite encrypts your data “twice”, they say, but I am slightly suspicious about that. Data is either encrypted or it isn’t, and doing it twice does not increase the entropy, so I wonder what they mean by that or if it is just marketing BS. Carbonite supports Windows versions from Windows XP or later (no Windows 2000 here), and Macintosh from 10.4 or later. Again, Linux is not supported, so for me this was not an option.


This is an intriguing option that is a little different from Mozy and Carbonite. Dropbox is both an Online Backup and a File Syncing application. What this means is that you can install Dropbox on several computers, and it will not only back up your files on their servers, but also keep copies of the files that are on each computer in sync. So if I edit that important document on my laptop, the changes I make will automatically get pushed to my home computer, for instance. You can also share files with others, so I can let my co-workers look at that important document. You get a free 2GB of online storage, just as with Mozy, and can purchase up to 100GB (but not unlimited here). You can access your files via the Web from any computer or mobile device. Best of all, it has Windows, Macintosh, and Linux support, so it is truly cross-platform. The downside is that you need to move the files into the Dropbox folder, rather than backup your directories as you wish. This is really more practical for file syncing than for Online Backup, in my opinion, but your mileage may vary.

Amazon Web Services

This is the one that I use, but it is actually two products combined. Amazon offers storage on its servers for a monthly fee, which is calculated per GB, but is not too steep (US Standard is $0.15 per GB). It also charges you a bandwidth fee for transfers, again not too steep (about the same as for storage). Note that the fee schedule can change from time to time when they run promotions. In any case, my monthly bill usually runs around $8.00, mostly because my wife’s business involves graphical images that we back up. The service I use is called Amazon Simple Storage Service, aka Amazon S3.

The other product you need to make this a true backup solution is Jungle Disk. This software is reasonably priced and licensed. You can get a simple backup solution for $2/month, which is not too much, and it covers every computer you have. So I can back up from my computer and my wife’s computer for the one fee. In fact, I can back up from several of my computers, my wife’s computer, and for that matter any computer I own, all for the one fee. And it is completely cross-platform: Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. Instead of running continuously in the background, it runs as a scheduled job. And my backed-up files are just mapped like another drive on my network, which is very convenient.

Bottom Line

All of these solutions have their pluses and minuses, but as I said before, any one of them is 100% better than not having a backup. So you can’t really go wrong with any of them. If you only need Windows or Macintosh, and only have one computer to back up, either Mozy or Carbonite will work about the same. If you have multiple computers, though, it can get expensive because you pay a separate fee for each computer. That $4.95 per month doesn’t look quite so good when you multiply it by 2 or 3. But if you have only one computer, these are simple and inexpensive. Dropbox is great if you like to share files with others, work collaboratively, etc. but as a pure backup solution it does not work so well. For instance, if you wanted to back up your bookmarks or mail files, they would have to first be copied into the Dropbox folder. So unless you really need the file syncing capability, give this a pass. The Amazon/Jungle Disk combo is great if you have multiple computers and some of them are Linux machines. Since I have 4 desktop computers and 2 laptops here (4 Linux, 2 Windows), it was really the only practical solution for me.

The other thing you should be aware of with any of these solutions is that your first backup is going to take a while. My wife and I had over 30GB of data we wanted to back up, and that literally took days to get through. Your time for upload will depend on how much data you are backing up and your upload speed, but you need to be aware that it will take a long time and allow for it. Don’t start your first backup if you need to use the computer for other things, particularly things that require uploading. But once you have the first one done, subsequent backups should go quickly. I schedule mine for around 1am when I know I will be in bed, and I have literally never seen it backing up since then.

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