David Strom: Online Storage Solutions

David Strom writes – I am a big fan of backups ever since my office building had a fire one afternoon. An electrical short in the office directly below mine caused the fire, and I fortunately wasn’t there when the fire started – I had left the office to run an errand. But when I came back and saw the fire engines circled around my office building, my heart skipped a beat. Yes, I had done plenty of backups of my data, indeed just that morning I had made one. And my backup was sitting right next to the
computer on my desk! A lot of good that was going to do me now, to be sure. Fortunately, nothing in my office was harmed, and I learned a valuable lesson.
The first rule of backups: make a habit of taking them to another location.
With the advances of broadband and better Web services technologies,
you now have a lot of different choices when it comes to storing your
data offsite. Depending on how much money you want to spend, you can
accomplish this with pennies, a few or hundreds of dollars. Let’s
start with the pennies first.
The simplest strategy is to burn CDs or DVDs with your data, and take
them somewhere else on a regular basis. When you have accumulated a
bunch of discs, though, this gets somewhat difficult to manage.
Next up in the cost curve is using one of the resellers of Amazon’s S3
storage API. The two services that I tried are ElephantDrive.com and
JungleDisk.com. They use small applications that communicate with
Amazon’s storage repository. They both encrypt and then move your data
up into cyberspace. The downside is that the services don’t currently
offer synchronization with your data on your hard disk, so you have to
do some work to manage the updates on your own — although both have
promised to be working on a solution. They are also fairly slow at
sending the files up to Amazon — 150 MB took 45 minutes for one
service, and two hours for the other.
The two Amazon services are dirt cheap — you will be hard pressed to
spend more than $10 a year for 2 GB of data. Amazon has published
their storage API and we can expect more players to enter this space.
Jungle handles both Macs and Windows, while Elephant is Windows-only.
Both are small start-ups, which may be an issue because who knows how
long they will be around. I want to save my data someplace and then
the company disappears. On the other hand, “We have released all our
source code on how we do the encryption and how we store the
information on S3,” says Jungle Dave Wright, the head guy there.
“Users can feel confident that there are other tools where they can
get copies of their data off of S3.” And at these prices this can be
just one of many places that holds your data.
Speaking of disappearing acts, a better solution on the
synchronization scene is from FolderShare.com, which used to be owned
by Iomega but is now part of the Redmond Borg. Unfortunately, they are
about to come to end-of-life, and Microsoft hasn’t said what this
service would be replaced by. Too bad, because it was a pretty decent
service and free too.
One company that has been around for a while in this space is
MyDocsOnline.com. They offer a confusing array of pricing plans, but
to use their backup service you get 5 GB for about $100/year. They are
competing with Xdrive, which is owned now by AOL and will be offering
4 GB for free starting next month. Another company here in the
mid-price bracket is Box.net, who offers 4 GB for about $60/year. I
have been using MyDocs for years, and like the system. Uploads are
fast, and they also support WebDAV, which makes it easier to mount the
server on your desktop and save files to it. Synchronization isn’t as
much of an issue if you can just delete and replace the entire data
store with a clean set of files, which is what I do.
At the top end of the market are companies like eVault and Iron
Mountain that offer online storage for larger enterprises. These
typically start around $100 a month for 5GB of storage. Apple also has
its.Mac offering too. It costs $200 a year for 4 GB of storage.
No matter which service you use, start to do something today about
saving offsite copies of your data. Don’t wait for a fire or other
disaster to get going on this.