Saturday, October 3, 2009

Backup your PC to the NET, or just backup!

Have a laptop or PC you don't back-up. If you have a USB drive for backups, do you use it? Where do you put your backups in case there is a fire? OK, most of you are probably saying you have a problem. I've helped many a friend transfer or try to recover data because of a disk crash or mistake. Millions of people loose data every year because of theft, fire, or system failures. Don't be one of them!

!Update! (2/26/2012)
Please read the updates at the end of this article.

Here is my review of network backup solutions (mainly because I have a lot of family and friends that should be doing this). Why you ask... YOU MUST backup your PC. Imagine losing all your pictures, documents and e-mail (if you use local email and not Gmail).

Definition: "Network Backup"
>Backup your pc or laptop to a service on the Internet. The software schedules regular backups on your computer and puts your content on a server far from your house.
I tried both mozy and iDrive network backup solutions very quickly with the free version. I narrowed it down to these two because of all the reviews I read bubbled these to the top (and I read a bunch). Bottom line I think network backup is ready for prime time for home and even professional users. For $50/year, this is cheap insurance. Note: These solutions focus mainly on your data, not your applications. Although storage limits look low, most people don't have much actual data they need backed up, although with the advent of digital music, video and photos, it's growing fast.

Quick answer:
I recommend iDrive if you will be under 150GB, perfect for families with laptops, college kids, etc. If you are an uber-geek, like me, or need more than 500GB with the iDrive family plan, then its because it's unlimited. with unknown performance. It doesn't support network drives (or symlinks to net drives). There are a lot of options to choose from and I had to start somwhere and these are my top two for now.

I'm only going to describe the core features; you will need to go to the product web pages to get the full skinny on the latest and greatest.

I backed up of some test images and Mozilla history which was about 175mb and it took under 30 min to send it to Mozy. Uplink speed up to 1.8mb/s. This is very little data and I consider this SLOW.

Mozy uses the idea of "backup sets" and each set that you define can contain different directory areas, from full tree to selecting directories. I used the AES encryption mode and because of this there was the overhead of encrypting the backup data first before upload.

I restored 33 files, 170mb, and it took about 18 minutes speed was 1.3mb/s

Interface was intuitive with options to overwrite if the file exists or rename or send to a different directory. This isn't a whole lot of data and I consider this SLOW.

Restoring a "Backup set" you see directory tree and can pick and choose from the directory level or down to the individual files. You can restore earlier version of a file as well (I think they keep 30 versions).

Now that I know what the restore screen looks like I would design separate backup sets for directories that are real deep but I'm not sure since you can traverse easily enough. I think this is a new feature in mozy and they got dinged in earlier reviews over restore interface in earlier versions of their software. You can also search for files. (Please See update at top of article related to pricing)

I tested iDrive. It was faster and the user interface (UI) is much better. I would really need to do more testing but with the sub-gig tests it was much faster. If you have a large amount of data you want to backup (you will be surprised how much you have) you might be hating mozy slowness. iDrive is the same cost as Mozy but iDrive caps you at 150gb for the personal version. This isn't a problem for most of you with lap-tops. It's more expensive if you want over 150GB which is no longer unheard of. You can get a "Family Plan" for 500GB for $15/month. This option allows you to install and backup up to 5 laptops and share the pool of 500GB. Any PC can backup as much as it wants, you just can't exceed your total allotment of 500GB.

Both products keep multiple versions of a file as you change it. It's really nice feature if you are making a lot of changes to a file and then realized you really goofed it up and want to revert to an earlier version. I did a restore of a previous version of a file using both products but the way that iDrive does it via their restore UI made more sense. Both products installed hooks into explorer allowing to do stuff to directories (like add them to the backup set) and to files using the right mouse button. In Mozy you use the explorer view files, right click on a file and ask for an earlier version to be restored. iDrive and mozy both let you search for a file but I didn't test it too extensively.

I didn't like the fact that iDrive asked you where to put the files that you are going to restore, mozy assumed they should go back to their original home unless told otherwise (just a small tweak).

iDrive does support network drives, which for most people isn't a big deal. People like me this is a real need because I keep all my images on my network server that has more redundancy. If I really wanted to go for cheep unlimited, I could just drop a t1b drive on my PC for the backup. :) The real question is, how blasted long would that take to send 1 terabyte up to a network backup company. Most consumer internet services have much slower bandwidth for uploads than they do for downloads. I pay extra for better upload performance but it's not that much faster. I think Mozy knows it's going to take a long time. There must be some sort of trade-off for backup time vs. just using a USB drive. For people like me with 20,000 large photos as part of a business and personal photography business, I've already invested in on-site redundancy along with USB off-site storage and trying to back that up over the net would take about a month.

iDrive Explorer offers a 'virtual drive' view of your account to access and restore backed up data. You can drag-n-drop files for restore from your online drive to the local system (That's easy as pie). iDrive also offers "Time-Line Restore" but I doubt many of you will use that.

I like the fact that iDrive is friendly to multiple accounts or computers, probably because they cap the storage. Based on my initial views of the mozy documentation, it looks like they will try to prevent backing up other computers to your account. In all fairness I haven't had a chance to try multiple PCs with iDrive yet (update: I have now, see updates below). It makes sense though, if you have a cap, why go to all the trouble to lock it down to one account. Whereas mozy deletes your files after 30 days if not touched (say if you deleted the file on your PC), iDrive will NOT do this. In Mozy's case, this allows you to delete a file on your PC and after 30 days, know that it will disappear from mozy. To remove a file from iDrive, you have to "sync" your system or use another method. This is important because iDrive does have a cap but it's nice to know they won't nuke your stuff. This all makes sense when you think about it. Because Mozy is an unlimited service they need to cover themselves somehow. iDdrive, on the other hand, limits your space (depending on how much you want to spend) and leaves it up to you on how you make use of it.

Disaster Recovery

The final use-case for my clients really is disaster recovery. That is, you lost all of your data due to a disk crash or your laptop was stolen, or you bought a new PC. You need to recover it all, and that really is what this service is all about. The ability to store multiple versions is nice but most of my clients will never use that feature (or think to). One thing to note, neither service wants to backup your applications and windows programs but you really shouldn't bother with that. Not only will it take way too much storage and time but those applications are easily re-installed.

Mozy's solution to full recovery is a bit geeky in that they stage up a zip file for you to download. What? What about just doing a full recovery using their UI, I don't get it. I would really need to simulate a large restore with Mozy and see if their new interface methods works or try the zip thing but it sounds stupid.

Looking at the iDrive documentation for this scenario, you treat it just like any other restore, choose your directories and drag and drop or use other methods that they have.  but what I just learned is that iDrive also allows you to use their "Rapid Serve" service and have your data Express shipped to you on a special iDrive Portal USB hard drive.  The cost is $69.95 and you can keep the hard drive.  The drive also comes with software to perform local backups with the same security and versioning features of iDrive Online backup.

Both solutions encrypt your data and store it that way. This means you don't have to worry about uploading your data to a foreign computer. The key used for the encryption process is stored on your computer or your head but not on their servers. What ever you do, don't forget that key. If you do, you can forget pulling anything back from their servers and using it. All the services I have reviewed use the same approach to securing your data and because they store it encrypted and don't have the key. Therefore, you shouldn't have to worry about them getting hacked. The encryption offered with both products is acceptable public grade encryption (Blowfish or AES), it's fast, easy, and the complexity is hidden.


Both products support Macs and PC. Both easily installed onto multiple PCs that I have and come with some pre-defined settings to catch the basic stuff on your computer. If you store your files mostly under one area (like MyDocuments or \home\your-name) your setup will take all of 5 minutes. Check the directories you want and kick off your first backup. iDrive is easier and more intuitive to setup than mozy. Mozy has a geeky history so the experience is a little more geeky and therefore less understandable to the non-geek.
The first backup is the longest you will probably experience because once you backup, only files that are new or changed will be uploaded on consecutive backups. Both products support "throttling" which will cause it to use less network and CPU while you are using your PC and you can schedule your backups for a time when you won't be using your computer. For users with a large amount of data to be backed up you may want to spread out this "first backup" experience to a few days. Run your first backup with the most critical data and then add more directories to the backup set over a few days.

I took a quick look at an alternative piece of software called "crashplan" which is cool software that lets you sync your data to a friend's PC (or multiple PCs) and them to your PC if you allow. This is a cool idea for backup to an off-site location but I think it has too many issues for non techies. I didn't see a lot of reviews but you mainly want to know your friend has good network, always up, reliable, and geeky enough to fix it when it breaks. When your friend's PC is down, you are hosed till he is back up. For $50/year, why not use Mozy or iDrive.


I'm going to recommend iDrive to people like my clients (AKA neighbors and family) and others that have a lot of family pictures and other data but no real plan. Even if they do have a USB drive, they forget to back-up to it and most people have no concept of off-site backup for fire and theft. Hell, I even forget to backup to the USB drive I take to an off-site. Kids with laptops going to college, iDrive baby.

I liked the iDrive UI that much better than Mozy's. The mozy UI is better and newer than most of the reviews that I've seen on the net. UI wise I could go almost either way...

iDrive just looks easier to use and that's huge for the people that I recommend this stuff to. As a bonus, they have a drag and drop interface for recovering files and directories. iDrive supports network drives on all of their offerings but Mozy wants a fortune to enable network drive support (I even tried making a sym-link to a networked drive and it won't recognize it :).

If cost is your decision point, either one will work for the typical laptop driver [see update at top of article, this is no longer true]. iDrive also has "continuous back, something that I don't think mozy has. This is handy for the really paranoid. Turn this on and you know your changes are backed up as soon as you save them.

The big thing caught in my craw is doing the full recovery on a new PC and performance (although I need to test more). I've seen some posts in 2008 complaining about iDrive performance but I've seen a LOT more complaining of Mozy horrid performance (which makes sense). If performance is your decision point then you better do some testing on your own. You should know that it can change from day to day based on traffic and customers for that particular service and what the service owner is doing to constantly improve their service (or not). My tests on the free unlimited service showed iDrive to be much faster but it wasn't much of a load either. A few articles point out that the "pro" version of mozy is faster and removes the upload-speed caps on the client which installs on your PC. This makes sense since you are now paying by the GB for the pro or business class version, mozy makes more money the faster they can get you to upload for the business version.

Overall, my research on the net shows more votes for iDrive from all over the web but it's a big place out there and at times you tend to see what you want. I can say that I originally thought I would be recommending mozy but after using the products, looking at the user interface, and speed, I'm very comfortable recommending iDrive.

I want to hear what you think and or experienced. If you are one of my "clients", I'd be happy to review your implementation and help you setup one of these.

I suggest that you google mozy vs iDrive and do some poking around if you are interested.

Just a Few More Thoughts
I only reviewed (hands on) the two products mentioned above because after doing some Google searches (spending several hours), I felt that these were the two top services for the general consumer market that I am recommending for. Reviewing by using the products and comparing them is a long process so I had to narrow it down to two. One of the issues that I ran into was that many reviews that came up in a Google search were very old. I continue to scan the net for articles when I hear about other products, like Carbonite. One thing that I completely forgot about was that HP had a backup service for a while before they killed it about the same time that Yahoo killed theirs (more on that here). Symantec is gobbling up business as well and it's a good move since it's just a "up sell" opportunity for them when you buy their Anti-Virus product. I may implement iDrive on my Wife's computer since she has more critical local information on her PC than I do. God help me if she loses the last piece in the puzzle to complete her PHD!

Some people worry and ask "What if the service goes under?". For the most part, you really only need the service when you need to recover a file. The worst that can happen when you find out that your favorite network backup service is going out of business is you have to setup somewhere else and go through the pain of installing, learning and getting your first backup out of the way.

What ever you decide, backup your PC!

Google tons of reviews but look for the most recent as there has been a lot of choices.
OK, this is just iDrive marketing but they have a point.: will show you iDrive vs mozy and carbonite.

UPDATE / My experience:

I'm trying the family service level at iDrive and really like it. It's super easy to setup, use and iDrive separates the archives of different machines by machine name so you know what goes with what. Just install the client, use the same name, password, and encryption key and off you go.

I'm considering uploading my images and music to the iDrive, which will all but eliminate goofing around with a USB drive that has been sitting at my house waiting for me to re-image it and take it back to it's off-site location. Now that I've said that, I've been vulnerable to big loss of data while the USB has been sitting here due to fire or theft. iDrive removes that headache and risk. I'll write more as as I test. Who knows, I might actually stay with it.

I am currently seeing a "Effective Transfer rate" of 1.7 to 1.8Mb/sec and in general I'm seeing a upload speed of about 700MB+ / hour.

I also love the "email me if this fails for more than (n) days. This feature allows me to install the app on all the PCs in my house and not worry about checking backup logs. If for some reason a PC isn't getting backed up I'll know.

iDrive Tips

As I use iDrive, I'm going to jot down some handy tips for other to learn from. Many of these will apply to a lot of different backup solutions. These tips and post-implementation review may end up on a new BLOG posting in the future.

  • Minimize your first backup; If you have a lot of data to backup like me you should choose just the most critical info to get it up on the backup server, try to keep it as small as you can. Don't start a scheduled backup yet. Once your most critical info is uploaded, choose the rest of the top-level directories to be backed up. If you have a lot of data, this could take days or possibly weeks. While the backup is running you can pause the backup or kill the backup and restart later. Kicking off a backup will always cause it to start where it left off. That is, killing a backup won't make you have to start from scratch.
  • Try to backup all items in a directory. What I'm saying here is that if you have a top level directory like "photos", flag the "photos" directory as the one to be backed up rather than trying to check all of the directories under it. It may just be a iDrive product issue I was backing up my photo library a chunk at a time. All of the photos are under \photos (not surprisingly). As I added directories to the list it took longer and longer to flag an individual directory under the photos directory.
  • I've completed the backup of my PCs and my Network Attached Storage (NAS). This includes all of the photos and music totaling 367.5 GB. That's a lot of data and it took nearly 3 weeks. I saw data transfer rates between 1.4 and 1.8gb/s (approximately 700MB per hour).
  • There was a day when it told me that it was complete and hitting the "Backup Now" button resulted an error about not being able to connect to I called support and was talking to a representative in under 5 minutes. Although the problem was resolved a few hours later, I never received an email from iDrive support.
  • Another issue that I had during my backups was that it would stop and say that it had completed the backup. I knew that it had not completed and hitting the "Backup Now" started it off again, picking up where it left off. The longest that a backup ran was just a few hours short of 7 strait days.
  • Re-naming a directory in the middle of a backup seamed to drive it a bit crazy as it continued to try to backup that directory. Also, at times, it may not include new directories until after a reboot. I will continue to keep an eye on things.
  • I've been checking the logs from my wife's PC and it's nice to see that all is running well.
  • Restore performance: I conducted a test restore of a large photo folder and was seeing about two (2)GB per hour performance. This is very acceptable. If I lost everything it's nice to know that it could be pulled back in a LOT less time than it took to push it up to iDrive.

Each of the services mentioned are constantly changing their features and capabilities so look at the date on this post, if it's old you might want to do another scan to see who is top dog.

Don't forget to let me know your decision and experiences.

!Update! (2/13/2011)

It’s been a little over a year since I updated this article and there has been a significant change that affects the content and recommendations in this article.  In January of 2011, MOZY changed their pricing.  In fact, it’s so significant (and just a bit strange) that I felt the need to update this article as soon as I heard about the change.  I expect pricing and features to change over time but not in a colossally negative direction.

 Over the last year MOZY has worked to improve their client software and improve the performance of backups, but they just recently changed their pricing from $6.00 per month for unlimited backup space, to $6.00 per month for 50GB of  max space per PC and have dropped the unlimited plan.  If a user is consuming under 50GB of space, there is really no impact.  In my opinion, this erodes any advantage they had in this article.  I compared them mainly to iDrive who is currently charging $4.95 for 150 GB max space per PC. MOZY’s next price point for their home edition is $10.00 for a max of 125GB and they don’t support network drives (until you go to their very expensive pro plan).  I calculate the cost for 150GB of storage at MOZY would be  about $12/month.  If you need more space, like I do, and go up to 500GB shared space among a group of at most 5 PC’s in your home (iDrive’s “Family Plan”), MOZY would cost you $58/month (and you still couldn’t backup network drives) where iDrive only charges $15/mont.  I’m waiting for someone to tell me that I’ve missed something here because this just doesn’t make sense.   What’s worse here, is that MOZY as a company, has damaged their image and reputation with customers.  Existing customers are NOT grandfathered in, and are required to apply the new pricing structure on their next billing cycle.  After reading their community forum, customers are really pissed-off to put it mildly.  Other searches indicate customers weren’t even notified of the change (due to slow e-mail servers according to MOZY).

When I originally wrote this article, MOZY was the low cost leader but didn’t have the UI or features I felt I my readers needed, and because of the UI, I recommended iDrive to all my readers that didn’t keep large amounts of data around.  I’ve since changed that recommendation.  Out of the three reviewed here, I ONLY recommend iDrive.

There is a company that I did not include in the review below called CrashPlan.  If you are on a budget and are looking for the MOZY-like low cost replacement, CrashPlan might be your solution.  In fact they have a web page dedicated to MOZY users that are looking to switch.  Their unlimited plan is $3/month per PC for unlimited backup space and “CrashPlan+” which covers your entire household is $6/month.  I have NOT looked at CrashPlan and suggest you research their service carefully and do a test before you commit your pennies to the cause of backup.

As a cloud service or “software as a service”, licensing changes are always a risk, just like they are with boxed software you install on your PCs.  I didn’t mention it in my article titled “Challenges & Risks of Implementing Cloud Computing” because although I’ve seen changes, they are rarely this significant and many times the price goes down on a cloud service due to economies of scale.  In general, this is a sizable “black mark” against the use of cloud computing.  The one positive note here is that the barrier to changing services is small compared to switching your cloud CRM or ERP (accounting) application.  It’s just backup, and although switching does take time (over a month in my case), it’s a painless process.  I predict that MOZY will have to re-evaluate their pricing structure given the competition and to stem the general exodus of their users, many of whom are going to
(End of 2/13/2011 Update)

Update 1/26/2010
I found a chink in the iDrive armor. If you change PCs, like I just did, you have to backup everything all over (and go out to iDrive and remove the data backed up using the old computer). I called tech support and even though the new PC is named the same as the old one, it gets a different system-generated serial number. Because of this, iDrive thinks it's a completely new PC. He said that even a hardware change can mess with your serial number :( No way around it unless you have a Mac.

The only damage is that I will have to let my client re-backup my network drive for the next month.

-- C --

1 comment:

  1. This is a really thorough review of the two products, Chris. Well done! I'll be switching from my long-time provider (DataDepositBox) soon based on this.