Online Backups–Now Cheap and Easy

If you’ve been feeling guilty about not regularly (or ever!) backing up your computer, peace of mind is close at hand. The backup industry has been changing recently, making online backups cheaper and easier than ever. If you have moderate backup needs and some technical ability, you can now back up your data for around 25 CENTS per month.

If you’ve been investigating backups, you’ve probably seen and considered a handful of options, from easy to complex:

 

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SkyDrive / DropBox

Once in a while, you drag and drop files to your SkyDrive / DropBox.

Ease: Medium

Cost: Free ($0 / yr.)

Reliability: High

Recovery Speed: Low

Limitations: Storage extremely limited. Easy to forget to back up your stuff. Hard to keep track of what’s backed up and what isn’t.

 

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CDs / DVDs

Once in a while, you drag and drop files to your CD / DVD burner, and then burn the files you care about to disk.

Ease: Low

Cost: Very cheap ($10 – $20 / yr.)

Reliability: Medium

Recovery Speed: Medium

Limitations: Storage fairly limited. Easy to forget to back up your stuff. Hard to keep track of what’s backed up and what isn’t. Physical catastrophes (burglary, fire, floods, etc.) that impact your computer will likely impact your backups, too.

 

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Removable Hard Drive

Once in a while, you drag and drop files to your removable hard drive.

Ease: Medium

Cost: Low (One time $100 + $100 per hard drive replacement)

Reliability: Low

Recovery Speed: High

Limitations: Storage fairly limited. Easy to forget to back up your stuff. Hard to keep track of what’s backed up and what isn’t. Physical catastrophes (burglary, fire, floods, etc.) that impact your computer will likely impact your backups, too. Hard drive failures hard to discover, often only being discovered when you attempt to restore from a crash.

 

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Network Attached Storage (“NAS”) / Backup Device

Buy a NAS or other backup hardware (such as a Windows Home Server). Included software automatically backs up your data, and can help automate the recovery process.

Ease: High

Cost: High (One time $300 / $400, + $100 per hard drive replacement)

Reliability: Medium

Recovery Speed: High

Limitations: Cost is usually prohibitive, or at least enables procrastination. Physical catastrophes (burglary, fire, floods, etc.) that impact your computer will likely impact your backups, too. Hard drive failures hard to discover, often only when attempting to restore.

 

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Online Backups

Subscribe to an online backup service. Included software automatically backs up your data, and can help automate the recovery process.

Ease: High

Cost: High ($100 – $200 / yr.)

Reliability: High

Recovery Speed: Low

Limitations: Cost is usually prohibitive, or at least enables procrastination. Initial backup takes a long time, as does recovery.

 

If you’re reading this post, it’s likely that none of these solutions have hit the sweet spot for you. However, we’re at the cusp of a pretty large change in the online backup industry.

Much of the monthly cost of online backup services comes from the cost of securely storing your data. For example, Mozy online backup costs $10/mo. for 125 GB. Carbonite is about $100 per year per computer for unlimited data. Given these costs, consider Amazon S3 and Windows Azure Storage. These are both popular commercial bulk storage services that have the razor-focused goal of providing robust low-cost online storage. They cost about $9.50 per 100GB per month. As you can see, there’s not much room between the cost of raw online storage and the price that online backup services charge. In that gap, these online backup services still need to pay for their customer support staff, development of the actual backup software (raw online storage isn’t the same as real backups), and everything else associated with being a backup service.

Now, in this world of online backup companies, there’s a very interesting niche composed of a few companies: CloudBerry, JungleDisk, and a few others.

Rather than charge you a full service fee of something like $10 or $15 per month, they charge you a little bit for their service (CloudBerry: $30 one time, JungleDisk: $3 per month) and then you buy and connect a raw storage service (i.e.: Amazon S3) yourself.

JungleDisk supports two online storage services: Amazon S3, and RackSpace Cloud Files. CloudBerry supports those, plus a handful more: Windows Azure Storage, USB drives, network drives, and 10 or so more.

Now what’s this "fundamental change in the industry", and why does it matter?

Most of these bulk commercial online storage services (Amazon S3, Rackspace Cloud Files, etc.) are designed to let software easily upload and download files whenever you want. For example, Netflix uses Amazon S3 storage to hold all of its movies and stream them to you. However, keeping your data fresh and available has a pretty high cost to it, which is represented in what you have to pay these storage providers.

Your backup data is not Netflix, though. Backups really don’t need to be accessed that often, or that quickly. You send files as they change, but you don’t need quick access to a file that you backed up 6 months ago.

Realizing how different backups and archives were from regular Netflix-style bulk storage, Amazon introduced a new storage model called "Amazon Glacier" in August of 2012. Amazon has optimized Glacier for backup and archive scenarios – where storing new data must be fast, but delays of a few hours to retrieve data from storage is acceptable.

Rather than costing $9.50 per 100GB per month, Amazon charges about one tenth of that: $1 per 100GB per month.

What does this mean for you?

Given that cost of most of these online backup services is driven primarily by their bill from the bulk storage providers, many of them now have the opportunity to reduce their cost by $8 or $9 per month. After they’ve had the chance to update their systems to work with Amazon Glacier, online backup services should be able to offer packages for $2 or $3 per month. This won’t happen overnight, but is definitely on the horizon.

Except for one class of backup service, that is.

Remember that interesting niche of backup companies that provide the backup software, but ask you to buy the bulk storage yourself? These providers should be able to react much more quickly to support Amazon Glacier. In fact, one provider already has – CloudBerry Backup.

 

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You know that pile of scrap quarters, dimes, and nickels you have in your dresser drawer? You could be looking at a year’s worth of secure online backup.

I’ve been using CloudBerry Backup for a few months now, and definitely plan to stick with it. I’ve been using a Windows Home Server for a few years, but have had more problems with it than I feel safe with. I’ll continue to use it for a backup device, but not as my main or most trusted one.

Cost-wise, here are my most recent bills from Amazon:

  • September: $2.93 (initial upload of 25 GB)
  • October: $0.27 (27 cents! for 25 GB backed up, plus 2 cents for usage charges from the CloudBerry software uploading new data, checking existing data, etc.)
  • November: $0.25 (25 cents! No usage charges, since I had temporarily disabled CloudBerry Backup.)
  • Disclaimer: CloudBerry offers their software for free if you review it (which this post does), so I did not pay for the software itself.

      What I like the most about CloudBerry is that it lets you back up your data to multiple destinations. If you have a USB drive, back up your data to the drive AND Amazon Glacier. If you need to quickly retrieve some files you lost, get them from the hard drive. If that’s failed, get them from the secure online storage.

    Now, is CloudBerry the right answer for you?

    At this point, it’s mostly a question of how comfortable you are with clicking through setup wizards. The process isn’t terribly technical, but requires at least a willingness to brave computer jargon.
    If those look reasonable, then yes – CloudBerry is the right answer for you :) At 25 cents per month for storage (with a free 2-week trial), it’s hard to go wrong.

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