By Dustin Sklavos
Mozy took home our "Editor's Choice" award among online backup products last year, and now its out to top its game with Mozy 2.0. Is this new version just a feature-tweak or did the best just get better? We break it down in this review.
Online backup and storage services have sprung up since broadband Internet connections started becoming more and more common, and to their credit there are certainly a few that are worth your time and money. (Full disclosure: I've been a big fan of Dropbox as a means of collaborating on creative projects online.)
And then there are straight up, pure backup solutions like Mozy, which is the service I'm reviewing today. Mozy is very specific in its purpose: to back up your hard drive online. Your files are accessible from either the Mozy desktop client, the Mozy website or through DVD copies of your data they can send you, but it's all designed to facilitate backing up and restoring data. So how does it work?
The client is lightweight (just 12MB) and can be downloaded from the website, but first you'll need to sign up for an account. You can set up a free trial and have your online backup size maxed out at 2GB, but the basic Home plan is fairly reasonable at $4.95 a month and has no cap on the amount of data you can store on their servers. This is the plan I used for this review.
Once you sign into the software with your account, it will search your main drive for files to back up to the server. On my machine it took a few minutes, not an unreasonable amount of time at all compared to how long some video editing software I've reviewed took just to search for clips.
After the client has compiled a list of files, you can click "Next" and either allow it to back up your data or go into its settings and detail what you want backed up. To its credit, the Mozy client is very streamlined and unobtrusive.
From here, you can specify exactly what you want backed up based on Mozy's categorization or you can click "File System" and set specific folders to be kept updated online. As I mentioned before, by default the client only checks for files on your main drive, so if you have multiple hard drives and/or partitions, you'll need to specify them manually.
Once you have everything set up through Mozy's easy-to-use installation procedure, the software begins uploading your data to their servers.
This is really the Achilles' heel of online backup services and it's something that I can neither expect Mozy to improve on nor fault it for: file transfer speeds are only going to be as fast as your Internet connection allows. I have a decent Internet connection that tops out uploads at about 750kB/sec, but compare that to the speed of copying data to a DVD or flash drive (~10MB/sec) or to a USB 2.0 hard drive (~25MB/sec). Suffice to say, it's substantially slower.
Mozy is aware of this shortcoming, so the deal is sweetened in a couple of ways. First, there's the unlimited amount of online storage space. A visit to NewEgg.com finds the best value to be about $50 for a 250GB external hard drive, equivalent to 10 months of Mozy Home service. If you have need of more than 250 GB of storage space and don't mind waiting for the upload to run (easily left running overnight, for example), an unlimited capacity online can be very enticing.
There's also the client itself, which keeps the online backup updated (minimizing the amount of time spent uploading) but also can be used to back up data to an external hard drive, allowing for an extra level of redundancy.
Finally, the data is saved in a secure, enterprise-level solution, and for some this may be its biggest selling point. Data is protected under military-grade encryption, and frankly, Mozy's future depends on being able to actually keep data safe and secure. If its server farms crash and lose clients' data, it's more or less out of business. The same applies to security compromises.
Thankfully, most Internet service providers offer substantially faster downloads than they do uploads, so restoring from a Mozy backup should be less time-consuming. The client will put your files back exactly where they were before the backup.
The last arm of the client software is the integration into the operating system. Mozy is available for both Mac and Windows and was tested on Windows 7 here. The client creates a virtual drive located under "Computer," but also adds two options under the context menu for easy access.
PROBLEMS IN MOZYLAND
Of course, not everything is rosy with Mozy. While the software is extremely well-designed and has a minimal effect on the day-to-day operation of your computer while being easy to use, there are a couple of problems that surfaced during testing.
The first and clearest problem was that the software just plain can't be shut down. Once you install Mozy it will always be in your system tray, at least until you uninstall it. I can right-click and unload every single application in my system tray: the control panel for my video card, my antiviral software, etc. Mozy only allows you to "Suspend," which still leaves the program in your system tray and three processes running in the Windows Task Manager. There is nowhere in the client that allows you to stone-cold unload it.
I can understand if this isn't a big deal for some users. You're paying the subscription fee and part of what makes Mozy so attractive is leaving it running in the background and having it run updates and keeping your data backed up online. Personally, however, I don't like having software added to my computer that I can't shut down. If you try to shut down any of the processes in the Windows Task Manager, they'll automatically reload, which is utterly unacceptable.
The other issue is related to the size of your tinfoil hat. You're trusting Mozy with your data and admittedly, that data can be some fairly sensitive stuff. If you've been job hunting there's a reasonable chance your social security number, along with pretty much all the data anyone would need to steal your identity, is going to be uploaded to Mozy's servers unless you specifically tell the software otherwise.
Ultimately, Mozy's appeal comes down to what you're comfortable with. The client is as automated, clean and easy to use as I think they can really make it. The inherent limits of Web-based backup are likewise handled as best they can. It's clear that a lot of thought was put into the product, well beyond the kind of "me-too" attitude I saw when I was reviewing video chat software.
Except that I can't shut the thing down, and I really have no way of knowing what's going to happen to my data once it hits their servers. Whether or not those are deal breakers is up to you, but in the end I'd still rather keep an external hard drive around for backing up my important data. It's true that hard drives crash but, if you stash yours somewhere safe and only use it for backups and restores, it's probably going to be pretty reliable. And you won't have to put on your tinfoil hat to use it.
As far as the basics go, and assuming you're comfortable with the compromises, I think Mozy's on very solid footing. The price is right, the software is well-designed, and the service seems about as sound as possible. I'd have a hard time finding a better Web-based backup option.
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