Online Backup Service Buyers Guide 2009

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As the small business and home user become more dependent on technology, it is a great time to consider an online backup service. The question becomes: Which one do I use? Where will my money go the farthest? In this buyer’s guide, we have reviewed six online backup products for use in home computing and small business settings.

THE SERVICES

WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR

Above all, a strong online backup product takes care of the details for users who don’t have access to IT professionals to manage data protection. How we get there will vary from user to user. Each of the products offer a number of core services for online backup that are very similar, with minor details that make each product different. How a product will suit you best is subjective; this guide is intended to help you make the best decision for your requirements and parameters.

OVERALL FEATURES

The core requirement, backing up data, is done very well by these six products.

Spideroak goes above and beyond the others in that all steps are done in a compressed format, including the billing by storage footprint.

In each of the online backup reviews, the backup and restore functionality worked quickly and correctly. Mozy earns extra points here for the option to receive a DVD-ROM copy of your data via next-day delivery. Mozy loses those same points in the security arena, as the DVD option means that Mozy can view your data directly.

A number of the other products are encryption key-driven, making the actual data on disk useless to the online backup provider without the encryption key. From a recommendation standpoint, be aware of your requirements of your data when selecting an online backup service.

The steepest learning curve that users will have to deal with is learning to throttle the impact of each service (where possible) on your Internet connection. IBackup, Mozy and Norton all have direct options to manage the bandwidth used during the backup process. The Spideroak service has a robust compression process that saves bandwidth on both the upload and download (or, if you prefer, during backup and restore) of files.

When it comes to the technology that makes up each online backup service, Spideroak deserves some extra discussion. Spideroak offers features that are not available with the other services, and Spideroak’s biggest shortcoming (lack of interface-driven scheduled backup) is being addressed as we speak. Spideroak has the best offering for those with access to tech-savvy people whom can schedule the backups when coupled with the other features such as file syncing and sharing. If you can overcome the lack of the interface-driven scheduled backup – you have to manually configure Spideroak’s scheduled backups from the command line — this is the most sophisticated tool available.

COSTS AND SERVICE

For a user to comfortably migrate to an online backup service is to try before they buy, which means a free trial period or free level of service offering. IBackup and Carbonite have free evaluation periods, with all service features available for a limited time. IDrive, Mozy, and Spideroak each have a level of service that is free. Norton lacks a free or trial service.

Cost is a big factor, and in most cases the price of the service is tiered by the storage consumption. Both Mozy and Carbonite have an unlimited storage offering for a fixed price. This is beneficial, but the Internet connection can become a factor when hundreds of Gigabytes are in line for a backup. A hidden point of transitioning to online backup is the realistic possibility of investing in extra bandwidth, especially fast upload speed. For the small business, this may be a long time coming. For the home user, there may not be many options in this space.

The MozyHome Unlimited offering gets a nod for best value, as it has an unlimited storage allocation for the fixed price of only $4.95 per month. The Carbonite fixed price offering is actually cheaper at only $54.95 for a year, but a year is the minimum service term available.

There is a general price plateau that follows conforms to $100 a year for a 100 GB allocation. This is evident with IBackup, Spideroak (compressed footprint determines cost) and IDrive ($150). Mozy’s business-oriented offering prices at 50 cents per GB after a $3.95 base monthly rate, making 100 GB roughly the same when extended to a full year. Only the Norton offering is limited to 25 GB.

REAL WORLD RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EACH PRODUCT

Mozy: You can’t go wrong with Mozy, as there are service offerings for home and small business situations. The interface is straightforward and Mozy is the one-size-fits-most recommendation, especially the home user.

IBackup: Comparatively expensive for small installations, but becomes competitive at larger storage tiers. Multiple PC support, as well as Exchange and SQL support are positive points to justify this product in the small business environment.

Norton Online: I am generally unimpressed with the standalone offering. Basically the only use case for Norton online backup would be as part of a Norton 360 subscription.

Carbonite: Unlimited storage option is strong for a comparatively reasonable price. A good choice in the online backup field.

IDrive: Rich version history is strongest in the field and broad OS support is a big plus. The 150 GB limit for the IDrive Pro option is a good amount of storage for most situations, but there may be times where that limit is reached.

Spideroak: Definitely the most sophisticated offering from a technology perspective. The soon-coming interface-driven scheduler will address the biggest feature lacking. If you can script a bit, this will be the tool for you due to extra features that the other products do not offer.

CONCLUSION

The online backup space is a viable option for the home user and small business. Some thought on bandwidth management and operating system support will guide which specific product be the best match for your needs. I’d recommend Mozy as a sure thing for the home users, Carbonite or IBackup for the small business, and Spideroak for the tech-geek in us all.

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