Online backup is a booming industry, with dozens of vendors providing storage in the cloud. The idea is a compelling one: for a few dollars a year, you have immediate and automatic offsite storage of your most critical files. No messing with tapes, making DVDs, or worrying if you have the most current files backed up. But how to get started with finding the right service for you? Here are five questions to ask your potential provider.
1. What does it cost for my backups?
The first thing you need to do is figure out what you want to backup and how much data you are talking about. Are you just interesting in saving critical files, such as photographs and documents? Or do you want a backup of the entire PC itself, including program files and the operating system? Now, think about how much data you had on your computers a year ago, and how fast your storage needs are growing. You want to make sure that you anticipate this growth, too. If you are storing lots of photographs, audio or video files, this is very important because these are all big files compared to ordinary documents.
Once you know how much data you are dealing with, you can calculate what your monthly backup costs will be. Some providers offer discounts on annual service contracts too. Some providers offer unlimited space for a fixed fee too.
2. Can I backup more than one computer on a single account?
Some services assume that each account will be setup with a single computer, while others offer the ability to backup an entire collection of PCs. While you are checking this out, also look to see if they support the specific operating system versions of your entire computer collection. Some services don’t support 64-bit Windows, or Windows Server versions, or Macs for example.
3. Does your service save previous file versions?
Many products have the ability to save multiple versions of each file, up to a pre-set maximum that you can specify. This means you can go back in time if you have made a mistake in your work, or saved something that you would have rather not have done. If this is important to you, then consider which services have this feature. Note that some providers will include the space occupied by multiple file versions in their storage quotas.
4. How does my first backup get saved?
The first backup that you make can take several hours or days, depending on how much data you are sending to the cloud and how fast your Internet connection is. But once that chore is done, your incremental backups shouldn’t take too long, and happen in the background anyway. Some vendors, such as Mozy with its Data Shuttle, provide for this by having you mail them (via the postal mail) an actual external hard drive so the initial backup “seed,” as it is called, can be stored quickly. Other vendors have software that create backups locally and allow you to move the backup to another location across the Internet.
5. What kind of support do you offer?
Most service providers offer email-based support but not much beyond that. That is great if you don’t have many problems or are fairly confident and comfortable with using the service. But if something goes wrong, you want to talk to a live person. Some services only have live support during their business hours. If you want 24/7 support, then consider vendors such as Mozy, who offer the service.