Looking for a good backup solution

I think that Time Machine is one of the most important inventions of its time. There’s finally a backup system that normal users can and will use. But now that regular users are finally backing up, many for the first time, why not these backups more robust by moving them offsite? That’s the next problem that needs to be solved.

I only recently started exploring remote backup options, but never really got that far since I already store my irreplaceable files (my photos) on various online services. Everything else could be lost. I don’t really deal with local text documents, my site is obviously online, I don’t have work stuff on my personal computers, and if I lose my iTunes library I can just play the songs in my head. But what about my family? They store plenty of documents locally and don’t upload pictures online as much as I do. They’re already using Time Machine, but to local drives. It’s even worse for the laptop users, since I don’t have a wireless backup configured at home (we have an old Airport) and outside of home (college), they’re on their own remembering to connect the backup USB drive. I need something that happens online, and that doesn’t require hard-to-configure third-party software. Even if I were just backing up my own stuff, I’d want it to be easy. I’m lazy, and as soon as it gets complicated, my backups become more intermittent. So what solutions are out there, if any? Let’s take a look:

Today, I came across a service called Transport that lets you place a Time Capsule in a data center, and back up to it online. It sounds like something I would want.

A one-year contract will cost about $350, plus the cost of a Time Capsule ($300 for 500GB or $500 for 1TB). I’d have to ask my family to figure out how much space we’d need, but I’m guessing we could get away with using a single 1TB unit for all of our computers. Or maybe I’d buy a separate one for myself since I’m likely to use the most. I think this is worth it. You can’t put a price on things such as family photos, and it means more peace of mind for me since I’ll be the one who’s called if someone’s computer crashes.

In terms of security, yes, this means that private documents may be stored unencrypted in a remote facility, so it will take some evaluation to determine how much I trust the security of the service. However, anything that’s unencrypted is just as vulnerable sitting in a house or apartment, which unfortunately can also be broken into. If I really need to protect something, I’m already encrypting it anyway.

One major concern that I have (and that I forgot to ask the owner about while I was chatting with him) is that I cannot find any official documentation that Time Machine supports backups to AFP volumes. I even found a note that backups may be completely lost when the disk is full. This could certainly be a deal breaker. I’ll have to ask about this tomorrow, and if it the service is based on an unsupported hack, it should really be noted upfront! If you know anything about this, please let me know.

UPDATE: Apparently I misunderstood the AFP issue. I just got a clarification from macminicolo.net, and the hack was to get Time Machine to work with a NAS device or a drive connected to an Airport Extreme (before that support was added). Time Capsule has always supported AFP, and it’s specifically designed for Time Machine (and made by Apple). So all is good… I think Transport may be what I choose, even if it is a bit pricey compared to other options.

For now, let’s assume that I just have outdated knowledge about AFP support. I’ll be sure to check on that before making any purchases and leave an update in the comments. This seems like it should require very little work on my part once it’s set up, since it works with built-in software and happens automatically online.

After I (incorrectly – see update above) discovered that Transport may not be as robust as I initially thought, I started searching for other solutions. Continuum, which at this point is only in private beta, has a different approach. Here’s how I understand it: Data is first backed up normally to an external drive using Time Machine, with no special hacks. Then, once a day the backup file is sent to an online storage location via the Continuum software.

Mozy requires the use of third-party software for the entire backup process. It’s also only designed to backup certain types of files, and not the entire volume. After using Time Machine, I’d really prefer something that’s tied closer to the operating system. One major problem with third-party software is that it’s another thing to worry about with every OS update. However, it sounds really good and I might be okay with using this in conjunction with a local Time Machine backup. The pricing sounds great at first, but with an individual monthly fee for each computer that adds up quickly for a large family, and would end up costing about the same amount annually as Transport (minus the initial cost of the Time Capsule).

JungleDisk also requires third-party software. Have you used it? Let me know what you think.

CrashPlan is a creative idea. Instead of backing up to a some data center, you just back up to any other computer you have control of, even your friend’s computer. As long as the other computer is in a different building, I’d call that an offsite backup. What’s nice about this is if your computer crashes and you need to restore the data, you can just grab the backup drive from the remote location and restore via USB in minutes instead of downloading gigabytes of data over a DSL or cable connection. This would require some coordination, but it might be a nice solution. Of course this also falls under the unfortunate third-party software category.

So before I take the plunge and commit to one of these services, I want you to share your thoughts in the comments of this post. What do you think about the services? Are there questions I should ask first? Is there something else that’s just as easy but cheaper? Should I hold off for a better solution? Remember that I am in California and my family is in Pennsylvania, so this has to be something that I can set up once (remotely) and then forget about it.


5 thoughts on “Looking for a good backup solution”

  1. CrashPlan is the only one that allows you to have total control of your data. It’s also the only one that lets you seed your initial backup.

    A 750GB backup drive is about $100. Cost of CrashPlan? $20 or $60 depending on features you want. There are no other costs month to month. Everything else keeps dinging you over time. This really adds up fast!

  2. Well, I went for it with Time Capsule. Other options were much cheaper and almost as good, but I really want to just set this up once and never have to think about it. With no non-Apple software, Transport is the only solution I don’t have to worry about in the long run.

  3. I don’t get it. How’d this be more useful / cost-effective than a typical online backup service, such as Mozy (the one I use) which costs about $50/year for unlimited storage per person?

  4. Adam: Over time I’ve learned that in many cases it’s totally worth it to pay more for convenience and peace of mind. Mozy is in many ways a superior, almost perfect solution for individuals like you or me. However, it would not be as easy for me to coordinate it with five other family members of varying technical abilities, who aren’t exactly living across the street either.

    With Transport, assuming it works as advertised, the setup is something like this:
    1. Contact family and have them change one setting in their computer’s preferences.

    With Mozy, it would be more like this:
    1. Contact family and walk through software installation.
    2. Configure Mozy on each computer.
    3. With every OS update, which I can’t control when my family applies, hope that Mozy doesn’t break or need updating. If it does, then I have to work with them again.

    As you can see, Mozy wouldn’t be all that bad. But with Transport being built off of Time Machine, which is integrated into OS X, I feel much more confident that I would only have to set it once, and be done with it.

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