Are you considering an online backup system? Here’s an overview of the pros and cons of such systems.
Before we review the pros and cons, one has to initially be open to the idea of having a copy of their personal data stored on a relatively unknown company’s server. Thus there is an issue of trust. Who is this company? How do I know that the workers aren’t looking at my data? Companies which offer online backup services understand these concerns and address them by storing your backup data in an encrypted manner. The encryption key used to secure your data is randomly generated based on the password to your account. This means that nobody else is able to view the contents of your backup data.
The biggest advantages of online backups is that you end up with an off-site backup copy of your data and that the backups can run automatically. This means that if your Mac and any local backup copies sitting next to your Mac were destroyed by a fire or stolen by burglars, then you could retrieve a recent copy of your data from the online backup system. This is great. However, once you learn how long it would take to download gigabytes of music files, photos and word processing documents, then you’d see one of the disadvantage of online backup systems. They are slow. Depending upon how much data you want to backup to an online backup system, it could literally take days or weeks to copy it since the speed of Internet connections in homes and businesses are slow compared to the copying data onto a USB or FireWire hard drive. Let me illustrate this. I had a client with 16 GB of data. This data could be backed up to an external FireWire drive in about 15 minutes. Copying this same data to an online backup service took about 4 days.
As a consequence of their slowness, I tend to recommend only backing up part of your Mac’s hard drive not the entire thing. More specifically, I recommend only backing up your Home folder since it contains all of your personal data. Don’t bother backing up your applications and the folders containing the Mac operating system. I do believe in backing up everything on your hard drive, just not using an online backup system. Instead, one should use something like Carbon Copy Cloner to make a full bootable backup. For more details read my Tech Tip about setting up comprehensive backup systems. Adding an online backup adds redundancy to your backup system. If one of your backup systems, like Time Machine, were to stop working and you didn’t notice it for a few days, it would be very nice to know that your automated online backup system was still doing its job.
I should also mention that online backup systems can be quite affordable. I tend to recommend CrashPlan to people who want to set up online backup systems. For $60 CrashPlan provides you with unlimited storage space on their servers for backups or personal data on one computer for one year. Or, one can buy a Family Plan for $150 which provides unlimited storage space for all computers, up to 10, in your household for one year. The pricing for backing up business data on buisness computer is a bit more complex. In the coming weeks, I’ll write a Tech Tip which discusses CrashPlan in more detail.
[Update: February 2018 – CrashPlan has discontinued their home service and now offers only CrashPlan for Small Business]