Someone stole my laptop computer last week. It disappeared from the trunk of my car while I had dinner with a couple of businessmen discussing their new genealogy site that will go online soon. Naturally, I am angry about the loss. It was a high-end laptop. In other words, it was expensive. While I lost the computer, I didn't lose any data.
I have written many times about making backups in case of various disasters. Luckily, I practice what I preach: just a few minutes before powering off the laptop, the laptop automatically performed a backup to an online web service. I put it into its carrying case, and stored it in the trunk of my car. The morning after the theft, I restored all the laptop's data to a temporary folder on my desktop computer. When I receive my replacement laptop, I will copy the data to it. While the theft certainly is inconvenient, I am continuing in business with no data loss.
When I filed the stolen property report with the police department, I was told that the likelihood of recovery is slim. Stolen laptops and other high-tech equipment are rarely recovered. Insurance will cover the financial loss, but not the loss of data. For that, I depend upon online backup services.
I use an online service that makes constant backups of my critical data files whenever any of my computers are powered up and connected to the Internet. With "always online" broadband connections at home and the office, any new or modified files are backed up within a few minutes after being written to the hard drive. The backup process is automatic; backups are made of all new files with no effort on my part, whether or not I am seated at the computer. The backup copies are safely stored thousands of miles from my home and yet are available to me almost instantly, should I need to restore any files.
Best of all is the price tag of this automated off-site backup solution: free, if you have modest data storage requirements.
Mozy Remote Backup is a solution for anyone running Windows XP who is also using a broadband DSL or cable modem connection to the Internet. Mozy will not work on Macintosh or on earlier versions of Windows. However, the company promises that a Macintosh version is in the works. For now, Mozy supports only XP Home Edition and XP Professional Edition. Using Mozy on a dial-up Internet connection would not be practical since this solution requires an "always on" broadband connection.
A recent survey shows that 76.8% of this newsletter's readers use Windows XP. More than 60% use broadband connections. Obviously, the majority of this newsletter's readers can use Mozy Remote Backup.
When you first start using Mozy, the service creates a full backup of all the files that you specify. Mozy copies the files across the Internet and stores them on servers in Mozy's data center. It you are backing up nearly two gigabytes of data, this backup will require several hours to complete, even on a broadband connection. It may even require more than 24 hours.
Once the initial backup is completed, Mozy's software monitors your computer's operation. Every two hours, Mozy starts looking for idle time. Any time the computer goes idle for a half hour or more, Mozy makes a backup copy of all files that have changed since the last backup was made. For most users, this means that an updated backup is made every two or three hours as long as the computer is powered up and connected to the Internet. Because only the new or recently modified files are transferred, the frequent "incremental" backups are quick. The new files are added to the collection of files backed up earlier and already stored on Mozy's servers. As a result, Mozy always has a "mirror image" of your critical files.
All data gets encrypted before it travels across the Internet, and your data remains encrypted when stored on Mozy's servers. Mozy employees cannot read your files, nor can anyone else. You are the only person who can unencrypt your information. Your data remains secure and under your sole control at all times.
Should you ever have a disaster and lose one file or thousands of files from your computer, you can use Mozy's software to retrieve the latest versions of your files from Mozy's data center. The encrypted files are sent back across the Internet to your Windows XP system, unencrypted in your computer, and and made available to you. The end result is that your data is restored as expected. Your critical information remains available to you, despite hardware problems, human errors, or natural disasters.
You can use Mozy to make backup copies of genealogy data, family photographs, word processing documents, e-mail messages, checkbook data, last year's income tax information, or anything else that you wish to protect.
I have been using Mozy for about six months and can report that it has worked well for me so far. I never had a critical need until this past week, but Mozy handled everything flawlessly. Mozy is available in several offerings. The most attractive is Mozy's free service that will securely store up to two gigabytes of files and automatically back up any changes as they are made. If two gigabytes won't suffice, you can purchase more space: five, ten, or twenty gigabytes.
UPDATE: Some time after this article was written, Mozy changed its prices. You now can store up to 2 gigabytes of online backup absolutely free with no expiration date, or pay $4.95 a month for unlimited online backup capacity.
When I first signed up for Mozy's service, I found that my entire genealogy database of 3,000+ individuals with full text notes, source citations, and more, plus a copy of every newsletter I have written in the past ten years, plus a few hundred other word processing documents all consumed almost one gigabyte of disk space. That's less than half the space available at no charge. I suspect you can back up your entire genealogy database in less than two gigabytes unless you have a lot of graphics images stored within that database. You will only need to pay for additional storage space if you wish to back up more than two gigabytes.
Since my first experiments with Mozy, I have added a second desktop and a laptop to the backup service. I now consume more than two gigabytes of storage space.
Keep in mind that you do not need to make backups of the operating system or application programs. If you have a hard disk disaster or a stolen computer, you can always install the programs again. The only need to back up your DATA. Your total storage requirements will be much, much less than the size of your disk drive.
In my case, I will be buying a new laptop that already has Windows XP installed. I don't need to keep a backup copy of XP nor do I need a backup of my genealogy program. I only need to backup my DATA. That includes genealogy data, family photographs, word processing documents, e-mail messages, checkbook data, last year's income tax information, and other data. Therefore, any one computer will probably require less than two gigabytes of storage space. My two desktops and one laptop combined only require about three gigabytes to store all my data. I do not back up many images, however. I have them stored elsewhere on CD-ROM and DVD-ROM disks.
Your space requirements will vary, depending upon how much data you need to store and what format the files are in. (Graphics files are often quite large.)
Most users will be happy with the free service that stores up to two gigabytes of data. Should you require more storage space, you will find the price for the extra storage is a fraction of what most other companies charge: $4.95 a month for unlimited storage. I doubt if you will find any other backup services with prices that low. You can compare competitors' prices at http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=online+backup+service&btnG=Google+Search
By default, Mozy starts a backup whenever your computer has been idle for at least a half-hour and the CPU is 20% busy or less. You can tweak these settings, or you can specify to back up only at a daily scheduled time. Regardless of the busy/idle state, Mozy waits until at least two hours after the last backup. Mozy can even back up open files, so you can even safeguard the files you're working on.
Mozy not only keeps the latest copy of your files, but it also keeps previous copies. For instance, you might have a word processing document that you change every few days. This newsletter might be such an example. Not only can I restore the latest version at any time, but I can also restore previous versions. For instance, I can tell Mozy to restore the version of the file as of last July, even though I may have changed it many times since then. Mozy will supply a backup copy of the file as it existed last July. This is very good when you accidentally change something but do not realize the error until some days later. Mozy will give the old file back to you.
I found Mozy to be simple to install. All I did was go to the Mozy web site, fill out a small form with my name, e-mail address, and some personal information, and then click on "Download." Once the software download completed, I double-clicked on the new file and followed instructions that appeared on my screen. About two minutes later Mozy's backup software was installed and operating. I then had to specify which files to back up.
The first backup took nearly a day to complete. That was no surprise. After all, it was sending copies of all the files that I had specified.
Once the initial backup has completed, future backups transfer only the differences in any changed files. For instance, this article will automatically be backed up to Mozy's servers soon after it is written. I do not need to take any action to make that happen as everything is handled automatically for me. Once my editor makes her changes, Mozy will back up this article again. I can even later retrieve the first, unedited version, should I wish to do so. Of course, the latest version is always available as soon as it is backed up. So is every version in between, if any.
All backups after the initial load are performed quickly and easily. In theory, the PC will slow down somewhat when backups are being made. However, Mozy only makes backups when the computer has been idle for at least a half-hour and the CPU is 20% busy or less. As a result, most backups are made when I am not seated in front of the computer. While it may slow down a bit, I am never there to see the slowness for myself.
Mozy backs up your data more or less forever if (and only if) you keep using the service. With the free service, the backups are maintained as long as you keep using the service at least once every 30 days. This means that you keep the software loaded and allow it to run in background every time you boot your computer. If you do not use the service for 30 days, the backups are deleted from Mozy's servers. This is to insure that Mozy's servers don't get clogged with data from people who try it once or twice and then move on.
If you pay for even more storage space, as I do, your files will remain available on Mozy for as long as you keep paying the bills.
I am pleased with Mozy and will keep using it until I find something even better. After using Mozy for six months, I have not yet found anything better. For anyone with less than two gigabytes of data to protect, it may be a long time before anything better than this free backup service appears. In fact, with these prices it may be a long time before I can find a better deal for 60 gigabytes of storage!
Without a backup system in place, you're taking a gamble every day on the survival of your important files. Your data absolutely will be deleted or corrupted some day. It may even be stolen, as mine was. Disasters happen to everyone sooner or later. Mozy provides file protection free of charge. If you have Windows XP and a broadband connection, you now have no excuse for not backing up your most critical files several times every day.
I believe the Mozy Remote Backup service is one of the best services available on the web today. It runs automatically in the background and is available free of charge.
To learn more about Mozy or to sign-up for Mozy's free online backup service, go to http://mozy.com.
Whether you agree with my assessment of Mozy or not, I will caution you that you need to use some method of making frequent backups of your important data. If you do not make frequent backups, sooner or later you will wish that you did.