Backup solutions for home and small business users

I recently posted that now is a good time to check your backup strategy and the importance of backing up your important files. I wanted to spend some time talking about the options that are currently available to home and small business users.

The first step of a backup strategy is determining what important files need to be backed up. Generally this falls into two categories. Smaller documents that are under a few Megs. These files are usually text, spreadsheets, presentations, and possibly html files. The second category would be larger files. Generally these are media related for example digital photos, music and videos. If you have a significant amount of larger files it’s important to consider how often these files change.

A critical goal of backups is to make sure you never have only one copy of your important files. A second goal should be to have a copy of your important files in another, offsite, location. Most users who have broadband available can backup their files directly to an off site location using one of many online backup solutions. Users who frequently work with large files may have to take a slightly different approach. This because it may not be possible to create a backup of all your files unless you have a very fast internet connection.

Three popular online backup solutions:

My personal favorite is Crashplan. The main advantage of Crashplan is it allows you to backup to multiple destinations. This allows you to backup to an external drive, a second computer in your home or office, a friend’s computer, to Crashplan’s servers. The advantage of this is if you have another computer available locally you can backup to it much quicker than if you were backing up over the internet. Also if you need to restore a large number for files you can restore it quickly as well. If you frequently work with large files you can use Crashplan to backup to another computer in your home or office since online backups may not be an options.

If you backup only to an online source it may take weeks for the first backup to complete. If you need to restore all your files it will be slightly faster but it will still take several days to get your important files back. In comparison if you are performing the same backup or restore to an external drive or another computer on the same network it will only take a few hours.

Two other online backup solutions are Carbonite and Mozy. The reviews don’t seem to show a clear leader between these two. A current review can be found here.

Local backup solutions:

Some users way want to backup more than just their important files. There are options to automate backing up your entire machine which includes operating system, applications, and files. Generally these are only available if you backup locally to a second hard drive or server.

A few years ago Mac OS X Leopard introduced a new feature called Time Machine. This allows you to backup your entire computer and view how your files looked like at a point in time. Time machine is integrated into the operating system. By launching the time machine application you can search for deleted files, email and pictures and easily restore them. It will also allow you to use a backup to rebuild your machine from scratch if a hard drive fails or migrate to a new machine. Generally the cost of Time Machine is the price of an additional drive for backups. This can be performed more conveniently for laptop users by purchasing an Airport Extreme or Time Capsule wireless router from Apple.

Windows backup also allows you to schedule backups to a second hard drive or network location. If you are using business or ultimate editions you can create a system image. This will allow you to restore the entire system from the installation CD. Another option for windows users is Windows Home Server. Windows Home Server will allow you to perform an image based backup of your machine to the server. Windows Home Server is also an easy to use file server, works well as a media server, and is compatible with an X-Box and similar media extenders.

Backups that allow you to restore the entire machine require more space than just backing up your important files. You probably need at least twice the amount of space on the backup server than what is currently being used on your machine.

The backup solutions listed above are primarily solutions that I have used in the past that worked well. There are many other solutions. When evaluating any solution ensure it’s easy to schedule so you don’t forget to perform a manual backup. Than test to make sure it performs well when a backup is running and when you perform a restore. Once the system is up and running check at least monthly to make sure backups are running and you can perform a restore.

Winter Preparation – Check your backups

If spring is a time for cleaning fall is a good time to check your backup strategy and ensure that your existing backups are working. In the winter there are more chances for power outages, flooding and other types of natural disasters.

Locally in Seattle there are worries that damage to the Howard Hanson Dam caused last January may cause flooding of the Green River Valley. The valley, home to thousands of businesses and residents, has been readying for the possibility that this thin, lazy stream might swell into that area’s worst flood in nearly half a century.

If you are currently performing backups of your important files take some time to check the following:

  1. You are backing up the correct files.
  2. Your backups are running with no errors according to an automated schedule.
  3. Perform a test restore to make sure that the backups are indeed working.

If you aren’t currently performing backups it’s time to start. The threat of the worst flood in nearly half a century should get you motivated. If it doesn’t than consider the most common cause of data loss are human error and hardware failures. Remember the last time you forgot to save a file or accidentally deleted one. How about when you or someone you know had a hardware problem and lost years of documents, and pictures. This was possibly caused by or happened shortly after a power outage.

The first step of a successful backup plan is determining what needs to be backed up. The most common place to start is your documents folder, and where you store your pictures, and music. Also spend some time thinking about files that may be on other computers or are stored on the internet. One common example would be email.

Once you have identified what files need to be backed up it’s very important to remember. You should never have only one copy of any important files. The second important part of a successful backup plan is there should be an automated process that creates a second copy of these files. Manually creating a second copy periodically is better than nothing. However there are many solutions that will create daily backups of your files while your computer is idle.

One solution I’ve been using for over a year and highly recommend is Crashplan. I reviewed it about a year ago and it’s still my favorite solution. They continue to make improvements every quarter and now it’s free. Another solution I use for smaller files is Dropbox. It isn’t a backup program but does create another copy of your files.

Over the next week I plan on talking about a few different solutions primarily for home users and small businesses.

Backup solutions for home and small business users

Choosing a Credit Card Processor, and how much it should cost

I’m a partner at an independent restaurant in Seattle. Over the last six months we have been receiving a lot of calls from credit card processors wanting our business. It has been a few years since we signed up with our current processor. Over the years we haven’t had any complaints but I wasn’t sure if the fees were still competitive.

I spent some time to write up our basic requirements and evaluated approximately five different companies. Two companies were chosen by doing some basic research on the internet and the other two were from cold calls we received in the past month.

I was surprised the total cost varied dramatically between the different companies. Some general questions I asked each company were:

1. Is a contract required, if so what is the length?

Many companies don’t require a long term contract. I wouldn’t recommend signing a contract over one year.

2. What setup fees are required?

There are also many companies that don’t require a setup fee or charge less than $50. If a company charges setup fees and aren’t willing to wave most of them than I’d continue looking.

3. What are the monthly fees if we don’t make any sales?

Almost every company is going to have monthly administrative fees. Some standard charges are a minimum processing fee, a statement fee, and possibly insurance or equipment related fees. The minimum processing fee should be around $25. The statement fee is approximately $10. These are probably the only two fees that are necessary. The minimum processing fee won’t even apply if you process more than a thousand dollars of transactions.

Any additional fees beyond the two basics isn’t standard and ask what you are paying for and why. Paying a monthly fee for support or insurance may not be necessary. Before signing up for these services find out what is included at no cost first.

4. What are our options to purchase or lease a standalone terminal?

It’s important to know that you can purchase a standalone terminal for approximately $500. Sometimes they can be found for less than $300. If you decide to purchase or lease your terminal the long term cost shouldn’t be considerably more than this. Also ask if there is any charges if you purchase your own equipment that will need to be programmed. Most companies won’t charge for this but some will. It’s important to know if they will charge before you sign up for a company and purchase your own terminal.

One of the companies I meet with required leasing a terminal at over $100 a month with a four year contract. I politely said I wasn’t interested and ended the meeting. The leasing company was Northern Leasing and those rates are what I would consider criminal. Please don’t sign a contract to pay $5000 for a $500 machine.

Stay away from Northern Leasing Systems, They offer a non-cancelable lease with no trial period and no way to cancel for any reason. Plus you will be paying $5000 for a $500 machine. Who would want to do business with this type of company?

5. What are the transaction fees and percent based fees for credit or debit cards?

In our business our transactions are usually less than $10. For transactions of this size credit cards tend to be cheaper than debit cards. This is because the transaction fee for a debit card is usually more than the processing fee for a credit card.

When I did my research the market rates were approximately:
Qualified Cards – 1.5% or less
Non-Qualified Cards – 3% or less

Non-Qualified cards are usually some type of reward card. Everyone enjoys getting 1% back on all their purchases. It’s the seller that is paying extra to cover this cost.

I ended up staying with our existing company. The existing rates were higher than the current market rates. However a quick call to our sales rep and the retention department was all that was necessary to lower our rates. Since we have had good service from them, RBS Worldpay, for a few years it wasn’t worth the risk to change to a company that was unknown to us.

Please feel free to leave your reviews in the comments.

Apache mod_rewrite and AllowOverride

There are several solutions that require the Apache module mod_rewrite to provide clean urls for better search engine optimization. One common problem if you are seeing 404 errors is the default settings in Apache does not allow you to use mod_rewrite.

By default the settings for AllowOverride is set to None. For mod_rewrite to work AllowOverride at a minimum needs to be set to FileInfo Options. Options isn’t required for mod_rewrite but is commonly required if you are using .htaccess.

Apache Docs for mod_rewrite

CrashPlan Review – A flexible multi-platform backup solution

CrashPlan is a multi-platform backup solution written by Code 42 software. The software has been available for approximately a year but I just discovered it recently. It seems like I’m always searching for a backup solution that will meet my requirements. In the past I’ve always had to compromise or use multiple different solutions. My basic requirements are:
  • Software that is easy to use and reliable
  • Software that is compatible with Windows and Macintosh computers
  • Offsite backups are preferred, however local backups to a central server is acceptable. Since I have multiple home computers, including laptops, I’d prefer not to rely on external hard drives.

[Read more...]

Scalable Media Hosting with Amazon S3

Amazon’s developer connection has a great tutorial on using Amazon S3 for hosting your sites media files.

read more | digg story

Movable Type 4 – CAPTCHA Provider

After installing Movable Type on the comment settings page I get the error:

No CAPTCHA provider available No CAPTCHA provider is available in this system. Please check to see if Image::Magick is installed, and CaptchaSourceImageBase directive points to captcha-source directory under mt-static/images.

On the system information page verify it shows your server has Image::Magick installed. If it is installed than you need to modify your mt-config.cgi file. The value of this configuration directive should be set to the absolute path on the filesystem to the images/catcha-source directory in mt-static.


CaptchaSourceImageBase /path/to/mt/mt-static/images/captcha-source

Movable Type Docs

CSS Frameworks + CSS Reset: Design From Scratch

“Let’s take a look at the idea behind CSS Frameworks, their advantages and disadvantages, most popular CSS frameworks and dozens of default-stylesheets you can use designing a new web-site from scratch.”

read more | digg story

Yahoo! Acquires Zimbra

Zimbra announced today that Yahoo! is acquiring it to extend its email leadership to the University, Business and ISP markets. In order to focus on this effort, the Zimbra team will report to the communications group where we will remain fully committed to the community and to our customers and partners while leveraging opportunities.

read more | digg story

Recommended Hosts

List of hosts I have experience with and would recommend.

Steadfast Networks – I currently have a clustered pair of dedicated servers and a reseller account. Personally I prefer H-Sphere, which they use in their reseller accounts, over Cpanel based shared accounts.
Server Axis – I used this host for approximately a year with good results.
Liquid Web - My Liquid Web Review, Aug 06
Planet ArgonPlanet Argon Review, Oct 06