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.

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.

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