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Backups for Business: Online Backup Services

In earlier columns, I've discussed business backup strategies using RAID (redundant array of inexpensive, or independent, disks) and removable storage media.

While quick and popular, these backup methods do have weaknesses. When a major disaster strikes, such as a flood or fire, RAID doesn't preserve your data. And backups on removable storage are only as current as the last time you transported the media to a safe location.

Internet-based systems that transmit backups to remote data centers ensure that a copy of your valuable business information is safely tucked away many miles from your office.

Online backup services are convenient and can be configured to operate automatically. However, if your business has dozens of gigabytes of important data, a full backup can take days to complete, even over a broadband Internet connection. Monthly service fees can be pricey, though preserving your vital business data is probably worth a substantial sum.

Backups for Personal and Business Use

Berkeley Data Systems offers two online backup services: Mozy for personal use, and MozyPro for business backups.

The two backup services share many similarities, but there are some significant differences. MozyPro handles server backups for Microsoft Windows Server 2000 and 2003 in addition to the Windows Vista, XP, and 2000 backups supported by the Mozy personal service. Businesses also have more support options, including access to telephone as well as standard e-mail support.

MozyPro adds an intuitive administrative console that offers flexibility and control for managing backups from multiple PCs. You can assign or reassign backup license keys to computers and change the allocation of the backup storage quota among the machines. You can also select which files to back up and customize backup schedules.

You can even set up a custom third-level domain, so you can log in to your backup service at mycompany.mozypro.com.

How MozyPro Works

When you sign up for an account, you determine the services you require. Each computer you wish to back up requires a license ($3.95 per month), on top of which you must also pay for backup storage, which costs 50 cents per gigabyte per month, with a 2GB minimum.

You must download and install MozyPro's client software on each PC you wish to back up. This takes just a few minutes. Each PC requires a license key, which the administrator can e-mail to the user.

Then you determine which files should be backed up. MozyPro suggests some common data types, such as Intuit QuickBooks files, but you can change these as you wish. Note that the service is designed to back up business data: It's not suitable for an entire hard drive, including the operating system.

To keep your data secure during online transport, MozyPro automatically encrypts it before uploading it. Optionally, you can assign your own private key to encrypt data stored on the MozyPro servers. If you do this, remember to keep your private key secure, because you won't be able to restore your data without it.

The Wait

MozyPro allows the administrator to configure the client software, such as throttling the backup service during business hours.
MozyPro allows the administrator to configure the client software, such as throttling the backup service during business hours.
You can configure MozyPro to work only when your computer isn't overloaded (for example, when your processor is less than 70 percent busy) or only if it has been idle for a certain period (say, 30 minutes).

Once the parameters are set, you can pretty much forget about MozyPro. The default settings automatically update your backup every 2 hours. MozyPro operates in the background and notifies you of problems, such as an out-of-date backup.

The most frustrating part of using MozyPro, or any online backup service for that matter, is the long wait that follows after you set it up. Depending upon the amount of data that you wish to back up and the speed of your broadband connection, you may wait for days or even weeks until your first backup is complete.

Why Do Online Backups Take So Long?

Many popular broadband Internet services are asymmetric--that is, they offer greater speed for downloading from the Internet than for uploading to it. This makes perfect sense most of the time. Typically you'll be getting more information from the Internet, such as e-mail messages and Web pages, than you'll be sending. But this can also mean a lengthy wait while uploading your data to a remote backup server.

A broadband connection rated at 5 megabits per second for downloads may upload at only 800 kilobits per second. At those speeds, even if you allocate all of your upload bandwidth to the online backup service and experience no Internet service disruptions, you'll be able to upload only 8GB of data during a 24-hour period.

But you'll probably want to reserve some of your Internet upload capacity for other purposes, at least during business hours. MozyPro accommodates this need by letting you throttle back its use during a specific time period you set--say 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

If you slow down your backup connection during working hours and restrict use of the service when a computer is very busy, you may be able to back up only 5GB of data per day. If you have 100GB of important business data, then it would take at least 20 days of continuous connection to complete your first backup.

Of course, some data files would likely change during that period, so the actual backup time would be longer. If more than 5GB of your data changes daily, you may never be able to store a complete backup online. You'll need to upgrade to a faster Internet service or select less data to back up.

Subsequent updates of your backup require much less time, because MozyPro tracks which files have changed and performs incremental backups.

Restoring Your Backup Data

MozyPro retains backup sets for 30 days, which lets you retrieve older versions of files. If you need to restore just a few hundred megabytes, you can quickly and easily select the files in the client software. You can't retrieve your data immediately, but you are notified by e-mail when it's available for download. For example, my test data was ready about 10 minutes after I made my request.

If you want to restore many gigabytes of data, it's probably best, and certainly faster, to request the data on a DVD. The cost is 50 cents per gigabyte plus $65 for processing and next-day shipping in the continental U.S.

Is Online Backup Worth It?

Since an online backup service operates far slower than RAID or removable storage media, it is better suited as a backstop rather than your only backup. Think of it as a safety net for your conventional backups using RAID, removable storage media, or a combination of both.

As long as you have your account information and password for the online backup service, you'll be able to restore your data on a new PC. You'll be back in business, no matter where you need to relocate.

Richard Morochove is an IT consultant and writer. Send him questions about using technology in your small to mid-sized business via e-mail. PC World may edit your query and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered. Sign up to have Morochove's Business Solutions newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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