Find the Right Online Backup Service

Using an Online backup service makes a lot of sense: It gives you off-site peace of mind and the security of knowing that someone else is keeping your data safe and sound. Unfortunately, selecting one isn't a snap. Though dozens of service providers focus on individual users, only a few services are designed specifically to handle the needs of enterprises and small businesses.

The first things that a business scouting out online backup services should look for are services that work on non-Windows ma­­chines (as well as on Windows systems), and services that allow business customers to use one account to back up multiple PCs and multiple users. Three notable vendors offer these kinds of features: AmeriVault, IBackup, and Mozy Pro.

Other services, such as ElephantDrive Pro, Jungle Disk, Tilana, and Zmanda, impose no upper limit on storage. Still others, including Iomega's iStorage Professional Edition, OnlineBackupVault.com, and Storage Guardian, support an unlimited number of users. Additional features to look for include around-the-clock phone support, server operating-system support, mapped and network drive support, and a Web-based administration console that you can use to manage all of your employees' backups. Mozy Pro has all these capabilities. Backup My Info offers extensive support for a wide variety of server OSs, along with native support for SQL Server and Exchange.

Though most of the free, consumer-oriented backup services on the Web today tend to be stingy with the amount of storage they offer, some vendors do provide generous quantities of free storage for individual users. Microsoft, for example, has begun offering 25GB of free storage for Windows users of its Live SkyDrive service. Even more impressively, ADrive offers 50GB of free storage. Most of the other services give you a gigabyte or less, but at least you can try them out for a few days to see how they work and to get a hands-on sense of their practical limitations and a realistic idea of what they will end up costing you each month.

Another thing to ask about is how long the service keeps its backup archives and whether it distinguishes among various versions of the same file in its archives. Again, the opportunity to get first-hand experience with these types of issues is a compelling reason to try out the free version. A further benefit is that you can find out what steps are involved in recovering an accidentally deleted file.

Finally, an interesting variation on the whole genre of online backup services comes from a Columbus, Ohio, company called 3X Systems. Its backup process in­­cludes a hardware appliance. You create the initial backup on your LAN and then move the appliance to a remote location--such as to a home broadband link or to another office--where you perform the incremental backups. This model makes a lot of sense because for most businesses the first backup takes several days, even when the data is being transferred across even a reasonably fast Internet connection.

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