Spanning Backup Backs Up Gmail and Other Google Services
By Erez Zukerman
At a Glance
A simple, clear, Gmail interface
Confusing interface for Calendar, Contacts, Docs
Spanning Backup is a cloud-based service for backing up Google data such as Gmail, Google Contacts, Google Calendar, and more.
When you use Google services, you trust Google with your most sensitive information: Emails, contacts, calendars–the works. What could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, quite a bit. Google is not infallible, and even if it were, users can make mistakes. Spanning Backup ($3 per month for regular Google accounts users) is a cloud backup service that keeps a copy of all of your Google data and lets you restore it selectively should important data ever go missing.
Spanning Backup is also available for Google Apps users, at a cost of $2.50 per user per month. I tested the service with my paid Google Apps account, and integration couldn’t be easier: I simply granted Spanning Backup access to my domain, and that was it. I didn’t even have to type in my Google Apps password, or any other password for that matter.
The information Spanning Backup saves is extensive: Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and Google Contacts, right down to contact images. All information is saved over the cloud, onto Spanning Backup’s own servers. You don’t get to download any of it to your own computer, and you can only restore it to the account from which it was backed up.
Speaking of restoration, the data restoration interface leaves a lot to be desired. To test Spanning Backup, I deleted a Google contact. When I tried to restore it, Spanning Backup presented me with a list of backup timestamps showing the dates of recent successful backups. Not ideal, but not too confusing: I clicked the latest successful backup, taken before I deleted the contact. I expected Spanning to show me contacts deleted or modified since that backup was made. Instead, it let me pick a contact group to restore–and it wasn’t the group the contact I deleted was in. After hunting around the snapshot list for a snapshot that contained the group I needed, I ended up clicking the earliest snapshot thinking that snapshot surely has the contact I need.
Spanning Backup then proceeded to restore all of my contacts, even those that were not deleted, creating over 360 duplicate contacts. I realized this had happened when all my contacts started showing up twice on my Android phone, though at first I thought something must be wrong with the phone. It turns out this is not a bug, but a feature: Spanning Backup calls this “non-destructive restore,” and it means Spanning Backup never deletes your existing contacts when it restores an old backup, even if duplicates are created. All contacts restored are put into a group showing they were restored, so you can extract the contacts you need, and then delete all other contacts in the group. This makes sense, but it also requires good familiarity with Gmail’s groups interface and can be confusing otherwise.
The same thing happened when I tried to restore a calendar event: Spanning created a new calendar with the event I restored. While I understand why this is necessary, it was confusing at the time. If Spanning Backup sent an automated email explaining what’s going on when you restore something, that could help alleviate the confusion.
Contrary to my experience with Contacts and Calendar, Spanning Backup’s Gmail interface was brilliant. The interface shows a mirror image of the regular Gmail interface, with the same label tree and conversation headers. To test it, I deleted a conversation in Gmail (sent it to the Bin), and then deleted it from the Bin. Normally, once you do this, the conversation really is gone for good. I then located the conversation on Spanning (without having to deal with snapshots), and clicked Restore. Within moments, the conversation previously “deleted forever” was back in my inbox, with a label showing it was restored by Spanning Backup. That was a satisfying moment indeed.
Spanning Backup gets a lot of things right: The price, the easy setup, and the brilliant Gmail interface. If that same visual simplicity makes it to the Calendar, Contacts, and Docs restoring interfaces, Spanning Backup would be a truly exceptional service.
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