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<Back me up, Scotty>

By Daniel Will-Harris

> Web backup services

February 17, 1998 - Two years ago, my house almost burned down when the Point Reyes National Seashore had a huge, intense fire. As we frantically evacuated, I tried to figure out what to put in the car. My computer was among the first things--all that work on my hard disk. Then I remembered my tapes and ZIP disks. Luckily, I’d been home to get them all. Even luckier, my house didn’t burn down. But what if I hadn’t been at home and it had? Then all my backups would have been for nothing.

Last week my house almost floated away (well, that’s an exaggeration, though 19” of rain in a single week, 11” of those in two days, well, that’s a lot of rain). We had mud-slides and power outages and lightning, and a creek that nearly washed away the road. The Point we live on (Point Reyes) literally became an island. This column you’re reading was late because of the weather. If something had happened to the house, I wouldn’t have been able to drive my computer and backups away to safety. What would I have done?

Luckily, because I use an “offsite” backup service, I could have done nothing, knowing that my files were all safely stored in two separate locations, thousands of miles away from my home and office.

How do you do this? Well, it’s going to sound nuts, but you back up your files to the web. I know, I know, When I first heard about backing up to the web I thought it was one of the stupidest things I’d ever heard. Of course it would be slow, and how about unsafe? Then I wrote a big comparison for c|net on the various web backup services--and I was impressed. Because of compression, it’s faster than you’d think (3-6 minutes per megabyte, depending on how much files can be compressed). Because of 56-bit DES encryption (the same kind used by banks), it’s safe. Your data is stored encrypted, so even the people running the service can’t read it.

>The best of the bunch

Out of all the services I tested, the one that was clearly best was www.connected.com. It’s easy, reliable, and well-priced at $20 a month.

There are three great things about web backup:

First, it’s “off-site” which means that should something happen to your office or home, your data is still safe. You don’t have to worry about the backup center being destroyed, because your data is stores in two separate locations.

Second, it’s virtually automatic. These programs automatically back up your new files (based on type, directory or a number of criteria) once a day, like clockwork. You don’t have to worry about remembering which files are new--it looks through your hard disk, finds them, then backs up.

It’s also smart enough to update only the parts of a file that change, so when you update a 3MB file, it may only need to back up 10K of it--this really speeds backups.

> Bring back last week or last year

Third, even with this safety and convenience, Connected adds one more feature that really pushes its service over the top into “priceless.” This is something remarkable you can’t easily do on tapes or ZIP disks. Connected keeps a backup of each version of your file, not just the latest file.

This means you can go back a day or a week or a year, and get a specific version of a file from a specific date. If you discover that something’s wrong with today’s file, you can go on-line, restore a copy of yesterday’s file, and not have to start from scratch. If you remember you cut a few pages three weeks ago, you can go back and retrieve them. This gives you a complete record of the document, from creation to completion. Think about it--and you’ll realize just how valuable this can be.

If you don’t back up your files daily, then I’m telling you now, you’re going to learn the hard way. You’re going to lose days or weeks worth of work. Once you do, you may learn to back up daily, but at great expense of time and aggravation. So if you don’t backup, start now. Copy stuff to floppies. Zip drives are great for backups, too, they’re fast and hold a lot.

But even if you use floppies, tapes or Zip drives, take a look at Connected. It is, quite simply, the best way to backup I know of. I use it daily and wouldn’t be without it.



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Daniel Will-Harris is a designer and author whose work can be found at http://www.will-harris.com. His site features TypoFile Magazine and Esperfonto, the web’s only typeface selection system. He may be reached via e-mail.

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Copyright Daniel Will-Harris, 2001, All Rights Reserved