Recovering Data From Online Backup

Category: Backup

Online backup services, such as Mozy and Carbonite, may seem like the perfect solution to your data backup needs. But online backup has limitations that may not be apparent until it's time to restore your data. Here are some things to consider about online backup and restore services...

Should You Backup Online?

First, there are limits on how much data you can store on an online backup server., for example, currently charges $59 a year for up to 30 GB of stored backup data. Mozy charges $72 a year for 50GB. That may seem rather stingy - a full system image backup can easily run hundreds of gigabytes. But actually, it's a very practical limitation.

How long would it take to restore a 300 GB system image over a 6 Mbps cable modem Internet connection? Assuming you actually got a full 6 Mbps (which seldom happens), downloading 300 GB of data would take over 138 hours. So you probably don't want to use online backup for a full system image backup and restore, unless you're willing to wait almost a week to recover your data. And if you're connected via DSL, which typically maxes out at speeds of 1.5 to 3 Mbps, forget about it.
Online Backup and Restore

Furthermore, to restore data from an online backup service such as Carbonite or Mozy, you need to have already re-installed your operating system, Web browser, and the backup service's client program. It makes no sense to back up these components to an online backup service.

Application programs that come on disc or in archived packages that can be burned to disc should not be stored online. It's much faster to re-install them from your discs.

Good Candidates for Online Backup

That leaves data files. The ideal candidates for online backup are data files that change daily, such as your email files, browser bookmarks, My Documents folder, and other frequently used files and folders. Online backup services are great at making daily incremental backups with little or no effort required from the user.

Critical data such as your will, wedding photos, financial and business documents, etc., should be stored off-site in case your home or office is destroyed.

Online backup services should be used as a backup to your local backup strategy. When you think of online backup in this way, the amount of data that you commit to an online backup service shrinks dramatically.

Even 30 to 50 GB of data will take a long time to restore from an online backup service. Some of these services will, for a fee, send your backup data to you on a hard drive or optical disc via FedEx or another overnight delivery service. Whether that gets your data restored faster is hard to say, but at least you don't have to tie up your Internet connection with the restore process for a day or more.

My advice is that online backup should not be your primary backup and restore tool. Treat it more like a bank safety deposit box which is safely off-site, well protected, and just big enough to hold the things that really, really matter.

Do you have something to say about online backups? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Recovering Data From Online Backup"

Posted by:

26 Apr 2011

As a semi-professional photographer I'm fortunate not to have had to recover my data from backup, but it's good to know that it's a safe option, in addition to my external HD. Back up to Carbonite of my 160GB of photos took six weeks on my 1mbps connection. Carbonite is still a great deal, currently unlimited backup for $55/yr.

Posted by:

27 Apr 2011

I also use Carbonite. It was very helpful when I had to replaced a failed hard drive. I was able to get back all of my data files. And, you are correct, it isn't a good idea to back up the whole computer. Just the stuff you can't easily replace. The other plus is that I can get to my files at any time and from anywhere in the world.

Posted by:

27 Apr 2011

I have used Dell Safe for my document and picture back up for several years. Last year I had a computer problem that wiped out my hard drive. Not until I tried to recover my data did I discover that on several occasions the back up did not complete the cycle and some of my data was not saved.
I think any data service should warn you when there is an incomplete operation with important documents. Even though the price is reasonable, I don't think they did their job satisfactorily.

Posted by:

28 Apr 2011

I backed up my XP computer with Western Drive that came with Retrospect. When it crashed, I decided to buy a Windows 7 computer.
Wanted to download the information on the Western Drive. However, the Retrospect I had wouldn't work with Windows 7 and they wanted $100 for a new Retrospect that would work with Windows 7; and I couldn't find that they guaranteed it would work with my backup drive.
Luckily, I also had gotten Mozy Pro and it worked fine.

Posted by:

28 Apr 2011

We've had Carbonite for two years. Three months ago, a very bad virus hit our computer wiping out everything. Took it to the local repair guy who charged us $99.00 to clean it out, then brought it home and used Carbonite to restore everything.

All of our pictures were returned, which made this grandmother very happy. I'm now also backing up files on my own, just in case.

Hey Bob, thanks for a great column!

Posted by:

02 May 2011

Just to add another endorsement of Carbonite - really really worked when I had a virus, and nice and friendly (I also use Mozy which has given me some difficulty sometimes, but 'belt and braces' ...)
Good sense in what you wrote,Bob

Posted by:

Joe Hanlon
08 Apr 2012

I'm not sure why you didn't mention MiMedia. It does away with long initial backups by sending you a shuttle drive. You load everything on it and send it back. 250 gigs is $99 a year. Can't imagine a home user needing more. It does your docs, pics, videos, and music. It updates every day. You also have immediate access to your files. So far I've found it to be perfect. Why use any other?

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