Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Backed Up Yet?

Time to Confess

Ok, after the siren call to backup two weeks ago I am certain everyone has rushed to the shops to get the necessary hardware and have set up a backup schedule of some sort. Right?

I didn't think so. As much as we may understand and appreciate the value of a backup, unless there is a compelling business reason that forces us to do it (and someone we can delegate it to on pain of death) it is pretty difficult for most of us to adapt our lives to the requirements of a daily or any other backup regime.

An enemy formerly known as NEPA

Even if we setup one up, the first thing that will mess things up is our inefficient (non-existent) power supply. PHCN guarantees that the time you schedule your backup for is a time when there is no electricity and your computer or the backup device are off as a consequence. If not PHCN then something else will keep us from keeping our backups going.

One possible solution is rather than having backs as something you do with your data periodically, you could take advantage of the unique properties of the Internet to back things up without actually having a regimen of some sort.

The Web is your Backup site

Most of us generate two kinds of data - documents and pictures. Almost every document file we have is in the category of image files (jpg, png, bmp, tif, psd) or a Microsoft or other kind of document file (doc, xls, ppt, htm, pdf). Well there are two ways we can backup these files to the Internet. First of all, we can backup to dedicated storage systems. These are spaces provided for free or for a price where you can securely store your documents online. These range from the extremely simplistic such as Microsoft's SkyDrive which gives you 25 free GB of storage to more sophisticated solutions like Mozy.com that give you a full back up experience. Mozy.com is a pretty powerful solution. Sign up, install and configure the software, pay 4.95 USD per month for unlimited storage (or pay nothing for 2GB of storage) and you can forget about it till you lose data and need to recover it. Before you get bothered about the five dollar fee, that is about 750 naira a month to keep your data safe. How much do you spend on coke in the same time frame? Beer? Suya? Enough said.

The benefit of these is because they are on the Internet, the risks that we identified last time are mitigated without your having to invest in extra hardware that you need to manage and protect. In addition, because it is the Internet your data is available to you anywhere and on almost any device where you can get an internet connection.

These solutions are still very much like the traditional backup solutions previously discussed with the simplest of them requiring you to copy your files to the remote storage site. Another, arguably easier solution is to use services that allow you create the content directly on the Internet or allow you select your storage location as the default place your documents are saved.

Start it Online

One of the best example is Google Docs. With Google Docs you can create most document types directly in your browser and save them as you create them in the storage space google provides. When you do this, your data is automatically stored in a backed up location that is accessible from anywhere. You can then keep a copy on your local computer if you so wish.

For pictures, which are mostly created in cameras, instead of downloading them off our cameras into our hard drives, we can upload straight to media management and sharing sites such as Flickr. This not only provides a place to save our precious pictures, it also makes it very easy for us to share those pictures with the world.

A Seamless Experience

Lastly, there are software you can download that enable the best of both worlds where you treat an online storage location like it is part of your hard drive. An example is Gladinet. With Gladinet you can connect to your SkyDrive or similar online system like it is local. Frankly, I tried it, didn't like it (for one thing it didn't quite work) and uninstalled it. However it is still in beta (meaning it isn't quite ready yet for prime time and cannot be depended on) and hopefully should work better when mature. Nevertheless, tools like this are a viable option. So when you create your documents and download your pictures off your camera, that drive "W:" you save it can well be the Internet. Zoho, a competitor to Google in the online productivity applications (read Microsft Office) space has a plugin that integrates with Microsoft Office and lets you save to Zoho like you are saving to your PC.

Somebody, Anybody! Please I'll settle for 512 Kb/s!

The big problem with all this is that it is completely dependent on the slow, inconsistent Internet services we have in Nigeria and which I ranted about last week. Imagine trying to backup 1GB of data to your skydrive over those kinds of links. You will weep. Until we have reasonable speeds these solutions work only for small data sets and file sizes.

None of these solutions are usable much in backing up programs and system settings, but at the very  least you can secure the content generated on those systems in case of loss or damage. So pick the solution type that best suits your circumstances. Don't be caught with a dead system and no way to get the files you have created over the years. It could truly be a matter of life and death.

Can you estimate how much data you have? 1GB? 10GB? 1TB? How much of it is safe? How much can you afford to loose? Let's talk about it.