Online Backup for the Home

I know several people with home networks hosting gigs of movies, photos and mp3s, only a few of whom have any kind of backup strategy, and only one of whom (that I can think of) has an offsite backup strategy.

I've been familiar with the concept of offsite backups since I started working in the software industry. I suppose companies developing open source software don't have the same problem, but companies writing commercial software have to keep their source code secure from prying eyes, but at the same time safe in the event of a disaster such as fire or flood.

But despite this familiarity, a personal experience losing data, and a growing number of important files on my home network, until 1998 I still had no backup strategy at home. I thought about it from time to time, but I knew that if I just got a tape drive and tapes, and relied upon myself to do it manually on a regular schedule, I would start forgetting, and eventually give up altogether (I'm the same way about exercise). And at the back of my mind was the thought that it would be just my luck if the disaster I experienced was a house fire, rather than a hardware failure - thus ruining any tapes.

So when a colleague (the same one above who is the only person I know with an offsite backup) turned me on to Connected Online Backup I was immediately sold. Here was a solution that ran automatically, totally unattended and offsite. I happily paid the $14/mo for unlimited storage (at the time) and continued to run that for about 5 years. But then they changed their policy, and wanted to start charging more for a limited amount of storage. For the amount I had stored, the price was prohibitive to me, so I reluctantly cancelled my service.

I did so a little rashly, since I had no alternative strategy in place at the time. But I thought it wouldn't take me long to find an alternative more cost effective approach. I'm ashamed to say it took a few years before I had something setup - and in part only then because Heather would casually inquire from time to time into what kind of backups we had of all the digital photos we were taking. I did burn a few CDROMs but these were not offsite, were only partial, and I think I only did it twice during this time.

During this time I did research from time to time on what online backup services were out there, but they all basically wanted to charge me $20/month for a limited amount of storage. The ones charging less had even smaller storage limits.

Until in April 2005 I discovered Melody-Soft's Backup to Neighbor. It looked like for a very small one time cost I could setup an arrangement very similar to Connected with a friend or family member who, like me, had an always-on internet connection and a computer they kept on all the time. I bought it, and proceeded to use it with my Dad.

My first disappointment was that it could not be scheduled. This was really important to me, but since it was easy to launch, I decided to live with it and just develop a nightly habit. But then I ran into a few snags, and in particular one circumstance where a seemingly innocent thing could render an entire backup inaccessible. I posted these to the Melody-Soft forum for Backup to Neighbor and received prompt and friendly support. But I noticed that no-one else had posted to these forums - and as of this date mine are still the only posts there. This was just another thing that hurt my confidence in the product.

This time it only took a couple of weeks to come up with another solution. It was one my Dad had previously suggested, but at the time had seemed to complicated. He has a Windows Small Business Server which he can VPN into while travelling. I would just connect to this server, and copy files across too it. When I decided to bite the bullet and set this up, it was easy. I had for sometime been using Centered System's Second Copy for synchronizing folders on my local network. I added a few new profiles to this, and I was done. There were one or two things that I had to work around, and to get everything straight I ended up diagramming my backup strategy, which has proven useful.

About the only way I could improve upon my current setup, is if I could backup directly from my Linksys NSLU2 device to a device hosted on my Dad's network, without having to do this through another computer that must consequently remain up and running overnight. I think I could do this with SSH and FTP if I hacked my NSLU2 and put a similarly hacked one on my Dad's network. Anyone heard of anyone doing this that could post links?

Here's a recent good article on Online Backup with suggestions of other strategies and solutions that I'll explore.