Do you know when the absolute worst time to think about backups is? It’s the moment when the tech support guy tells you your hard drive has died and your data is lost.
One error that the free online backups will not help is recovery of a file a split second after you delete that important presentation or cherished photo. Most free services do not save deleted files but write over the old file.
The free online backup services will save your files off-site to the cloud. If your hard drive crashes your files are not lost. Your first line of defense should be an external hard drive to back up your hard drive or a jump drive for your documents.
An online backup provides 24/7 access to your files from any Internet connected computer, smartphone, or tablet style device. Data storage in the cloud is one of the quickest means to data archiving and recovery.
The requirements to judge the online backup are listed below:
Storage Size: More free storage is obviously better. Our photo files are larger and we are taking more photos. This requires more storage.
Document Synchronization: Documents and files created or changed need to automatically be uploaded to the “Cloud.”
Long Term Reliability of the Site: Will your files be there available a year from now, five years from now? This is subjective. If I have heard of the service before I became editor of this category or one of our readers makes a compelling argument, the site will be considered reliable.
Security: It should be assumed that security is minimal for the free sites. If the files you upload will not be encrypted, there's nothing to stop someone from looking at your files. This includes law enforcement officials who can serve papers from a judge requesting copies of your files. The services I have checked do not have encryption on the fly. Spideroak has pre-egress or pre-internet security. Your files are encrypted before they are uploaded.
File Location: Ideally the files should be able to be located anyplace on your hard drive. Instead many online backup services require a special folder to be created. All your files will have to be stored in that folder. Also, the files will have to be stored on the local drive and copied to the online service.
Ease of Use: The service should be menu driven and intuitive when selecting the files and folders to be backed up. These are two primary ways to do this:
- The first way is the service creates a folder and all the files in the folder are backed up. OneDrive does it this way. It creates a OneDrive folder and everything in this folder is backed up.
- The second way is you select folders or files inside the program. Using Spideroak, a tree of your files and folders is displayed and you select the files/folders to back-up by clicking a check box.
One possible strategy is to use several free sites. Use one site for photos, a second for general documents and a third site with pre-upload and post-download encryption for your financial documents and other documents you want to keep private.
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There are a number of products and vendors that promise you online data storage and backup. Here are my recommendations:
IDrive's parent company IBackup has been in business since 1999 and therefore meets the long term reliability requirement. The service has 5 GB of free storage. While not a lot by today's standard it is better than 2 GB. IDrive does provide pre file transfer encryption. You provide the private key which will be known only to you. This will secure your files from being read by others without your permission.
IDrive has both scheduled and continuous backup. The default is scheduled backup. IDrive also has versioning. In this way if you accidentally delete a file, it can be retrieved.
Your files can be stored in any place on your hard drive. This allows you to keep your current file structure. It will not be necessary to move your file to a special folder for backup.
I just noticed Google drive now has 15 GB of online storage. It is still not encrypted and you still have to put all your files in the Google Drive folder on your PC. Google is an established company 15 GB is a large amount of storage.
I have moved Google Drive to #2 because it has 15 GB of storage available. I have tested it and confirmed there are 15 GB..
Google drive has the follow good features.
- First, it available storage is a large 15 GB.
- Second is the stability of the provider. Google is going to be around for a long time and cloud storage is a key company service.
- Third, it is easy to use. Just go to your Google account ( assuming you have one), and down load the software.
- Finally you documents are automatically synchronized.
Google Drive has two negatives: no security and files locations.
- Your file are not encrypted locally before being uploaded to the "cloud". Do not store files that you do not want others are to be able to read. While it is not open to anyone on the Internet who doesn't have the password, law enforcement agencies can obtain copies of your files without your knowledge.
- Another negative is your files have to be stored in the Google Drive folder. At first I thought this would be a problem, but after using the service there is not issue using the Google Drive folder for your files.
Microsoft has changed OneDrive. It is now 7 GB if you are a new subscriber to the service. If you are an old subscriber and had 25 GB of storage you get to keep your 25 GB.
I dropped OneDrive's ranking because of its reduced storage space, no encryption and the annoying OneDrive folder you have to use. It is built into Windows 8 and the service is expected to be around for a long time as it's provided by Microsoft.
OneDrive's storage size is 7 GB. This is not very large by today standards. OneDrive originally was 25 GB. A new user can't get 25 GB free anymore. If you have an old Hotmail account you may have 25 GB.
OneDrive is easy to use. Once installed just copy or move the files you want to backup to the special OneDrive folder. Only files in the OneDrive folder will be stored online. It may be less convenient for you but the advantage of this approach is that you know exactly which files are being stored online.
You also have control over whether files are only stored online rather than on your local Windows device (PC, tablet, phone). Many users use OneDrive to synchronize files between two or more Windows devices. On each individual device you can specify whether a particular folder is stored offline (on the local drive) or online-only on OneDrive. If you store a large folder with several GBs of data on OneDrive then other devices that synchronize with that account will usually have online access so you will have to change it to offline to get a copy of the files.
One of OneDrive's weaknesses is the lack of encryption which means that you should not put files on OneDrive that you don't want other people to ever see. While it is not open to anyone on the Internet who doesn't have the password, law enforcement agencies can obtain copies of your files without your knowledge.
A combination of back-up solutions may be the best strategy. Use OneDrive for your photos and non critical documents like kids homework, your non-financial files, and family pictures. Then use Spideroak or IDrive for your taxes and financial files.
#4 Dropbox (www.dropbox.com)
It offers 2GB free storage to start while multiple paid options are also available. Dropbox offers file syncing between the PC / Mac / Linux and the cloud. Load the desktop client or upload through the web interface and begin adding folders to the Dropbox folder. Once in the folder, Dropbox synchs the file between the PC and the cloud and any other devices that you have enabled with Dropbox including mobile and tablets. Quick, light and in the background, Dropbox is a must try and is my preferred Online Backup Solution. One drawback to Dropbox is a folder named "Dropbox" which has to be created, then all the folders and files have to be moved to the "Dropbox" folder.
#5 Mozy (http://mozy.com/home/free)
Like most of the online backup providers, Mozy offers 2 GB for free and the option to add more through paid services. Mozy comes with PC and MAC clients, schedule backups and even file encryption. The encryption capabilities provide some peace of mind to those looking for an Online Backup Solution but concerned about privacy.
#6 ADrive (http://www.adrive.com/)
This site has been tested for the past month. It meets one of three off-line backup requirements. The storage size is very large at 50 GB. The down side is that it does not sync files. Longevity of the free service needs to be proven.
While 2 GB seems to be about the standard when this section first started. Now it is hardly enough. 2GB is roughly equivalent to 250,000 text emails, or 300 songs, or 250 pictures. We all have more the 250 pictures and will run out of space using only a 2 GB of storage.
Since this web site is all about free software, etc., I suggest using two online backup services. Use the sites with pre file transfer encryption for your important documents such as tax returns, then use OneDrive for photos. OneDrive has 7 GB. If you were lucky enough to have had OneDrive before they changed their service, you may have 25 GB of storage.
Besides the storage capacity, the ability to quickly get your data and long term service are other key factors to consider. Some of the above recommendations do not have proven track records but well known companies are likely able to provide long term service for you. Your data should be available and controllable by you. Being able to move your data from one provider to another or even duplicate it amongst providers for redundant backups are also key considerations when choosing a cloud storage solution. The first four suggestions above offer quick accessibility and easy exporting of the data so that you can take to another provider should the need occur.
Finally, regardless of the method or type of backup, whether online, disk to disk, imaging, CD / DVD copying, or floppies (hopefully not!), having a recent backup of your data will ensure that you never have to face that dreaded split second after your data gets ruined.
Dropped From The List
- Windows Live Mesh: Microsoft dropped it in favor of OneDrive exclusively.
- Bee Cloud is ceasing operation in March 2012.
- Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo mail have been dropped from the list. These are not really back up systems.
- CX:, The terms of service has changed, therefore it is no longer free. Existing users can keep their free account with certain condition, but new users have a 15/30 day trials.
NB: Do you have a great free online backup solution? If so, then tell us about it in the comments section.
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