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Easy, Free Offsite Backup with Mozy

February 2009

It’s a sad tale, but it must be told. For years a friend of mine diligently backed up her computer diligently. But because she’d never had a problem with losing files or a hard drive crash, she gradually got lax.

Then what happened? You guessed it. Big time crash. She hadn’t backed up in a year. As it happens, she’s a writer of fiction and poetry, and in that year she felt she’d written some of her best work. It was all gone.

But not all was lost, she thought. She tried disk recovery software. No dice. Then she looked into the services that promise, for big bucks, to recover the data on your crashed hard drive.

She decided that the year’s worth of work was well worth the $1,500 it would cost. The company assured her of success. They had even rescued data on hard drives that had gone through hurricane Katrina.

No dice. And a bit of an emotional roller coaster. So she went with another company — one that said they could save data on hard drives that the other company couldn’t. No dice. They said that it was a head crash and that her data was unrecoverable.

Fortunately, she’d shared some of her most polished work with friends, and fortunately, some of them still had her writing on their computers. So not all was lost.

And now she has an external drive and is using Apple’s wonderful Time Machine software (built into the latest version of the OS) to automatically back up everything hourly.

But frankly, if I were her, I’d also use Mozy. Why? Well, take the case of Duncan Mowatt, whose story was retold in Newsweek magazine. He was having trouble with his external hard drive that he was using to back up his computer. His girlfriend decided to investigate. She picked up the hard drive and saw that it was filled with ants and ant larvae. Naturally she screamed and threw the hard drive. Which landed on Mowatt’s laptop — the impact of which trashed his laptop’s hard drive. In one fell swoop, everything gone.

Now even if you don’t have a feckless girlfriend or boyfriend who might destroy your data, you have to consider the possibility that the same theft or lightning strike or fire or hurricane that could cause you to lose your internal data could also spirit away the data on your backup drive.

That’s the value of offsite backup — having a copy of your data somewhere else in the world. And Mozy is one of the more popular services for accomplishing this.

Mozy is free for personal use if you want to store 2GB of data or less. That’s quite a lot of space if you’re wanting to store documents such as Word files and Excel spreadsheets. All of my friend’s poetry and fiction likely was under 2GB.

Photos and videos could fill up that space rather quickly, so if you want unlimited storage, Mozy makes that available for just $5 per month. (Note that if you want to use Mozy to back up a server or network volume, then you have to use the more expensive MozyPro, which is for businesses.)

Setup couldn’t be simpler. You go to mozy.com and select MozyHome Free, MozyHome ($5 per month), or MozyPro. You fill in some info and then download an application. The interface shows you the contents of your hard drive and lets you select sets of data (such as photos and movies and Microsoft User Data) or individual files and folders, or both — just whatever you want to save.

If you’re on the freebie plan, a status bar indicates how much of your allotted space you’re using up as you select the items to back up. Once you’ve made your selections, backing up happens automatically in the background.

Depending on how much data you’re wanting to back up, the initial backup could take a week or more. But then after that it’s much quicker because it only needs to back up the files that have changed.

I’ve set Mozy to back up my e-mail, contacts, and calendar, and a few important documents such as my checkbook register.

So what about security? It’s a tough call. Mozy encrypts your data using a 488-bit encryption key even before it leaves your computer. My guess is a security breach would be much less likely than other common vulnerabilities such as viruses, spyware, phishing, and use of free Wi-Fi hotspots.

So give it a try. It’s free.

© 2009 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen