Tuesday, November 27, 2007


(Updated: minor wordsmithing)

So, my hard disk drive started making a weird noise this morning.

I do automatic backups daily to an external HDD, and I have written a couple of scripts that create archive files suitable for storage on various web mail accounts that I run whenever I think of it, but I decided to do something that I probably should have done a while ago: sign up for one of the free online backup services. I had looked into them briefly a few months ago, and based on my memory, I decided to give Mozy a try.

I signed up for the free account. I got 2 GB of space, along with a very nice interface program to configure the backup process. Other plans are available if you want more space, or if you're running a business, or if you think you might need some of the other premium options, but the free one seems good for the moment, for my purposes. Once I downloaded, installed, and launched the interface program, I was impressed at the guesses that Mozy made about which files should be backed up and which shouldn't. (The idea is to avoid backing up program files -- these can be reinstalled from CD or re-downloaded. What you care about is the content you've created yourself.) It was easy to tweak the choices to save space. For example, I keep every email message I get because I'm a pack rat, but I don't really need a second backup of every last funny video clip I've ever received. If my HDD and external HDD both fail, you all can send them again, if you like.

I ended up selecting about 1.1 GB worth of files for backup and started the process. It took most of the day for everything to be uploaded. (Home broadband connections, as you probably know, are much faster at downloading than uploading.) From now on, backups won't take anywhere near as long, as Mozy will in the future only back up changes to the files and folders that I've marked. I ran a second backup a couple of hours later to confirm this, and only the expected few files got uploaded. From now on, the claim is, Mozy will run automatically, on a daily basis. The frequency of backups can be adjusted, and you can force a backup whenever you'd like.

During the initial backup process, my (aging) computer was slightly sluggish. You can tweak Mozy to adjust this -- a more responsive computer at the expense of slower backing up -- but I wanted the backup to go as fast as possible, so I left that setting alone. Part of the sluggishness is due to the fact that Mozy encrypts all files before uploading. They also say they never look at your files once they're on their servers. There's no real way to be sure about this. My attitude is that I'm using a Windows machine, so it's inherently insecure, so I don't have anything sensitive on it in the first place. I'm more paranoid about losing my notes, pictures, and email than I am about someone viewing them, so I'm happy to take them at their word.

As far as I can tell, everything is where it should be on their servers. Part of the interface goodness is the addition of a "virtual folder" that lets you see what you've backed up, that you can access through Windows Explorer or whatever else you use to manage your files. (You can also access your backed-up files through the interface program, or by surfing to your Mozy account.) I just tested restoring a single file, and although it wasn't obvious what was going on, the file did get restored. Three times, in fact, by the time I got around to looking to see if the file was actually there. This is a nice feature -- an inadvertent restore won't overwrite a possibly newer file.

I won't go on and on about it. Ask me if you want some more details. The short version is: setting up the account and doing the backup seemed easy. There are only a few tiny rough edges left: the restore process could be made a little more obvious, and some of the informational messages could maybe use some dumbing down. For example, this is what you see for a few seconds when you start backing up (emph. added):

Mozy status window

I recommend you give Mozy a shot, if you don't already have a good backup system in place. And remember, a good backup plan includes off-site storage.

Oh, and by the way, my hard disk drive is no longer making funny noises. The umbrella principle works once again.

1 comment:

bjkeefe said...

The umbrella principle: Bring an umbrella, and it never rains.

This is an example of putting Murphy's Law to work for you.