Planning for a crash


It’s no longer a question of whether or not to back up your data but, rather, how to do it. Even with the forthcoming demise of the ubiquitous floppy, there are still enough disk, disc and tape possibilities to make your head spin. Of course, there’s always that option you probably haven’t thought about at all.

Over in the IT sector of computing, off-site backups have been a mainstay for years. The technique literally means what it says: Your data is backed up to a location that might be miles and miles away from where it’s normally used. That’s a pound of prevention against catastrophic data loss — not just the potential demise of a hard drive but, instead, the possible destruction of an entire data center by fire, flood, earthquake, hurricane or other disasters of biblical proportions.

If that sounds intriguing, your next question might be whether or not you’ll need to build a data center in the basement or broom closet of your small office, home office or small business to take advantage of off-site backups. Thanks to CrashPlan, a product of Code 42 Software Inc. in Minneapolis, even the smallest PC can reach out and back up.

CrashPlan (yes, the name is a bit unnerving) is available in two flavors — the US$19.95 rudimentary version and an upscale $59.95 “Pro” model with a few more bells and whistles — for Windows PCs, Macs and, in short order we’re told, even Linux boxes. Not to worry, there’s a free downloadable trial with which you probably want to acquaint yourself. CrashPlan is effective, but it’s somewhat eclectic.

The software runs in the background of your PC. Right there, it might occur to you that it may slow things down a tad, depending on the performance level of your system, but the CrashPlan FAQ says it won’t because the program is set to run at idle priority — only when your PC isn’t doing anything else. Of course, you’ll need to keep your PC running when it’s not doing anything instead of powering it down.

You have three possible backup options: Another computer on your network, a friend’s computer to which you can connect over the Internet (these first two require you to install a copy of CrashPlan of the destination PC) or the CrashPlan backup server located in a bank vault in Minnesota … where nothing catastrophic ever happens.

Mull those options over. If you’re looking for off-site backup, storing valuable data files on another computer at the same location may be effective, but it hardly defines the “off-site” concept or protects you from catastrophe. Your friend’s computer, remote as it might be, is an interesting possibility. Your data is encrypted to prevent unwanted intrusion, but you should assure yourself that the friend in question isn’t a glazed-eyed slacker with an overclocked PC that crashes every half hour. The idea of backing up your data is to keep it secure and retrievable.

While the CrashPlan backup severs might now seem the best option, it too has its caveats. It will cost you $5 per month for 50GB of data and $0.10 for every gigabyte over that amount. Let’s say you don’t have a problem with the fee. According to the CrashPlan FAQ, it can take as long as 20 days to backup that 50GB and three or four days to get it back. That’s not a limitation of the base software. The upscale edition simply adds real-time backup (as your data changes) to the mix rather than just scheduled or manually initiated backups. Instead, it’s a matter of available transmission speeds and priorities.

Cutting through the underbrush, CrashPlan does work in its own mysterious ways. You have complete freedom in selecting the data sets you want backed up, as well as choosing the destination for that data. Retrieval is just as straightforward. The only fault we found is that it doesn’t seem to have a simple way to cancel a backup once it’s begun. On the other hand, if for any reason CrashPlan can’t connect to your destination, you’ll receive an e-mail notification that there’s a problem. Ours arrived after six days of attempts.

Should you rush out and get CrashPlan? We’d probably vote no if we were talking it seriously. This appears to be a “Web 2.0,” touchy feely, “friends back up friends” concept. (“It’s surprising how many people want to be your friend when you’re their backup destination,” quote the FAQ.) You know your friends. Would you feel secure if they had your data?

Right now, the better option for a desktop PC’s off-site data security still appears to be something on the order of an Iomega Rev 70 cartridge hard drive system or, more simply, a CD/DVD backup regimen. You can then take the media down to your own bank and store it in your own safe deposit box on your own timetable. It’s not as sexy, but it’s probably more reliable in the long run.


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