Review: Five Online Backup Services Keep Your Data Safe

If you know you need to back up your data, but keep putting it off, one of these online services may help you keep your backups up-to-date.
Of all the solutions tested here, Mozy was probably the best of the bunch --easiest to work with, least intrusive, and most versatile. The free, no-hassles version of Mozy (for Windows 2000, XP, and Vista) provides you with 2GB of backup space; the unlimited-storage version is $4.95 a month; and the business-grade plan is licensed both by PC/server and the amount of storage. To that end, the free version is a great place to start, and if you outgrow it you can migrate to the for-pay plans easily enough.

Mozy has the ability to throttle bandwidth or CPU consumption, or let the backup process take precedence if you’re in a hurry. (Click image to enlarge.)

When you install the Mozy Remote Backup software, you’re given two ways to encrypt the backed-up data: you can use Mozy’s own 448-bit encryption key, or you can create your own key (which I preferred). The custom key can be generated from any plain-text phrase, but you’re responsible for backing it up yourself -- if you lose the custom key, Mozy won’t be able to get your data back. Files are encrypted on the PC itself using industrial-strength 448-bit Blowfish encryption, then transferred to Mozy’s via 128-bit SSL, so there’s two levels of encryption at work at all times.

Five Backup Services

•  Introduction

•  AT&T Online Vault

•  Carbonite

•  eSureIT

•  iBackup

•  Mozy

•  Conclusions

After running a speed test to determine your upstream bandwidth, you’re ready to begin backing up. Mozy defines the files to be backed up via backup sets, and includes a couple of basic sets by default -- IE favorites and My Documents -- but you can easily create others and edit existing ones. You can’t add the contents of network-mapped drives into a backup set (that’s a feature for the business edition of Mozy), but any local fixed drive will work.

Backup sets can also have rules applied to them -- for instance, a given backup set can be used to exclude files from other backup sets, or to only include files that match specific criteria. The backup process can run on a fixed schedule or whenever the system has been idle for X minutes / hours, or just triggered on-demand. Both CPU usage and bandwidth can be throttled as needed, and even changed on the fly during the backup process.

When a backup is running you can bring up an activity window, which shows two progress meters (one for the encryption process and the other for the actual uploading of files), an estimated time for completion, and a slider for adjusting Mozy’s use of system resources. Even with Mozy running at full speed I didn’t notice much, if any, impact on system performance. Completed backups are logged in the program’s history buffer, which contains full reports about all files and their transfer times and speeds.

If you want to restore files from the backup pool, you can do that one of two ways. The first and most common is through the Mozy Remote Backup folder in Explorer which lets you browse and copy file backups as though they were available locally. This is basically the same approach Carbonite takes.

The other way to restore is through Mozy’s Web interface, which is a bit slower, but it’s useful if you’re trying to restore to a system where the Mozy backup software isn’t available or can’t be loaded. I really liked this feature -- if I’m on the road and I want to grab that one important file I didn’t bring with me, this is a good way to do it without having to resort to a remote-access solution or having someone else e-mail it to me.

I also liked the flexibility of Mozy’s retention policies. All backups are retained for one month from the time they’re made, but only the most recent backup set counts towards your quota, and you can always restore all versions of a file backed up in that month’s window. Finally, restore files can also be burned to DVD by Mozy and shipped to you for a handling fee.

Mozy’s Web site and documentation explain everything in plain and friendly English, leavened with occasionally droll humor. If you elect to use your own encryption key, you get a confirmation dialog which reads "I understand that if I ever lose this key, that neither I nor Mozy will be able to decrypt my data and I will be hosed." I laughed, but I also got the point.

Berkeley Data Systems, Inc.
Price: 2GB monthly for free; unlimited monthly for $4.95
Summary: The easiest, least intrusive and most versatile of all the programs here, with a free 2GB-per-month version that’s a great way to get started.


The all-around winner for regular users and small business from this bunch was definitely Mozy, both for its plan structure and its unobtrusive client. Carbonite came in a close second, because of its even more elegant client design.

Of the more professional-level services, I gravitated a bit more towards eSureIT thanks to its slightly more flexible handling of backup and restore operations, although both it and iBackup supported SQL Server and Exchange data. The big loser was AT&T Online Vault, which would be hard to recommend to anyone at all, especially given how much better all the competition is.

Editor's Choice
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
Astrid Gobardhan, Data Privacy Officer, VFS Global
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing