List of File Backup Options: Free, Automated, and Online

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Two, count ’em two, of my old hard drives died last week. And this web site went haywire (multiple times). I had the major files backed up, but my need for a better backup system became apparent. Ideally, it would be free, automated, and online. So what’s out there? Here are the best options I found:

  • Online Backup. The leader in automated, online backups seems to Mozy Online Backup. They have paid plans, but still give you 2 GB free with MozyHome Free. Another site, iDrive, also offers 2 GB free.. Transmission is encrypted, but security during storage may be a concern for very sensitive files. This isn’t really a concern for me, as I don’t have much sensitive stuff. Another downside is if this start-up dies, then so do your files. Recently, a similar site called Omnidrive shut down abruptly with little warning.
  • Gmail via Gspace or Gmail Drive. – Use your 2GB+ of free storage with a Gmail account. Gmail Drive lets you use it as as drive within for Windows, and Gspace lets you transfer files using the Firefox browser. To automate transfers to Gmail is a bit trickier, but here is a guide at LifeHacker.
  • FTP to existing server. If you have a web-hosting service, try combining that with Syncback Freeware to make an automatic backup system. You’re already paying for the hosting anyway, and most give you a ton more storage than you really need. (Another LifeHacker guide for Syncback)

Having good backups both directly and indirectly saves me money in the long run. I just need to invest the time to set things up now.

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  1. I’m not sure if you use a PC or Mac, but Time Machine, which comes with Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard), has been a life saver already in the month I’ve had it. This is definitely the best backup program I’ve used thus far, though it’s lacking in advanced functionality.

    I haven’t quite found a good off-site backup program yet. Until it becomes easy to transfer hundreds of gigabytes quickly, then I’ll stick to having an external backup hard drive.

  2. I have used AOL’s Xdrive, which offers 5GB for free. It’s also run by AOL, so I think it might be around longer than some of the other companies that just do storage.

  3. I use Mozy, and so far I’ve been satisfied with it. Though I haven’t had any crisis on my computer yet to test whether I will get all my files back if that happens. Touch wood!

    “Another downside is if this start-up dies, then so do your files.”

    This sentence gave me goosebumps. Maybe I should look at the Gmail options just in case.

  4. I believe xdrive offers 5gb free and is a service by AOL.

  5. Question – How long have you had your PC and other drive, what make/model were they and do you know of good sites with anything about expected lives of hard drives among different computers? I have a Dell Dimension that’s about 4 years old and my recent purchase of Intuit’s ProSeries tax preparer software forced me to download Windows Service Pack 2 (i downloaded it over a year ago then removed it b/c it slowed down my PC too much). When i loaded the tax software on the computer, Intuit recommended i have 512 RAM (i have a 256) and they wouldn’t guarantee me technical support if i don’t have the minimum requirement.

    Until now, i figured i’d wait until summer to get a mac and another pc, but with your story and being that we’re entering tax season, i’m now thinking i will probably need a new PC.

  6. PS – Sorry to hear about your crashes…but thank you for sharing! You may be saving me from getting caught with my pants down during tax season. Until now, i didn’t realize how important it is that i back up my files regularly to my external storage drive, and to another device (something that i haven’t done regularly before today).

  7. Mozy isn’t a startup. It is owned by EMC and I doubt a 13 Billion dollar a year company is going to go “belly up.”
    Stranger things have happened but Mozy has the cash flow and backing to become a powerhouse.

  8. Mozy isn’t really a start-up anymore; it was just bought by EMC, some big storage company.

    What do you mean by “but security during storage may be a concern for very sensitive files”? Mozy encrypts, right, or were you just referring to iDrive?

  9. Mozy isn’t going anyhere. It is now part of EMC.

  10. That mozyhome deal for $4.95 a month seems really great. It’s unlimited (?) storage for $60 a year? Wow, that would really be worth it. I also noticed that Dell has pretty cheap online storage — and I think it’s included for free with some new PCs they sell (of course it’s probably somehow incorporated into the price of the PC). But if you just lost 2 servers — maybe you are looking for something anyway? I just got my new Dell last week (first new computer in 6 years! – except at work). It’s a real beauty 🙂

  11. I know your site is about saving money, but when it comes to important and sensitive data, it might be worth spending a few bucks. You can buy a highly portable external hard drive with over 140 GB of storage for under $100 these days. I regularly back up my laptop on my portable drive just to be safe.

    As always, love your suggestions and the everyman approach.

  12. How about JungleDisk? Leo Laporte and Steve Gibson talked about it on Security Now recently.

    Uses Amazon S3, so you only pay for what you use, and supposedly the price is good.

  13. Another idea for backing up is burning files onto DVD’s. We do this with our photos when. Each DVD has 4.7GB…buy a pack of 50 and you have storage up to 235GB from that $15. Although downside is it won’t auto-update some of your files to your backup “DVD” (obviously) and you may have to burn another DVD with the newer files. But with DVD’s costing 30 cents a piece – it’s not something I’m really going to cry over.

    But yeah – this is how we back up our photos and seeing how photos can take up a lot of space on a hard drive and you don’t frequently edit them, burning them onto DVD’s is much simpler.

  14. I’ve used Linux for over a decade. I use two strategies for data retention; and they’re a bit geeky but I’ll share. On any desktop I buy two identical hard drives, and I run them in RAID 1 (via software built into Linux). Level 1 RAID is mirroring, which means that all of my data is written simultaneously to both drives. No single drive failure can rain on my parade.

    The other thing that I do is create a partition for backups. Then I use rsync to take daily snapshots of all of my files. I usually keep 30 days worth of snapshots. Because of technical details about how it works, this usually takes about 2x as much storage as my actual data (and not 30x as you might expect with 30 different backups). An article about it is at:

    I don’t have Windows knowledge, but I suspect Windows can do RAID 1 as well, and there should be versions of rsync available.

    On a laptop, I can’t have a second drive, but I still use rsync to backup my data. Rsync can work over a network, so I backup my data to a desktop at home (which runs RAID 1).

    A bigger issue on a laptop is security of your data. If the laptop is stolen, your data is on the drive. I use encrypted filesystems; just type in an extra password at boot time to unlock the hard drive (which is always encrypted). I recommend this program for the task:

  15. Another Online Backup option is FolderShare. ( Worth checking out.

  16. Chris in Boston says

    Get a Mac! 🙂

    It comes with “time machine” the best backup and restore tool I have ever used.

    Also with a Mac, comes the ability to synch with a .mac account where you can set up your own “iDisk” which you can synch or back up teh crtical stuff you never want to lose.

    Apple has the momentum now. Worth looking into.

  17. Like others said, Mozy isn’t going anywhere, as EMC bought them in October. Although it is unlimited for $5/mo – it can only back up physical drives (no network shares, which means no NAS drives). It also doesn’t run on any server OS – to get that feature you need Mozy Pro. I use it to back up my important documents now that I’ve switched to mostly paperless. It uses blowfish encryption on the storage side, and lets you set your own key if you want, so I consider it secure enough for me. If you want to use the trial on 2 pc’s with the same email address – you can also sign up for the trial from one of their resellers – Fabrik Ultimate Backup is one of the ones I have used.

    As neat as time machine is, it doesn’t have the offline backup support that Mozy gives you. I have a RAID 5 array in my server – but that doesn’t protect against theft or fire that Mozy does, so my important stuff gets backed up there.

  18. OK guys, Mac’s “time machine” is not really the same type of backup as Mozy or the G-space setup. These two services are more akin to synching with a .mac account.

    Really there are two easy ways to do this whole “backup” thing (not including RAID)

    1. Buy an external Hard Drive. This will either be compatible with Time Machine or will come with backup software for your hard drive.
    2. Sign up for a Mozy-style service.

    The best option is probably both. Especially if you really rely on your computer. Hard drives are like tires, they will go bad, it’s just a matter of when.

    If you’re running multiple computers in the home, it may also be worth taking a look at Windows Home Server. Back everything up to the server and back the server up “into the cloud” (i.e. Mozy).

    Please not however that with Mozy, you probably won’t be able to get your data back “quickly”. If you have 250 GB of photos and music on your hard drive you’re going to spend the better part of two weeks downloading that stuff. In a crisis be prepared to ante up the $60-80 required to have them burn your data to DVD and mail it to you.

  19. Are you running a web server from your home? I am curious about it because I assume you get a lot of traffic on your broadband connection and your ISP might consider you as a “business” class user and force you to upgrade. In that respect, you are simply better off running your blog on a paid web service anyhow. For something like $10/mo you get plenty traffic, enterprise level hardware, and scheduled backup anyhow.

  20. oh, also, if you seriously about running good hardware, go to craigslist and find yourself a decent used rack mount server such as Compaq HP Proliant DL380. Those SCSI 10k rpm drives are bullet proof and you can run Raid 5/6 on them without worrying about losing anything.

  21. Buy a tape drive and some tapes.

  22. I use Carbonite. It works in the background and auto syncs the files you tell it to do. The first download took a month! But now my system is almost always at 98%. I think it was $50 a year. It is also great if you buy a new computer – you can just say restore and it will dump all of your backed up files onto your new system 🙂

  23. I like FileSafe Backup ( It’s for business-class instead of individuals but offers a 30-day free trial. Best of all is it works cross-platform so it doesn’t matter if you have a Mac or run Windows (I run Win and Linux).

    Robert, I looked into tape drives and onsite storage and the long-term costs and time wasted just don’t work for me. Plus if there was a flood or earthquake I’d be screwed – I live in Califonia and have to consider those things. So offsite storage is best.

  24. I use the Amazon S3 service for backing up and storing files. You pay only for what you use. I think I’m storing about 1.5gb and it costs me $0.19/month. Like some of the options mentioned above, there is a Firefox plugin that makes it easy to upload files.

    For easy backup at home, I use samba on a Linux server with a 500gb drive.

  25. Xdrive is 5Gb of free online storage…

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