Continuing on About Backing Up

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2005-08-23 Print this article Print

Opinion: Online backup, separating code and data, mirroring, and many other topics I didn't cover the first time around.

Looks like I hit a sore spot a few weeks ago with my column about how home users are unprepared for disaster. I focused on a favorite subject of mine, the use of cheap external hard drives as a backup medium. I ignored or gave short shrift to some other means of backup and heard from readers about it. I thought Id take this opportunity to fill in some of the gaps. And since that column PCMag came out with a great roundup on backup products and approaches.

I used to be a bigger fan of online backup than I am now, and for the same reasons I soured on a lot of backup mechanisms: the amount of data has outstripped the capacity of the backup device. Its actually a little different with online; its not that there isnt enough space, since you could get many gigabytes of storage online, but even if you had the capacity you dont have the bandwidth to do a real system backup.

Its conceivable that people could use online backup as a practical solution to data backup, although even that is not as clear as it used to be. But the point I was trying to make before, and what I will continue to harp on, is that backing up your data is not enough. If you have a complete online backup of your data and you have a disaster then you could certainly be in worse shape, but you still have a big problem: Online is not big and fast enough to store your programs and other system settings that only come with a complete system backup.

That said, the messages I got from readers and vendors makes it clear to me that online backup is a good secondary backup method, and brings me to another subject I didnt really cover: off-site backup. Online backup is one form of off-site backup, meaning keeping your backup in another location in case, for example, Hurricane Zelda comes through and immerses your computers in flood waters (note to self: keep off-site backups on high ground).

The problems with off-site backups are similar to those with online backups; doing a complete off-site backup requires a backup medium capable of holding a complete system backup, and these days thats hard to find. Even writable DVDs only hold a few gigabytes, and my complete system images are larger than that. A colleague suggested a potential answer a few paragraphs hence, but Im more inclined, as one reader was, to wait for dual-sided Blu-ray disks which will have a capacity of 50GB. By the time they are available and affordable that may still be a reasonable amount of data.

Off-site and online backup might one day be married into a perfect solution though, as I discussed with one vendor. Imagine buying a backup program/service combo: you run their backup program which uses writable DVDs (obviously youd need a burner) to make a one-time complete system backup, or perhaps it would do this periodically. In between it did backup online. Id need to see some modeling to know if it would be practical. I could see it working out.

Next page: A neater hard disk

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

Rocket Fuel