Continuing on About Backing Up

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