Cloud Backups

One way that you could consider for backing up the essential data on your computer would be to use a cloud storage option. Should you decide that you want to back up your data to the cloud then there are a number of things to consider in selecting which cloud storage to use.

One thing to keep in mind is that the US Government has already shut down one cloud storage site because a small percentage of people were misusing it for distributing copyright material. As a result all those using it for legitimate purposes lost all of their data that was stored on that particular cloud storage. In some instances those people were using the cloud storage as the only copy of their files rather than as just a backup and have therefore lost all of their data as a result. Using a cloud storage solution as a backup of your primary data location should still be safe but you should not rely on it always being available and so it should not be your only backup (since you don't want to discover when your primary source has been destroyed through having the hard drive fail that your only backup has been destroyed by the US Government.

Backing up to cloud storage provides just one more opportunity for keeping copies of your data so as to minimise the chances of you losing all of the copies at the same time.

There are a number of reasons why you need backups and some of those reasons mean you want the backup to contain the most up to date copy (so you can recover it onto a new hard drive or computer) while in other cases you want a prior version of a file (for example so you can revert back when you accidentally overwrite the wrong file when you use one file as the basis for creating another). Local backups are most useful for the second of these and so a remote backup such as to cloud storage ought to be the most recent possible copy.

To automatically produce backups of the latest versions of files to the cloud you can use an option that some cloud storage provides called SYNC where the files in specified folder(s) on your computer are automatically kept in sync with that on the cloud storage. The main reason for this option being provided is so that the same file can be effectively shared between multiple computers. Where the local copy is more recent than the cloud copy the local copy automatically gets copied to the cloud and if the cloud copy is more recent then it gets copied to the local computer. With just the one computer the first of these is our automatic backup and the second is the recovery option if we ever need it. The only thing that you need to keep in mind if you use this to keep completely up to date backups rather than manually transferring files at regular intervals is that backing up to the cloud uses bandwidth on your internet connection and so if you have a low monthly limit for internet access you may find that your cloud backup quickly uses up all of your internet (particularly when you first set it up where all the files need to be copied).

Having decided to use cloud storage for one of your backups the next step is to decide which cloud storage to choose (although you could of course use more than one provided you have enough internet bandwidth available). Each of the alternatives have different pros and cons since at this stage each cloud storage solution appears to offer a completely different setup.

The first thing you'd need to do in selecting between cloud storage solutions is to eliminate any that do not include a sync option. Without that option you would need to run manual backups of files in order to use the cloud storage as a backup solution and it is very easy to forget to run manual backups. It is quite likely that the backup you would actually need would be the one you forgot to run.

Another consideration is how much storage a particular cloud storage makes available and at what price. There are a few cloud storage alternatives that offer the first block of storage at no charge. Presumably they expect that you will eventually want to exceed that free allocation and that you will then pay for the extra rather than have the inconvenience of having to either move to an alternative provider or to split your use between providers. There are a number of cloud storage providers who currently offer either 2Gb or 5Gb of free storage to get you started with a range of price structures for once you go beyond that limit.

Surprisingly, yet another consideration is where on your system that the files you want to back up are kept. Some of the cloud storage sync options are extremely limited in just what parts of your system that you can use it with. Google's cloud storage option requires that you have a specific folder on your computer that is the one used with the sync option, only files within that folder get backed up. To use Drive as your backup solution you will need to rearrange how all of your data is stored on your computer so that all of the data to be backed up resides within the specified folder. Another alternative is Ubuntu One. Ubuntu One will allow you to sync the folders already on your computer instead of having to create a special folder but it limits where the folders that you can sync are allowed to be to those in the Home directory on any Linux based system of "My Computer" on Windows. This makes Ubuntu One useless for backup if you keep all your data on a separate drive. Dropbox is another alternative which offers less free storage than Drive and has the same limitation in that you can only have the one folder to sync. Dropbox does provide one additional feature useful with backups though in that it keeps prior versions of files as well so that you could use it to undo changes from a file. Microsoft used to provide for backing up multiple folders to the cloud (or peer to peer between your computers) with their Live Mesh application. The SkyDrive cloud storage that has replaced Live Mesh has the same single folder restriction as the other cloud backup options but does offer 7Gb of free storage. One service that does cater for multiple folder backup from different locations is a service called Cubby created by LogMeIn.

Additional considerations when selecting one of these cloud storage solutions whether for offsite backup or any other purpose is the security of their service and what they allow you to store. Most of these services will be using a secure connection between your computer and the cloud for transferring your data and should also be storing your data in an encrypted format. While this should make it sake to store your data on their service you may want to think carefully about any confidential data where there could be problems if their security of your data were to fail for any reason. You should also consider who actually owns the data you are uploading particularly with regard to video and similar.

One thing that I will recommend with regard to setting up your cloud backup is that you turn off the option that starts the sync software running on your computer automatically as it boots up at least until such time as you have the first complete backup made. I have noticed that having the upload attempt to start too soon during the boot can sometimes hang the computer. I lost several hours worth of emails when this happened to me one time when started trying to use the computer to download emails while the sync process was stuck and I had to force the computer to reboot to get it working again. The reboot deleted two of my email folders that were corrupted by the crash and I had to restore both from local backups which unfortunately meant that I never got to see the emails that had been downloaded during the session that crashed.


This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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