EMC's Mozy online backup service just got a lot more compelling--because it's not just online anymore.
Version 2.0 of the cloud backup service, released late Monday, adds a very useful option to store your data on an external hard drive, too. Storing data remotely is well and good, but a local backup is easier if you need to restore files, and setting it up was as easy as plugging in a drive and telling the software to use it. External USB drives are economical these days--less than $100 for 1TB--and it's nice not having to configure two different backup systems.
In my tests of the revised software over more than a week, I found other good reasons to use the service and its new version 2.0 control software. I expect some of those improvements to appeal to many of the million regular users and 50,000 business customers who collectively store more than 25 petabytes of data with Mozy--or at least to those using Windows machines, since the Mozy 2.0 software for Mac OS X won't arrive until later this year.
Cloud-based backup is a nice option for those who really want to protect their data. The obvious reason is that if your house is reduced to ashes or vanishes into a sinkhole, your data is safely stored far, far away. Sure, you can stash backup drives in safe deposit boxes or with friends and family, but keeping those up to date is tough.
The flip side is that online backup can take a very long time, especially for somebody like me with a lot of photos. I have more than 600GB of data, and with my upload rate topping out at about 1 megabit per second, I still haven't finished my initial backup even though I've been a Mozy customer since late 2009. It hasn't helped of course that I've taken so many more pictures recently, of course.
Because of my overstuffed hard drives, I preferred an online backup service with unlimited storage rather than paying by the gigabyte, and I wanted my data to be encrypted for security and privacy reasons. There are other choices in the market--I considered Carbonite and BackBlaze when I was getting started a few months ago--so look carefully at the latest prices and options if you're thinking of signing up.
Mozy costs $4.95 a month, $54.45 a year, or $103.95 for two years. I went with the two-year plan. If you want to test the waters or only backup some particularly precious documents, there's also an option for 2GB free. Multi-computer households will have to pay for each machine, though.
I generally have been happy with Mozy, but it's been hobbled by my relatively pokey network connection. So I was pleased that Mozy's 2.0 software is faster. My gigabyte backlog has been dwindling significantly faster since trying Mozy 2.0.
It's hard to quantify the improvement given various complications in what else I'm doing with my network, but with several gigabytes headed into the ether each day, there's now an end in sight for my initial backup. Mozy said the new software compresses files 75 percent faster and transfers them over the Internet (still fully encrypted, by the way) 25 percent faster.
Of course, for people with more modest storage needs, it shouldn't take as long to get started, and then the incremental backups are less taxing.
Another gripe that's been improved with Mozy 2.0 is that I can throttle and pause backup. Many times with the earlier software I was frustrated when I wanted to give network priority to something else--a Skype videoconference or a YouTube upload, for example--and the only option for Mozy was to cancel the backup altogether.
Mozy 2.0 lets me pause it if I want to and throttle its network use at other times--for example when my computer's processor is busy.
Unfortunately, there's no way to tell Mozy to stand aside when another computer on the local network might be busy. Thus my wife's recent exasperated cry from downstairs: "Stephen, what are you doing on the computer that I'm having so much trouble uploading a photo?"
I have plenty of nitpicks, too. I'd like to see what file is being uploaded for various reasons, but there's not enough room on the non-resizable status window. Configuration is a bit clunky and the software didn't even suggest the option of backing up an external drive where I store much of my photos. And in the version of the software I tested, some configuration settings--including enabling local backup--required a trip through Windows 7's permissions system.
Most mysterious, for reasons I don't understand, my remaining total of gigabytes to be backed up fluctuates sometimes--leaping by about 200GB for no reason I can discern halfway through my test of the Mozy 2.0 software.
But my case may be unusual. I have thousands of photos, many of them stored in Adobe Systems' DNG (Digital Negative) format. One nice thing about DNG is that it packages up the raw image from my SLR with all its metadata--captions, keywords, and editing changes--into a single file. The bad thing about this approach, from a Mozy perspective, is that a little tweak of a few bytes such as changing a photo's title means the entire 30MB file has to be uploaded again.
Mozy's software is intelligent enough to detect changed blocks within a file so that sometimes it doesn't have to re-upload the entire file but instead only the changed portion. Alas, that doesn't apply in the case of DNG files, where the small changes happen at the front of the file where the metadata is stored.
Happily for me, I haven't had to test Mozy's ability to restore data. This is one of cloud-based backup's big weaknesses: who has time to wait days, weeks, or in my case months for a computer to be restored? It's nice that BackBlaze, for example, will send you your data on DVD or another hard drive, but I like the option of having Mozy take care of it for me on a local drive even better.