Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cloud backup failures and a potential possibility


By David Gewirtz

A few weeks ago, we introduced you to our new series on family backups. We put together a composite of the Jones family, a tech-enabled family with 11 computers at home.

Over the past year, we've been looking at solutions for performing reliable family backup. This turned out to be a much larger project than we intended, and we had a number of false starts.

We wanted to put together a combination of both in-house backup and cloud backup. It can take a very long time to sync files to the cloud -- and an equally long time to restore them, so we wanted cloud backup to be a backup solution, a set-it-and-forget it option in case the local backup failed.

There are a number of services that offer very-low-cost answers for online backup. If you only have a few, small files, cloud backup could be your only option. But for the Jones family, with terabytes of data, writing to the cloud was, essentially, a fallback strategy.

That's a good thing, because we didn't have good results.

Distrusting Carbonite

We first learned about low-cost online backup when we met Carbonite in 2007. I did an interview with Carbonite founder David Friend in October of that year.

The interview didn't go well. In fact, after publishing the interview, we were contacted and chastised by Carbonite's PR people.

What was worse, and here's what convinced us that we could never, in good conscience, recommend Carbonite, was CEO Friend's response to a question I asked about securing backups.

Here's his response to me:

David: You're a real worrywart. Any type of backup carries some risk.

When the CEO of a backup company tells you that you're a worrywart, it's time to look elsewhere.

Mozy failure

We thought we had a good answer with Mozy. Unlike Carbonite, which lives or dies based on whether it gets its next round of venture financing, Mozy is a division of the giant EMC.

Unfortunately, we found a number of critical failure points with Mozy that makes us give it a poor review.

First, the Web software is terrible. If you want to restore a single file, it can take 20-30 minutes for the Web page to even come up, and often the page would fail, necessitating a retry.

The local client software is also terrible. It, too, takes a tremendous amount of time for simple actions, like opening an options screen. Worse, it also takes up gobs and gobs of system memory. If you have a lot to backup, you'll need a lot of RAM.

Third, tech support is virtually non-existent. We'd post chat questions, send in email questions, and leave voice mail messages and only if we wrote to Mozy PR and let them know we were doing a review did we ever get a response.