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Two ways to back up files offsite

Mar 20, 20035 mins
Backup and RecoveryNetworking

* One is low cost, the other convenient

Last time we discussed LockStep Backup for Workgroups, a new product designed to make backing up your Windows PC quick and easy. Now let’s take the next step, moving back-up data offsite so you can reclaim it after a disaster.

Often the choice comes down to cost or convenience. For a low-cost back-up method, you can burn your own 650M-byte backup CD-ROM disks. CD-R (write-once) disks can’t be reused, but they cost only 15 to 20 cents apiece. If you want to reuse your CDs, you’ll have to buy CD-RW disks, which cost 50 cents to $1 each.

Many PCs sold in the past two years have CD burners as the default CD-ROM drive, even laptops. Software bundled with your CD-ROM disk drive may include back-up functions. If not, start the new blank CD-R disk as if it was a drive on your PC, and copy files to it. Of course, each disk holds only 650M bytes, so you’ll have to do some planning. To help group your files and stay within storage limits, note the status line in Windows Explorer keeps a running size total of selected files.

Newer systems may include a DVD-RW drive, which holds 4.7G-byte disks. While the storage capacity is excellent, keep two things in mind. The disks are more expensive ($2 each or so), and the two DVD reading and writing standard groups are at odds, which means you might not be able to read a DVD-R disc created in one DVD burner on a different DVD drive.

If no back-up software is bundled with your drive, freeware and shareware options abound, or you can copy files manually to the drive. Though relatively low cost, manually copying files is not convenient. Neither is remembering to carry the disks to a safe offsite location every day. Remember, if a back-up solution is too inconvenient, you aren’t likely to stick with it.

That brings us to offsite back-up services. Vendors such as Connected and @Backup use the Internet to link your PC to their back-up storage systems. You load the client software, set the time you want the backup to occur, and the client automatically copies the designated files offsite. Most also offer a way to retrieve files from the Internet, so you can back up a critical document at work, then download it to your laptop while on the road, or to your home computer to work on after hours.

Offsite storage vendors offer various pricing plans (see links below), but most follow the same basic process. Your first backup is typically either your entire PC or just your critical data. Because all the files are transferred across the Internet, backups take much longer than they would using a LAN-based product. But once the initial backup to the remote site is complete, the client transfers only the altered files, speeding the process. As you’d expect, vendors offer options for security for the data in transit to and on their storage servers. The chance of someone eavesdropping on your data transmission is small, but you can eliminate that worry by encrypting files during transmission.

Also note: Assuming your broadband connection is asymmetrical, your upload speeds will be much slower than the download speeds you’re accustomed to. My AT&T Broadband cable connection provides 1.8M bit/sec downstream, but less than 200K bit/sec upstream. Since file transfers in the background will slow your PC’s response to applications, be sure to start your backups at the end of the day or at night.

For major restorations, such as after a hard disk crash, many vendors offer a way to restore your complete PC hard disk. But before starting restoration, you have to get Windows reinstalled and your Internet connection reestablished. To make this easier, (and as a result of painful experience), I always set up PCs with two partitions on the hard disk. The first one Windows demands by default to be the one that boots and runs operating system files, so that’s where I put all my application files, too.

On the second partition I store all my data files. When Windows forces a reinstall, only the primary partition must be rebuilt. Install the operating system from CD, install all the applications via CD, and your data files will be waiting on your backup service.

Online back-up services


$49.95 per year for 50M bytes storage

Check out its HP partner for a free 20M-byte account for a year at

$19.95 per month for 100M bytes storage, up to $725 per month for 20G bytes


$6.95 for 200M bytes per month, up to $164 for 4G bytes per month

The Kotter Group

$25 per month for 200M bytes after a $200 setup fee, up to 40G bytes for $89 and special quotes for more than 50G bytes

NovaStor Online Backup Services

$17.95 per month for 500M bytes, offers Personal Recovery CD for optional price

$50 for 50M bytes storage per month, up to $185 per month for 2G bytes

Unibac Technologies

$100 per year for 100M bytes, $5 per month for each additional 100M bytes

U.S. Data Trust – aimed at business

$199 per month for 5G bytes storage

Virtual Backup

$4 for 50M bytes per month for the home user, $12 per month for 200M bytes for the small business user, up to $83 per month for 2G bytes