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    Online data backup options for the rest of us

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2009 First published in Business in Vancouver February 10-16, 2009; issue 1007

    High Tech Office column

    Backup is important. We all know that, even though too few of us do it regularly – especially users of home and small business computers. Users in large organizations can (usually) rely on their IT department to ensure data is backed up regularly, but the rest of us are on our own.

    Fenella Brandvold recognized that her employer lacked a reliable data backup system. Officially, she’s hired to manage the geographic information system for North Vancouver’s Ecosystem Restoration Associates Inc. ( Founded in 2004, ERA organizes planting trees and other climate mitigation projects and sells carbon offset credits to individuals and businesses on the voluntary carbon market. Its clients range from Rolling Stone magazine to Shell Canada. With 15 people in its office, IT is on no one’s job description at ERA. So Brandvold took on the challenge of setting up a backup system.

    After examining various options, she found Toronto-based Storagepipe ( online early last year. The company’s website promised “secure online automated data protection services.” It provides backup and restoration across the Internet. Every time a user changes a file, it’s saved. Different solutions are aimed at businesses ranging from small to enterprise-level.

    Storagepipe offers what it calls “progressive incremental backup with adaptive sub-file differencing” (whew!). That means only the parts of a file that are changed are transmitted, speeding up the backup process. Clients include Adidas and Agnico-Eagle Mines.

    Getting the system in place at ERA took Brandvold 15 to 30 minutes per workstation. Because Storagepipe is in Toronto, staff stayed on tap by phone and required Brandvold to e-mail passwords for each system. Like other backup technology, the first backup took the longest – a process that’s inevitably slower online than backing up to a locally connected drive or network. However, because the backup was scheduled to take place overnight, the time consumed wasn’t an issue.

    Now that the system is in place, Brandvold finds it “totally seamless”; she’s been pleased with Storagepipe’s support, which was there when she needed it with no waiting on hold. Storagepipe helped ERA find a plan that would minimize costs. The company offers data archiving, for instance – a one-time charge for long-term storage of files that don’t change. That’s especially useful for Brandvold, because she maintains a large collection of geographic data files that are vital but rarely change.

    Storagepipe isn’t the only option for online storage or backup. Home and small business users, in particular, can use a variety of new services – some for free. Recently, Microsoft debuted Windows Live SkyDrive. It offers individuals and small and home businesses free access to 25 gigabytes of storage ( to store and access files, marking them private, shared or public.

    While SkyDrive is not a formal backup system per se, Microsoft notes that it can be used to provide a simplified backup option for protecting company files.

    Users needing to backup, access and synchronize files from multiple computers might appreciate Dropbox ( With versions for Windows, Mac and Linux, the service makes it possible for a user with – for instance – a Windows desktop and a Mac laptop to access – and keep in sync – key documents with either system regardless of locations.

    Up to five gigabytes of storage is available free. Microsoft offers a similar Windows LiveSync service (, which, despite its name, works for Windows and Mac systems.

    Mozy claims to be the leading online backup service for consumers and small businesses, with more than 700,000 individual users and 20,000 business subscribers. Its consumer offerings provide two gigabytes of storage free or unlimited online space to backup Windows and Mac users for $5/month. A variety of “pro” options are also available, promising automated or scheduled backups.

    Amazon has a popular S3 – simple storage service – charging users low prices – $0.15/gigabyte for storage plus $0.10/gigabyte for data transfers – rather than charging a standard monthly fee. AOL, however, recently shut down its Xdrive online storage and backup service.  •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
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