Data Backup: Two Important Rules for Good Night’s Sleep (Part II)

online_backupAbout 12 years ago, I decided to install Windows 2000 on my laptop, on which I had Windows XP (for some reasons, I thought I liked Windows 2000 more). A relatively simple and straightforward installation process, which was not to be expected to be problematic at all, somehow caused a total data loss on my laptop’s HDD. It might not be too bad, but I didn’t have any backups! A sleepless night spent in an attempt to recover the data didn’t bring any fruits, and I went to bed in early morning, hopeless and devastated. Later I called a firm that specialized in data recovery, whose representative was able to restore all, or almost all, of my data in a couple of hours. I was happy then, but I was also lucky, and it cost me some nice money. I hope this story will never become reality for you.

In Part One of this article, we reviewed the importance of doing regular backups, and touched upon the subject of software and hardware that is needed to do so. Safeguarding your data against accidental loss is already an awesome solution to the potential threat of permanent data loss, which could cost you sleepless nights, wasted time and maybe even a fortune. Some businesses have ceased to exist due to data loss, so it’s no joke! But there’s an even deeper level of safety that can be applied to your important personal or business data, and this is what we’re going to be discussing in this second part of the article.

We’re going to talk about online backups. Doing automatic regular backups does not exclude doing local backups, but is an additional layer of safety. In good old days, doing massive transfers of data over the Internet for backup purposes was mostly not sensible, because it was not cost effective and slow. But today, while the average size of a hard drive and hence the amount of data that has to be backed up have increased, the bandwidth and traffic allowance mostly kept pace with the trend, so it makes all sense to utilise this opportunity and make a possible data loss as distant as it could ever be.

There are two general strategies that you can utilise, depending on the amount of data that you have to backup, your traffic ceiling, disposable bandwidth, and your need for security and control. One of the least expensive options is to use an online backup service – you don’t need to setup anything, except for some software. There are a variety of services of this kind, and Mozy is one service I recommend for these reasons: it supports encryption, it’s inexpensive, and I’ve tested it over many months of usage. Setting up Mozy is simple – you need to register an account there, download their backup client, choose a subscription plan, and select what files you’d like to be backed up and how often. You should choose to have your files encrypted and save your private key used for encryption (maybe back it up locally). You’ll get 50 GB of space available for backup with their cheapest plan, and that should be enough to backup your most important files. But if not, you can get 125 GB at less than double the cost.

mozy_scheduling mozy_process

The other strategy is a bit more complicated, could be a little more expensive (but not necessarily), but it’s worth the cost, because with it you’re getting more control, more security, more space, and more peace of mind. In this case you need to setup your own FTP server, install some software and backup some backup access key files locally. I tested a few programs that presumably allowed for backing up files to FTP or SFTP, but it turned out that the most flexible and the easiest to use was AASync. This program is not free, but it has a trial period, it supports encryption of files, and it has a good interface. Here are the steps that I took in order to setup my own online backup system:

  1. Get a server. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and you don’t have to rent a dedicated server – a VPS would be enough. When choosing your server, put emphasis on the size of its hard disk drive, not its processor or memory. You can find many inexpensive VPS/VDS options using your favourite search engine, even within the range of $5 or so, which will be not more expensive than what you’d pay Mozy, yet you’ll have your own backup mechanism.
  2. Download and launch AASync.
  3. In AASync, click New, switch to the General tab, enter your backup set name and choose if you want to have logs. Switch to the Folders tab, set one source folder you want to backup, then click on the Set Destination Folder drop-down, choose Set Remote Destination Folder, and a new window will pop up. Now the entries in this window will depend on your individual server configuration. Most servers today support both FTP and SFTP protocols. SFTP or FTP with SSL-TLS are definitely more advisable because your data will be transmitted over secure channels, which adds another layer of security to your system. Choose your Hostname (i.e., the IP address of your server), Port, Username and Password, as well as the destination Folder Path using the Browse to Change button. Click OK.
    AASync_set_name AASync_folders

    Switch to the Sync Modes tab, make sure that the Encrypts Archives files checkbox is ticked off, then set your password. In the Scheduling tab, you can set a flexible schedule for your backups to take place on a regular basis. Click Show Summary, then Save Sync.

    AASync_modes

  4. Create any additional backup sets for other folders you want to backup.
  5. Click Sync Now. Enjoy!
  6. But don’t forget to save your backup definitions to a USB drive, and also back them up! These files contain the information about your file names and directory structures of your backup sets, and will become useful in case you need to restore your data. So make sure you do it as soon as possible, and save this data regularly.

    AASync_backup

    You can also use AASync to do local backups, or even backups from a remote source to a remote destination, but in the latter case you won’t be able to use encryption. When you have implemented this system, which can take 1-2 hours of your time, along with your local backup routine, your data will be under your control and there will be one less important thing to worry about. I think it’s worth it!