Ever since our computers were stolen, back in 2009, Erin and I have been adamant in our backups. As traumatic as it was having our bag swiped from our rental car while Nora slept, the cost of replacing the computers was largely picked up by our home insurance. The loss of data, however, was more keenly felt. Though we were (and are) Mac users, our home was in the midst of renovations, and our TimeCapsule hard drive had not been plugged in for the month previous. We lost several weeks worth of work. For Erin, this was almost 20,000 words of her novel, The Teleportation of Gilbert Perez, effectively killing it.
We got our backup regimen going, but we weren't satisfied with just an Apple TimeCapsule. What if, Erin noted, there was a fire, and our computers and the TimeCapsule were both destroyed. We're both writers, we live by this data. We needed to take steps and ensure that a copy of our data was physically outside of our house. So began our investigation of online backups and cloud storage services.
Storing data on the cloud is something that has really come into its own over the past five years. Back in 2009, I couldn't conceive having my data stored primarily off-site. I still feel the need to have my data be physically on my laptop's hard drive (I have iTunes Match, but I want the files to be on my iPhone, not downloaded as played over LTE), so on this I might be a bit of a luddite. However, it's clear to me that the future offered up by ChromeBooks is a realistic one: our laptops may become mere portals to access the cloud, and our data resides not there, but in someone else's hands. While I cannot let go of my own data, I can still see the benefit of having the data available wherever I happen to be, regardless of the computer I happen to use.
But I'm getting beyond myself. The ideal system for Erin and me is one which copies our data off our hard drives and syncs it up with a backup on a cloud server. Indeed, it would be good if all of our machines could be so synched, so that a copy of a story I'm writing on my own machine is updated on Erin's machine so that she can open it up and look at it when I ask her to edit. Any changes she makes is filtered through the cloud and ends up on my machine.
The bandwidth for such synchronizing would be immense, and costly back in 2009, but Rogers Cable has since given us a deal on unlimited bandwidth. This is good, because for a while there I was routinely pushing the 150Gb limits on our old service.
I've tried a number of systems: Mozy@Home, and SugarSync had the advantage of being free. As programs that were the main focus of the company that produced them, they seemed to do a decent job of doing the back-up. I found Mozy to be a little costly, however. SugarSync proved to be disturbingly slow. I didn't realize how good I had things, however, until I went to Microsoft's Skydrive (now known as OneDrive).
I decided to give Skydrive a try because I'd just purchased an Office 365 subscription, which allowed me to own current copies of Microsoft Office for the Mac for $10 per month. A 7Gb Skydrive account was included with the subscription. By this time, I was paying $50 to use SugarSync and I wasn't fully happy with their service. Why not switch to Microsoft and reduce the expense?
That decision was made back in June. Around the same time, Rogers came and gave me unlimited bandwidth for my Internet. And I admit that I might have gotten a little ambitious when it came to synchronizing our laptop data. Our documents drive was pushing 10Gb. And since we were synching our files on unlimited bandwidth, I thought: why not synchronize our photo albums too? All 55Gb worth?
Well, Microsoft didn't say that it couldn't do it. There was an inexpensive option for 100Gb of online storage for just $50. But the synchronization was as slow as mollasses on a January morning. And occasionally, the data transfer would jam -- that's the only word I can come up for it. The icon would be moving, and the status would be promising that it was updating, but nothing would happen. For hours at a time. Imports to my iPhoto library would take over a day to synchronize. And sometimes the synchronizing wouldn't take. When things take that long, the chances of two computers updating the same files increases, and that gives Microsoft a conniption. The second time it ended up blowing out my photo updates, I decided that the service just wasn't for me.
Enter Google Drive, which I'd flirted with long ago, but walked away from because I wasn't sure I wanted to change how I stored files on my laptop computer. You see, the big advantage of SugarSync and Mozy@Home is that you point to a directory on your hard drive, click some buttons that say "sync that", and off you go. Microsoft Skydrive will create a directory on your harddrive called Skydrive, or OneDrive, and sync all files you put into that directory. Google Drive does the same. However, the prospect of getting Microsoft synchronization for free eventually convinced me to make the switch, so my earlier objection to Google Drive was no longer valid. They also had a special on at the time, giving me a full Terabyte of storage space for $5 a month (it's since gone back to its regular price of $10 a month -- still quite a deal; you can also get 100Gb of storage for just $2 a month). I downloaded the program, set up the system, and put it to work.
Google Drive took about a week to store and sync roughly 100Gb worth of data across two computers (I can only assume that Rogers Cable is looking at my Internet usage and saying "what are they doing over there?!"). The synchronization appears to have gone pretty flawlessly. Now that the synchronization is complete, the system watches my hard drive and, whenever it detects a change, uploads the changes to the cloud. It feels responsive and pretty quick. Importing 150 photographs into iPhoto, for instance, alters as many as 2000 files in your photo database directory, and requires the upload of as much as 750 MB worth of data. Google Drive pushes through that in about half an hour, where as Microsoft OneDrive would have taken upwards of a day.
Overall, I'm satisfied. I'm not willing to trust the cloud completely and just leave my data up there, but the hybrid system I have now, with data on both personal computers and Google servers serves me well enough, I think. I can be confident that critical data won't get lost (at least, not easily).
What are your thoughts about cloud backups?