Cloud backup systems: solutions and questions

Cloud backup systems
He didn't back up his files

Cloud storage can be a great backup solution. ITGS students all know backing up your files is important, but it is a task many people never quite get around to doing. Usually you are planning to do it the day after your hard disk crashes or your laptop gets stolen. Right after your Extended Essay and all your coursework is lost.

[Updated February 2017 with new prices and storage allocations]

Backing up can also be expensive: CDs and DVDs are relatively low capacity, and external hard disks are expensive. Cloud storage, with files stored on a remote Internet server, is another option, and there are several free services available. Remember, of course, that putting all your faith in one solution is a bad idea. Personally I sync my laptop to a 16TB Networked Attached Storage (NAS). This is backed up to the cloud using CrashPlan (see below) continually. I also keep a local backup of my data to external hard disks every two weeks. This might be overkill, but it gives me options if something dies.

CrashPlan ($59.99/year, unlimited storage)

CrashPlan (like Carbonite) is a lot more than a simple ‘cloud drive’ storage system. The CrashPlan application constantly monitors selected files and folders for changes and backs them up to the cloud immediately. Unlike Google Drive or DropBox, multiple folder locations can be selected. CrashPlan can keep multiple versions of files, and the unlimited storage is great value for money if you have a lot of data.

Google Drive (15 GB free)

I use Google Drive on my main computer to store all my school related work. The advantage of this is that the files are stored locally on my computer, but also continually backed up to the cloud as they change. This means they are accessible even if I lose my Internet connection, and I don’t need to remember to explicitly back up the files. The 15 GB of free space is easily enough to store my work, but wouldn’t be enough to store my photos – which is why I also use CrashPlan (see below). Google Drive requires a Gmail account.

Dropbox (free, 2GB initially, free increase to 18GB)

Dropbox’s 2GB allowance is quite small, but you can increase the allowance by inviting other users. You receive an extra 2GB for every user who signs up to the service through you. The maximum allowed storage is 16GB for free users. Dropbox places an icon on your desktop and automatically uploads any file you drop there to the cloud. One of the big advantages of Dropbox is the ability to easily shared files with other users. Dropbox only backs up files from one location (the Dropbox) which may or may not be a limitation depending upon how you organise your files. Sign up for DropBox.

Mozy (free 2GB, 50GB $5.99/month, 125GB $9.99/month)

Mozy offers a cloud storage system which integrates into the Windows or Mac desktop, allowing files to be synchronized automatically at any time. File transfers are encrypted for extra security. The free 2GB offered by Mozy can easily be increased to 50GB or 100GB. The 100GB includes a licence for three computers, making it an effective way to backup all the computers in a family. Sign up for Mozy 2GB free

Microsoft OneDrive (free, 5GB)

Microsoft’s OneDrive (formerly Sky Drive) cloud storage system offers 5GB of space for free. A free Windows Live account is needed to sign up. Once you sign up, files are backed up through a web interface. SkyDrive also integrates with Hotmail and allows you to share files with other users. OneDrive removes the annoying 50MB file size limit which was present on Sky Drive. Sign up for SkyDrive

Carbonite ($59.99 / year, unlimited space)

Carbonite is a backup system much like CrashPlan, and offers more features than cloud drive systems such as Google Drive or OneDrive. Carbonite was actually my preferred service for quite a while. I paid $136 for 3 years (the US prices are much cheaper than the UK prices). Carbonite provides you with unlimited space, though warns you that backup speed will be slower once you approach 200 GB. It was this limitation and the inability to back up mapped Windows drives (unless upgrading to Plus version) which made me change providers.

Carbonite differs from the other services here in that it can actively backup up your files. A small program runs at all times and can backup your files instantly when changes are made, or can be scheduled to run at certain times. Carbonite places little coloured dots on the file icons in Windows so you can determine which files have been backed up and which are awaiting backup. By default Carbonite does not backup media files but you can easily select them for inclusion. Sign up for Carbonite.

Revision Questions

  1. Describe three possible threats to data on a laptop computer. [6 marks]
  2. Discuss three potential problems that arise from the use of cloud services as a backup system. [8 marks]

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