In my alter ego (my Day Job), we place a huge emphasis on protecting the data on company computers by doing regular backups to removable or remote media (tape drives, flash drives, etc). The problem we always run into is that every backup system requires some form of ongoing human intervention: starting the backup, selecting files, checking to make sure the hardware is working, replacing media... and on and on and on. Even using backup software, there traditionally has been some kind of ongoing interaction to achieve a good backup, that doesn't live on the computer, of critical data.
What we find is that those most needing back-ups don't do them! Sure the geeks and the dedicated users will back up (some of them don't even do it), but the casual user doesn't take the time and they are the ones most likely to have a problem. I can relate hours of horror stories about system crashes and chagrined users admitting their last backup was months ago!
The same holds true in the "civilian world," the world of home computers. Except for the geeks out there, most folks don't back up their data or only back up pieces of data from software that reminds them to do so, such as Quicken. As a result, when the computer dies, so does the data. I'm not going to trot out the statistics, look them up yourself. Suffice it to say, the amount of data lost due to hardware failure is staggering.
I am convinced, both personally and professionally, that the solution is on-line backups, backing up to The Cloud. Recent improvements in the technology have made on- line backing up of data secure (yes, I do think the processes are secure), easy to do, inexpensive and non- intrusive (it doesn't slow down your computer or require you to do anything).
Several companies offer on-line backups, including Mozy, Carbonite and... strangely enough... Amazon. Of the systems aimed at single computers or home computers, Carbonite comes in as easiest to use and, currently, cheapest. The cost, even though they just implemented a price increase, will not kill you: a bit more than $50. per year for unlimited storage.
In a nutshell, here is how these programs work: download and install a small program on your computer. With Carbonite, the program selects a default set of files and then you can right-click to select additional files and folders. If you are halfway organized, this is an easy task. Then whenever you are connected to the web and your computer is on, the program is working in background backing up new or changed files on an ongoing basis to Carbonite's servers located in the Boston area... with no intervention on your part, unless you want to change something. I have been using Carbonite on a couple of computers for a while now and have not seen any slow-down on my systems while it is working.
If you need to restore a file, files or your entire system, you essentially reverse the process: select the files you want, select a destination and then say GO.
It really is that simple. There is a lot more involved behind the scenes (when files backup, duplicate file saves, remote restores, etc) you can read about on the Carbonite site, but that is the big picture.
Click here for an interview with David Friend, the CEO of Carbonite for a good background on the company, how it works and what their philosophy is.
As with anything, there are some caveats:
1. Depending on how much data you have, it takes a while to do the initial backup. I have approximately 40GB on one of my systems and the initial backup took a couple of weeks. After that though, the backup seems pretty fast, even with big files. Full restores can take a while as well but, according to Carbonite, not as long as the initial backup (one of their competitors offers to burn to CD for a price... I recommended that to Carbonite).
2. Carbonite doesn't, by default, back up executables (.exe) files and videos, but you can manually select them. Their reasoning is that these tend to be large files.
3. Carbonite's support can be spotty and, if you have a complex file restore, the process can get a bit wonky. My experience with their support has been pretty good, except they didn't answer two information requests, but if you search the web you will find reports of support issues.
4. Carbonite's focus is entirely on the single computer and primarily the home user. They don't have a small business or company offering. It is supposedly in the works, with lots of rumors, but nothing is available now.
Bottom Line: if the information on your computer is at all important to you, back it up. My recommendation is Carbonite as a good, easy, inexpensive solution. BUT even if you do not use Carbonite, at least protect what is on your computer by backing up critical data!