Choose the Perfect Online Backup Storage Solution and Free Your Files

Justin Kerr

A few weeks ago we looked at moving to the clouds , and clearly, this is a concept that isn’t going away. Of course, we would be the first to admit there are some limitations, but the promise of freeing ourselves from the shackles of a single machine is clearly within our grasp. For the most part, we are sold on the idea of cloud-based email clients, and even photo and music sharing, But what about bulk storage for our files and sensitive documents? For many users, this is a line that simply cannot be crossed. The sheer thought of sending private information halfway across the world via the World Wide Web is simply too much to handle.

Unlike many cloud services however, online storage provides a solution to a very unique need that is difficult to satisfy: offsite backups. In today’s age of 2 TB hard drives, keeping all your information, even backed up on multiple drives does you little good if they are all in the same location. A fire or a break-in could leave you with nothing but a decade of lost files, and a handful of regret. So rather than updating a USB hard drive and shipping it to your buddy's house every few months, wouldn't it be great if you could archive your files online, securely and inexpensively? Good news, you can! Plenty of free and paid options exist, but how are you to know which services will best suit your needs? In this article we will look at the most popular solutions available, and help you navigate the chaotic seas of web 2.0 solutions.

The Choice: Understand Your Needs

The sheer number of online backup services is somewhat dizzying. As with any Web 2.0 category, making sense of it all is nearly impossible. Before you look at the options below it’s important for you to take a close look at your requirements and answer a few simple questions.

1.)    How much space will I really need online?
2.)    Will I need to access this information from remote locations within a web browser and how often?
3.)    Will you require your PC to have a virtual folder, or drive that maps to my online storage?
4.)    What is the maximum size of the files you need to store?
5.)    How important is the security of these files in transit, and in storage?

If you’re the impatient type, you can simply skip to the end of this article and look at our feature roundup to match your requirements to the best suited service. If however you’re interested in learning about the best options out there, we have broken our top 4 choices into four categories.

-    Best Integration of Desktop & Web Access
-    Best Value For Free Storage
-    Best Choice for Security & Size Scalability
-    Best Choice for Backing up your 6 TB Raid 0 & 50 MP Digital Photo Collections

Best Integration of Desktop & Web Access (Free)

Pros: Dropbox is a relatively new entrant into the online storage market, but it’s lightweight and snappy desktop interface is a definite plus. Its desktop application offers users a virtual folder in which they can drag and drop, cut and paste, as well as auto syncing of files or folders. You can also access your content from any web browser. Sharing files is also easily managed, and the cost per GB is very reasonable if you opt in for the paid package.

(Desktop Interface)

Cons: If 2 GB isn’t enough, your only other option is the premium service which offers 50 GB for $9.99 per month. Files can be uploaded and download securely via SSL, but a lack of server side encryption means information stored on the server is in the clear and accessible to Dropbox administrators. For most people this isn’t a big deal, but chances are if you’re wearing a hat made of tin foil you might want to make note of this. The 50 GB limit also doesn’t make it a very useful option if you’re looking to backup your entire media collection.

(Web Interface)

Conclusion: Dropbox is an excellent solution if you own and administrate multiple PC’s. Sharing files has never been easier, and as long as your size requirements are fairly light you can’t go wrong. If free is your preference and you’re looking for more storage space, read on to see how Windows Live Skydrive might just be a better fit.


Best Value for Free Storage (Free)

Pros: Microsoft’s Live Services are becoming quite impressive, and Skydrive is no exception. The service is 100% free with no hidden fees. The 25 GB Cap also expandable, meaning that Microsoft will continue to add storage to your account, as long as they determine you aren’t obviously abusing the system. Though that isn’t mentioned anywhere in the fine print, I have tested this tip personally and I am very surprised they don’t mention it. The service also makes it a snap to share your files with others.

(Desktop Interface)

Cons: To add drag /drop & copy/paste functionality you require an extra program that is not supported by Microsoft called Gladinet . This program is also free, but has known issues when handling large batches of files, particularly on very slow connections. The application also doesn’t play well with syncing software, so transfers typically need to be managed manually. Most of this can be excused because of its beta status, and hopefully it will improve over time.

The 50 MB maximum file size also limits the ability to share large files or video, but depending on what you're storing this may not be important. Skydrive also offers no server side encryption, which means that you trust Steve Ballmer not to sift through your files. He’s got more important things to do anyway, right?

(Web Interface)

Conclusion : Lots of free online storage makes this a great place to store photos, music, or other large files as long as they don’t exceed 50 MB. As noted above the Gladinet application isn’t officially support by Microsoft, but works fairly well in most applications. As an added bonus it will also allow you to configure virtual folders to store files in your Gmail account, or Amazon S3. We look forward to seeing this application mature.

Best Choice for Security & Size Scalability (Paid)

Pros: Jungle Disk launched initially back in 2007, and has only gotten more stable, and more flexible over time. Jungle Disk allows you to create multiple independent local drives (called buckets), and you only need to pay for the space you use. This is in sharp contrast to other storage solutions which require you to purchase a preset amount of space, and pay for it whether you use it or not.

Since both SSL & Server Side Encryption is supported, files stored on Amazon S3 can only be read by you, and are protected by your custom decryption key. This makes it a great option for backing up or storing personal information you wouldn’t want out in the clear. It’s automatic backup options are also second to none with tons of customizable sync options and even the ability to update only the changed portions of a large file. That makes it a great option for the bandwidth-impaired. Data is stored using Amazon’s S3 service, which has a high reputation for reliability and redundancy.

(Desktop Activity Monitor)

Cons: The client software costs $20, but does carry a lifetime upgrade license. Additionally, if you want to access your files using a browser you need to join the Jungle Disk Plus program for $1 per month. This lack of this service as standard however is offset by the USB edition and the availability of clients for every platform which more or less negates most people’s requirement for the feature. Unfortunately S3 also doesn’t offer any unlimited storage pricing options.

(Desktop Configuration Options)

Conclusion: The Jungle Disk application is incredibly stable, and does what it advertises amazingly well. The built in security also allows for military grade encryption that is second to none, you and you alone will be able to decrypt your virtual hard drive. Jungle Disk is a great alternative for those who find Dropbox’s pay plan of 50 GB a bit overkill, or find Microsoft’s 50 MB per file cap too restrictive. It scales well and offers exceptional value.

Best Choice for Backing up your 6 TB Raid 0 & 50 MP Digital Photo Collections

Pros: Provides unlimited storage space for a mere $5 dollars per month, per computer. The easy to use backup control panel is designed to separate your OS and application files and only upload unique and irreplaceable files such as pictures, music, etc. The service provides excellent value if you need to back up a ton of data at a reasonable price. Should the unthinkable happen and you suffer a total data loss (we told you not to use those new 1.5 TB Seagate drives in Raid !), a number of innovative recovery solutions are available. You can either download batches of files using the web interface, or order your information on a DVD or USB hard drive. Presumably, however, you would need to provide your decryption keys if you opted for server side encryption.

(Desktop Interface)

Cons: If you don’t need, or want all of your data in the cloud this is definitely overkill. Users with bandwidth caps ( and there are a lot more of you now ), might find themselves being kicked off the net by their ISPs, making the value of cloud backups somewhat questionable.

The single PC approach makes this a great solution for backup, but ultimately won’t help you if you're looking to keep a central database of information synched in the cloud to access anywhere. It doesn’t give you the option to remotely edit or re-upload files from different PC’s / locations.

(Web Interface)

Conclusion: Backblaze is an exceptional value for online backup. It covers this niche extremely well, but isn’t for the faint of bandwidth. That being said, if you’re looking for a service that will be your USB key in the sky look elsewhere. But if offset backup is your need, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better option.

The Bottom Line

The options listed above aren’t the only offerings out there, but they represent some of our favorites and generally offer exceptional value depending on your usage requirements. In addition to the services we mentioned, the feature roundup below lists 4 additional competing solutions and a comparison of what they offer. Even though everybody’s needs are different, we still think Jungle Disk , Dropbox , Skydrive , and Backblaze all have uniquely suited features to match just about any application you can come up with.

(Update: Chart edited to reflect Mozy's personal price plan)

Feature Roundup

Legend:

Excellent

SSL: Secure transfers to and from the remote server and your computer.

Average

Server Side Encryption: Files are scrambled using encryption keys prior to upload. The server will have no idea what your are storing, but lose your keys and you lose your files!

Below Average

Full Featured Client: The ability to copy / paste, drag / drop & browse folders.

Service

Free Options

Price Per GB

Storage Cap

File Size Cap

Browser Interface

Full Featured Client

Security

Jungle Disk

No - 30 Day Trial - $19.99

$0.15 Per GB

Unlimited

None

Yes - $1 Per Month

Yes

SSL & Server Side Encryption

Carbonite

No – $49.99 Per Year

Unlimited

Unlimited

None

No

No - Restore Only

SSL & Server Side Encryption

Backblaze

No - $50 Per Year

Unlimited

Unlimited

None

Yes

No - Restore Only

SSL & Server Side Encryption

Dropbox

Free – 2GB

$0.20–$0.17 Per GB

50 GB Cap

350 MB (Only In Browser)

Yes

Yes

SSL

Windows Live Skydrive

Free - 25 GB

Free

25 GB Cap (Expanding)

50 MB

Yes

Yes – With Gladinet

SSL

Box.net

Free – 1 GB

$1.00 Per GB

15 GB Cap

1 GB

Yes

No

SSL (Premium Accounts Only)

Mozy

Free - 2 GB

Personal: $4.95/Month for Unlimited Storage

Professional: $0.50 Per GB + $3.95 Flat Fee

None

None

Yes

No - Restore Only

SSL & Server Side Encryption

Wuala

Free- 1 GB

$2.50-$1.00 Per GB

1 TB Cap

None

No- Java Application

Yes

SSL & Server Side Encryption

Know of another great online storage solution? Let us know what you use in the comments below!

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