Thomas Jespersen wrote a post about Carbonite and how much he likes the service which made me revisit the idea of online backup. I originally rejected the idea due to privacy, performance, and pricing concerns.
I can't claim that I have much to hide on my computer but I still don't like the idea of transmitting everything I've ever created digitally over the Internet to a service where I basically only have their word for them not being evil and not misusing my data.
Secondly I do have a lot of stuff to backup. I've been very careful with my data during the years and I'm proud to say that I've not lost anything of value or importance for more than five years. Of course the reason for that is an event which happened one day 5 * 365 - 1 days ago :) Luckily I didn't have a whole lot to lose but I learned my lesson. Additionally I'm now using the PC for so much more than just playing around. Specifically my wife would murder me if we ever lost a digital photo and of course I'd weep myself to sleep every night should I lose stuff related to work.
For a long period of time I've been using FolderShare to back my stuff up to multiple locations both on site and off site. FolderShare is a tool for synchronizing folders and therein lies both the power and a very real danger in that deleting, say every digital photo in one location, deletes everything in the other locations as well. Not the very best of backup strategies but it did do the trick for me for a while and for free too.
So back to Thomas Jespersen who reminded me of the online options for backing up. I had taken a look at Carbonite but rejected it as I said. His post however made me rethink that decision because losing everything is much worse than people gaining insight into my personal stuff. Also it's worth mentioning that the online backup services really aren't insecure in that they offer encryption of everything before the data is sent across the wire so one would need to purposely pursue getting access to the data which to me is highly unlikely.
Finally there's pricing which has been a major barrier for me. I'm not prepared to pay hundreds of dollars each year to back my stuff up remotely when I can buy hard drives in the amount of terabytes for that same amount of money and carry them off site. Sure the convenience factor isn't too high on the manual hard drive switch-a-roo thing but still worth considering.
Luckily two service providers do offer pricing which is justifiable and even affordable. Both Mozy and Carbonite offer an unlimited backup plan for $4.95 a month and with rebates you can go even lower if you go for a full year or two. Also a major factor is the unlimited storage when compared to other backup provides who want major bucks for anything above 10 gigabytes.
So I've basically chosen Carbonite and Mozy for evaluation based on two factors: Price and storage space.
Features: Carbonite 0 / Mozy 1
Carbonite is a pretty bare bones product: you use Windows Explorer to set which folders to backup which is very handy. Each backed up folder gets a little blue dot to indicate that Carbonite is protecting it. From that point on Carbonite runs all by itself no need to think more about it.
With Mozy you will be dealing with multiple backup sets. Backupsets make a lot of sense in the initial backup where you have a lot of stuff you need to backup; some more important than other. I created a backupset for important stuff and lumped everything else into a different set and ran a manual backup of the first on to ensure that documents, photos, code, etc. was backed up before spending time backing up my iTunes library.
Backupsets can be configured by using the physical file structure or by rules. The rules feature is pretty neat because you could create a global backupset for everything related to say code and include projects, code files, solutions and so forth in the set and not worry where it is actually stored. Very appealing to my developer mind which likes generic solutions :) For me the feature is useful to exclude .p2p files which are created by FolderShare for synchronization. Carbonite has a similar feature but it requires you to navigate to the file, right-click and select exclude file type.
Mozy has a nice versioning feature which allows you to go back to a previous version, very nice for those of us used to source control :)
Ease of Use: Carbonite 1 / Mozy 0
Both providers offer a downloadable client which run on your computer unattended. For a solution that just works Carbonite has the advantage as you don't really need to set anything up for it to work. The user interface is very simple which both a strength and a weakness.
Mozy on the other hand brings a lot of settings you can tweak which is nice for a person like me who like to tweak and tinker with the stuff. For the average person though I think Carbonite comes out ahead, you can't mess anything up because there's nowhere to get a the settings.
Configuration: Carbonite 0 / Mozy 1
As mentioned Mozy offers a lot of configuration options which is great though some of the options seem strange. For example they have put a slider in which you can move between two points: Faster Computer / Faster Backups. My guess is that the slider is for controlling the encoding process but it's not what I would call obvious and I certainly don't get the point of it in this day and age where most of us are equipped with dual core machines. Still nice to have the option I guess.
Mozy offers a lot more configurability in terms of what you're backing up. Mozy has the notion of backup sets which is basically a collection of stuff you want to backup. It's nice to be able to have stuff separated so you get the most important stuff backup up first in the initial backup. In the long run however it's not a very useful feature and Mozy seems to spend forever on populating the backup sets whenever you need to display the client interface.
Network Performance: Carbonite 0 / Mozy 1
This is the big one for me. I have a lot of stuff I need backed up and when I have unlimited storage available I want everything backed up damn it! On paper unlimited storage looks like a good deal but in reality it's very constrained by the network. My connection is a 20/20 mbit fiber optical connection so it shouldn't be a problem to backup everything. The service however limits this, the question is: how much does it limit it? For Carbonite I'm able to get about 1 mbit/sec when backing up which means that it takes forever for me to backup 10 GB.
With Mozy I get anywhere from 1 - 4 mbit, mostly 4 so I have to go with Mozy on this one. Basically the 4x speed increase means the world in difference and I can actually use the service like I want to. One strange thing I've found is that Mozy will actually stop using the network when it encodes (encrypts) data which is unfortunate when the service is network constricted.
With a product like Carbonite which caters to inexperienced computer users ease of use is essential and when all else fails support needs to be in place to help out the user. I tried contacting Carbonite support in regards to the low speeds I experienced and got only a reference to their FAQ back after days of waiting. In spite of providing them with a very detailed description of my setup, connection speeds, etc. they felt that providing me with their FAQ was the best course of action. Of course I'd already read their FAQ and concluded that the problem wasn't on my end of the line. Disappointing to say the least. No followups to ensure that the problem was fixing happened either.
While testing Carbonite I came across a weird issue with iTunes where my iTunes Library files was corrupted twice after installing Carbonite. I've never experienced this kind of problem with iTunes before not even running on the Windows Vista betas. I can't say for sure that there is a problem with Carbonite and iTunes; all I can say is that since uninstalling Carbonite I have not experienced the problem again.
Summary: Carbonite 1 / Mozy 3