Backing up isn't hard to do, but it's definitely a chore. PC Advisor explains the methods most suited to various computing scenarios, and review a range of backup services that make the whole process run like clockwork.
Wuala Sync is a similar service to CrashPlan and is operated by hard drive and flat-panel maker LaCie. Buy a LaCie drive and Wuala (pronounced similarly to the French word ‘voila') online storage will be offered as an additional backup option.
We really like the Wuala approach: you can buy or trade storage space to augment the initial 1GB the service provides. As with CrashPlan, hosting other people's files on your PC allows them access only to their own content – there's no danger of them browsing to other parts of your PC. Sharing your hard-drive space involves certifying that your PC is switched on for at least four hours each day. The amount of free space you get on someone else's hard drive is dependent on how much of yours you allow other people to use. A 10GB slice will get you 10GB of storage on a remote PC.
If you prefer, you can simply buy online backup space. A 10GB archive costs €19 (£16) per year; a 25GB allocation is €39 (£34). Pro features include mobile access, so you can send items from a smartphone or tablet PC, plus version control.
Wuala also supports drag-and-drop file uploads, and has a very simple interface that makes the whole process pain-free. Like some of the other services here, you can also use your online archive as a media-sharing hub. As with an FTP server, you can have private and shared folders and files, then adjust access to it as needs be.
It's a bit like someone viewing your Facebook profile and being able to view some of what's there, but not everything. You can email links to friends and family to invite them to view or download items.
Fasthosts Online Backup
Webhosts may not seem the most obvious choice for an online-backup service, but they have a surprising amount to offer. The bread and butter of their business is ensuring customers have constant access to the files and resources they need to run their commercial or non-profit websites, and this often includes large databases and other hefty files. Impenetrable security and multiple backups across several servers are a given, while the sheer size of the data farms such organisations command means they tend to be competitive.
Two of the best-known webhosts in the UK are Strato and FastHosts. The latter offers a 30-day trial of its Online Backup service and provides a useful ready reckoner for costs on its home page. Slide along and you'll find a hefty 250GB online archive costs a fairly modest £45 a month on a year-long contract, or £49.50 for a single month's storage. You get a good deal of control over what's uploaded to the archive too.
Automatic synchronisation of complete PC hard drives is possible, but you can also back up specific batches or individual folders and files. Server backup is supported.
To restore your files you need merely call on the files you require. There's no need to download and install the entire archive.
Although it isn't as pretty as some of the other services we've looked at here – think Windows XP menu structure – the console approach of the FastHosts service will appeal to plenty of business users looking for a good-value and flexible archiving option.
You can buy different amounts of storage per month to reflect your burgeoning archive needs, and switch to the better-value annual plans as and when you wish.
A particularly compelling feature is the ability to restore a whole PC. If you lose access to an server or desktop computer, a fresh version of Windows, Linux or Mac can be installed, and its contents reinstated.
Remote access and rigorous security precautions make FastHosts' offering a strong business contender.
Another business webhost, Strato is taking the opposite tack to FastHosts and has just introduced a new online backup service with a more consumer-friendly focus. You can get a trial archive of up to 500GB, and there's currently a special deal to celebrate the company's fifth anniversary. This involves a £5 monthly discount for the next 12 months, making the entry-level 100GB monthly service a bargain at just £4.
The service runs on all versions of Windows, Mac and Linux. Although the sheer quantities of storage offered mark this out as a good-value option for business users, and security is as stringent as that for banks, there's more than a nod to home users. You get a copy of Paragon Backup and Recovery 10.0 software to help you make a local backup of your files for easy retrieval, and there's the option of sharing media files.
As with the FastHosts offering, multiple PCs are supported, along with remote access and complete reinstallation and restoration.
iDrive takes a slightly different approach to online backup. For a start, it's actually a hybrid of web archiving and a recovery drive. Bought direct from iDrive (but delivered for free only to US customers), the iDrive Rapid Serve allows the reinstallation of several gigabytes of critical data. The idea here is that should something dreadful happen to your business files – theft, unlawful access or loss due to a fire, for example – you won't be left without copies of the documents for long.
iDrive boldly claims that once an account has been set up, just two clicks are needed in order to initiate a backup or file recovery.
For business owners with a database-driven webstore at stake – or other constantly changing information sources such as email servers and day ledgers – there's a ‘hot backup' option, too.
iDrive offers a Windows-like interface, whereas the likes of BT and Mozy offer far friendlier faces. As a result, the service isn't immediately obvious as a home user option, but the pricing is good. A 30-day free trial allows the backup of unlimited quantities of data, then segues into a $49 (£30)-per-year business-grade service. However, there's also a free 5GB archive, and a choice of 150GB of storage per month per PC for $4.95 (£3) or a Family Pack that offers 500GB split across multiple PCs for £14.95 (£9) per month.
Mozy is one of the most established online backup services, and has offered cloud-based file archiving for more than six years. It has more than a million customers, so it must have been doing something right. Parent company EMC also puts out the Retrospect drive-backup software. In April, VMware took over responsibility for its EMC stablemate, but the service should continue as planned for existing Mozy customers.
Home, Pro and free versions of Mozy exist. There's a free version for home users that includes 2GB of data backup in return for no more than an email address and you setting up a free account to log into. The current MozyHome deal costs £4.99 a month for an ‘unlimited' amount of storage. However, Mozy is currently looking at its pricing structure and is likely to curtail this offer to new UK users. Although this won't affect existing customers with a subscription to the service, it does mean the service won't offer as much value as it once did.
The other aspect of note is that Mozy uses servers based in the US, which has implications in terms of privacy should the Feds fancy a nose. This may affect your decision to use the 448bit Mozy Blowfish encryption or the 256bit encryption you control yourself.
The Pro version of Mozy, designed for business use, is an altogether more corporate affair, with the ability to schedule backups from multiple users on multiple platforms in multiple locations, and access it all via a web admin console. A truly scalable solution, it can be bought on a pay-as-you-go basis, offering flexibility over the number of gigabytes of storage your business ends up paying for each month.
As with iDrive, there's additional security and the option to simultaneously back up to an external drive or USB device from which data can be more swiftly restored. Apps for Android and iPhone are available.
Windows Live SkyDrive
Don't discount Windows in your shortlist of ways to back up. We're not referring to the Backup utility built into some versions of the operating system; Microsoft has got some compelling cloud-based tools, of which its SkyDrive is a beacon. For starters, it offers 25GB of free web storage. And Microsoft has made SkyDrive very easy to use.
As with the BT approach, Microsoft assumes the drive will be used for photos, video and other items you cherish, rather than dull documents. A useful aspect is the excellent integration with Windows Phone 7.
Over-the-air, painless backups of even the dull Microsoft Excel and Outlook archives on your smartphone get done, as do OneNote collaborative documents.
A further plus point – other than the fact it's platform-agnostic and doesn't require a copy of Microsoft Office or the use of Internet Explorer (we tested it under Firefox 4.0) – is that it's a pretty good remote document-viewing tool for PC or Mac. Link and email sharing is also supported. As with BT's Digital Vault, you can share media files that are stored in your SkyDrive. We tried it from an Apple iPad and found it was easy to share photos using our SkyDrive account.
SkyDrive is ideal if a chunk of your hard drive is taken up by photos that could just as easily be stored elsewhere but accessible whenever you feel like it. SkyDrive is the simplest and best-priced option for home users. Should you come close to your 25GB allocation of free storage, though, there's no option to increase your online allocation.