What's your digital footprint?

By Peter Griffin 04/10/2009

My This Way Up slot with Simon Morton this week looks at online back-up options for people who want to protect themselves against losing their precious digital content.

digital footprintThe list of services we looked at was by no means exhaustive, but some leading players in the online storage space have emerged in the last couple of years, and as we pointed out on the show, most of them are US-based. That really comes down to the economies of scale the data warehousing market has experienced over there, and the software development and web 2.0 branding and marketing nous the Americans are famous for.

There’s potential for a New Zealand web company to make a viable business out of online storage here, but we couldn’t find any that are as attractive as the US offerings. Running a data centre is an expensive business and we don’t really have the scale to make it viable, especially when US rivals are giving away free entry-level offerings.

But the plans for a national fibre network could change that. What if some of these regional fibre companies that will emerge offer backup services for residents connected to the network? Instead of shifting our data over the Southern Cross Cable to the US, we could backup locally, meaning faster connectivity and no fees for international bandwidth. Let’s see how that one develops…

Your digital footprint

So why back-up in the cloud? Well, Simon and I didn’t dwell too much on this question, because the answer is so blindingly obvious. Those of us who use broadband internet access and email on a regular basis, own a digital still or video camera, have a mobile phone, will generate a fair amount of digital content. Exactly how much? Well, it will vary for each person, but this calculator will help you work out your digital footprint. Mine came to 4555 megabytes per day, which is 4.5 gigabytes, a massive amount of data and a bit of an overestimation I think.

Much of that data is frittered away in security patch downloads, streamed Youtube clips, email and instant messaging exchanges. But a section of it will also consist of content you want to keep hold of. Backing up to an external hard drive is a good discipline and with a one terabyte external hard drive selling for as little as $200 these days, you have high capacity storage at an affordable price. But accidents happen, hard drives break down, get stolen or lost. Backing up data on the internet is effectively an insurance policy against losing all your data in one of the above scenarios.

So where to start? Dip your toe in the water with one of the free services available. Here are a few suggestions:

Windows Sky Drive: 25GB of free storage courtesy of Microsoft – any type of files can be uploaded via the web-based interface. It’s ideal for Hotmail users as you’ll already have a log-in. Social networking features let you share files with people in your network and comment on photo collections. The drawback is its not very convenient for carrying out regular back-ups – no automatic features there. But it is free and has a generous storage limit.

Dropbox: A versatile service that downloads a little piece of software onto your computer creating a folder in Windows Explorer where you can drag files to have them backed up on the internet. Invite friends to have access to the folder on their computer so you can effectively have a place to share files on your desktop. Free with a 2GB limit, then priced from US$10 amonth. An undo function allows you to go back and recover files you’ve deleted in the last month. Has quite a  nice iPhone app for remote access to your dropbox.

Yahoo/Gmail: A good basic way to back up digital files is to get a subscription to one of the major free webmail services like Gmail or Yahoo Mail. These services come with around 7GB of storage for free. Simply email yourself the files you want to backup. It’s not ideal for navigating saves files, but it at least gets them into the cloud and safely stored. If you are dealing with a lot of documents, Google Docs will serve as a good free repository for them.

Premium services: (all offer free trials)

Carbonite: An excellent service for hassle-free back-ups. Once again, a client is installed on your computer that allows you to schedule automatic backups at a time when your internet connection isn’t being used. Unlimited storage for a price of US$54.95 per month.

BackBlaze: Similar set-up to Carbonite – US$5 a month for unlimited storage. The only read differentiator here is that BackBlaze gives you the option of having your data transferred to disc or USB stick and couriered to you so you don’t have you download everything from the cloud when you want to retrieve it.

Mozy: MozyHome Free offers 2GB of online storage free, then you are looking at US$4.95 per month. Backed by listed storage giant EMC, so has some big money behind it which may be reassuring when you are giving them control of your data.

All of these services offer encryption (generally 128-bit SSL for the backup process itself and 256 – 448 bit encryption for the storage of the files.

Make sure you read carefully the end-user license agreements these companies will make you sign. They will cover off who owns your data (generally you retain all ownership of it and rights to it). Be careful about using these services to swap content that is copyrighted, they will keep an eye on behaviour to avoid them becoming adhoc illegal file sharing networks.