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Don't Let Broadband Scrooges Ruin the Gift Of Cloud Backup

It's the time of year for giving gifts. If you're the go-to techie in your family (like me), my shopping advice is this: Give some cloud this holiday season--specifically, cloud backup. It's good for you and good for the recipient. But there are challenges, largely because of the FCC's spectacularly unambitious broadband plan.

It's the time of year for giving gifts. If you're the go-to techie in your family (like me), my shopping advice is this: Give some cloud this holiday season--specifically, cloud backup. It's good for you and good for the recipient. But there are challenges, largely because of the FCC's spectacularly unambitious broadband plan.

Cloud backup is attractive for those of us who provide home IT support because when you've rescued mom or grandpa or even your sister--who has an MIT degree in biology but can't work a computer-- the thing that keeps you from being a total hero is the lack of data backup. You've rebuilt the machine, recovered what data you could, but inevitably, those precious photos of Junior at age 4 have been destroyed. Cloud backup completely alters that equation.

I used my immediate family as a test case for cloud backup. After a good bit of searching and chatting with other go-to geeks, I settled on CrashPlan. It supports the diversity of operating systems on my home network (Windows, Linux and Mac), and the price is right. I'm paying $12 per month. Other choices include Carbonite, Mozy, Backblaze, Jungle Disk and Norton Online Backup.

Like other cloud backup services, CrashPlan's software was simple and installation fast. I chose a user name and password and started my first backup on a variety of computers (kids, spouse and two of my own). For the privacy-minded, CrashPlan lets you set a password or passphrase-based encryption key that is different from your account login. The downside is that if you forget it, you're on your own: CrashPlan can't recover it for you. However, it's a reasonably safe bet that the provider can't accidentally release data in the way that providers such as Dropboxhave.

After a few days with the service running, I noticed that nobody's computer was being fully backed up. That's because the laptops in our house hibernate when not in use. That means there simply wasn't enough time for our so-called broadband service to back up all the data. Theoretically, DSL-type speeds ought to be good enough to trickle the backup, but my field testing shows that this is not the case, even though I have the next-generation U-Verse service. (Though U-Verse is new and shiny, under the covers, it's just copper to the premises, ADSL or VDSL.)

Let's do the math. My effective upload, at best, was 1.1 Mbps, close to the advertised data rate. Converting the bits into bytes, this is about 140 Kbytes per second. To back up 28 Gbytes--not the largest data set that my family has--would take about 55.5 hours in a row. Assuming that the laptop is only on for eight hours a day, that's almost seven days to back up that amount of data.

Jonathan Feldman is Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where his business background and work as an InformationWeek columnist have helped him to innovate in government through better practices in business technology, process, and human ... View Full Bio
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