Sunday, 2 May 2010

Simple backup software

A while ago I lost too many pictures when my hard drive failed - since then I've been desperate to ensure that I don't have this happen again. A good principle with data is that if you don't have at least two copies of any given file, you don't really have it at all.

I have used online backup services - Mozy and Carbonite to be exact. I don't have much kind to say about either. Online backup is, in principle, a great idea. You don't need to remember to do anything, and your files are always up to date. In theory. In practice internet upload speeds are too slow to deal with a heavy workload of pictures - I shoot in RAW on my Canon 500D and so each image is around 20MB. I often end up placing 1GB on my hard drive after I've gone out to take pictures - this takes an age to back up.

Because such services give you the impression that they're constantly up to date, it's easy to live under false security, which may make things worse than if you didn't have the service installed in the first place. I'm not going to mention the performance impacts of either program, but suffice to say that my computer became unusable - crashing frequently - only a few weeks ago, and I am 70% sure this was Carbonite at work.

So I need to backup the old(ish) way - manually run backups from one disk to another. In this case I use an external hard drive (a Freecom 1TB affair). I initially used the backup included with Windows 7, but this has two major faults:

  • It backs up to ZIP files, each file no larger than 200MB
  • It is stupidly slow to copy - about three to four times slower than regular file copying
The second problem speaks for itself. The first might seem fine, but this means that if the backup doesn't complete, or if one of the files is damaged, the remainder of the backup can be useless, or at least needlessly hard to reassemble.

I've struggled to find something that does what I want - Microsoft's SyncToy is quite good, but again I've had problems with stability in the past. I think I've finally found what I'm looking for - SmartBackup from JAM Software. It isn't free, costing €20 for a license, but it does exactly what I want - incremental backups of a set of files/folders while maintaining directory structure and not forcing any propriety format on me (I shan't be forgiving TrueImage ever for this sin).

Give it a whirl (there's a 30-day trial), and if I have any problems I'll be sure to say here. Backing up is very boring, so the best possible form of backup is one that is simple enough to encourage you to actually bother. As my good friend Rick has found out after leaving his computer on a train, backing up is always something you wish you'd done.