EMC buys Mozy – should we all be doing online backups now?

Online backups of desktops and laptops are such a no-brainer for so many small companies and individuals – aren’t they? Markets are all about supply and demand, so if this were true, there would be a mass of different options available. But there isn’t, which suggests that either the conventional wisdom is wrong or something that needs to be in place, just isn’t.

I started playing with online backups a while back, when I was introduced to the company Connected.com, way before it was acquired by Iron Mountain (a move that continues to flummox me). At the time the bottleneck on such capabilities was the available Internet network bandwidth, but then broadband arrived and took that problem away. I continued to use Connected.com for quite a while, but then after one laptop upgrade I never got round to reinstalling it. These days I’m running a RAID box in the spare room at the home office, and backing up our computers to that on a nightly basis. Hmm, no online backup. Why?

The main answer is probably that the quantity of data that is changing, despite broadband, exceeds the bandwidth available to back this up. For me this is about email – to keep some kind of control on my email load I make extensive use of offline folders, which are now several gig each in size. While Connected.com professed to do clever things with email data files, my personal backup windows were growing far too big. Meanwhile, personal photography and video capture habits are growing a large quantity of multimedia files, and to back them all up (40 gig and counting) would break the back of all but the most expensive online backup services, not to mention my ISP fair use policies.

Meanwhile, there is the question of usability. It pains me to acknowledge that many small organisations and people aren’t running backups – or at least, are facing the risk that if they have a hard disk crash, they could lose all of that customer data, or family snaps, or whatever. I really, dearly want this problem solved. While Connected.com was eminently usable by me, it still fell into the trap of assuming that the user was computer literate, and so could only ever be working with the minority.

And so, to Mozy. EMC’s acquisition is the first time (to my knowledge) that an online backup service has entered the fold of a major vendor whose business is based on effectively delivering storage solutions. I’ll let EMC blow its own trumpet on that one, but let’s face it, you would hope that if anyone can crack the code it would be a company that had set its core business on it!! Immediate caveat, no, I don’t believe EMC’s going to get it right just because they set their store (sic) on these things. However, one would hope they stand more of a chance than, say, manufacturers of washing machines, or indeed, companies that have built their businesses on providing secure offsite locations for holding large wads of paper and boxes of tapes.

To resolve the issues of bandwidth and usability together, Mozy needs to be delivered as an integral part of any small company’s information risk management strategy. I deliberately use this term rather than backup strategy, because lets face it, backup is the answer, but not the question. Not all information was created equal, and not all information is subject to the same risks – so, given the fact that we have different ways of backing up and protecting information, we should be able to pick and choose which mechanism is appropriate for what type of information.

Looking specifically at usability, however, such gubbins needs to be kept under the bonnet. Consider a specific example – the emails I have sent over the past few days are quite likely to see responses (I hope), and I would probably like to refer back to them. Meanwhile, while I may want to refer to documents I created as part of older projects, the chances are I won’t want to change them. In terms of risks – the chances of a house fire in the next week, are 52 times less than the chances of a fire over the next year (and potentially increasing further – if my son’s demands for fire poi are ever heeded). In other words, I would dearly love to know that the information I have just created is protected in some immediate way, and I am pleased to have my older data protected, but they don’t necessarily need the same mechanisms: if my recent data is backed up in-house that’s a pretty good start. I may change my mind if I’m working remotely from the office

The bottom line, for me anyway, is that Mozy is a feature, not a product. The product I’d like to see in small businesses is one which exists as a client on every computer, and which can then deliver a co-ordinated backup strategy that meets the needs of each individual. If disaster (of whatever form) should strike, then emphasis switches onto the usability of recovery tools, so that individual files (or indeed, the entire environment) can be rebuilt. Mozy by itself may offer a tool for individual use that can offer significant protection, particularly for IT-literate individuals with lower data transfer requirements or high bandwidth availability. For it to be sustainable into the future, and pass the “upgrade and reinstall test” it will need to become an integral part of the backup toolset, in-house and external.

EMC buys Mozy – should we all be doing online backups now?

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