The Wager

You are really lazy. It’s nothing personal of course — everyone tends to procrastinate to some extent, but right now it’s YOUR turn. In just a moment, I am going to convince you that you want to do something. You’ll agree that it’s a good idea, you’ll tell yourself that you are going to do it, but I’m betting that you are so lazy that in the end you won’t do it.

You probably have antivirus software protecting your computer from malicious computer viruses — in fact, you’d be a bit nervous about connecting to the internet if you didn’t have it. After all, viruses can make everything run more slowly, take over your computer and use it to send spam, or worst of all they can even delete files and destroy data. There are even a few viruses that take your data hostage — encrypting it, deleting the original, then offering to decrypt it if an anonymous payment is made to a certain account.

It is less common these days (hard drives have gotten much better), but occasionally you’ll have a catastrophic failure — your hard drive will crash with no way to recover it. This can be a real disaster: the cost of a new hard drive is nothing compared to the loss of all your precious data.

Or it’s even POSSIBLE (unlikely, to be sure), that while you were cooking dinner your five-year-old got onto the computer you had left on (despite KNOWING he wasn’t supposed to) and sort of accidentally dragged into the trash a folder containing some files — files you had been working on for quite a long time. And, unlikely though it sounds, it’s possible that you didn’t notice this until AFTER you had already emptied the trash can and deleted the files forever.

Of course there is one solution to ALL of these problems — backups. Everyone knows that they ought to back up their files. But not everyone gets around to doing it; in fact nearly everyone doesn’t – until right after they have an accident and lose data. In fact, I am guessing that you, yes YOU have data someplace (probably at home) that isn’t backed up properly.

There is an obvious “right” way to do backups; just follow a few simple rules. First, the backups have to be frequent — a 9-month old backup isn’t going to be very useful; every few days is about right for most people. Second, you MUST test your backup. A backup process, even one designed with the best of intentions, can’t be considered safe unless you have tried doing a restore from it. And succeeded. It doesn’t matter whether the backup is to CDs, tape, a spare hard drive, or over the internet, but you should store the backups someplace separate from the computer (otherwise they won’t be much help in case of a housefire).

And doing all this is a pain… particularly the part about doing it regularly. Murphy’s law says that you won’t lose data until sometime after you finally become lax and start skipping your backups. It is FAR better if the backups can be done automatically… so if you are lazy like the rest of us it will still get backed up. But for most of us, setting up some automated system is even harder than doing backups.

So what you really need is some product which will automatically back up your files for you every few days. It should be trivially easy to use, should take almost no time to install, and should work even if your computer isn’t on or net-connected 24/7. It should make restoring files a breeze (and not something you do only in case of catastrophe) and should automatically warn you if backups are NOT working for some reason. It should not require purchasing any special tape drives or other hardware. Oh yeah, and it should be free, or at least cheap.

Fortunately, such a product exists! Actually, several such products exist, but I’m just going to talk about my favorite which is called “Mozy” (it’s for Windows and Mac… you Linux users will need to find a different alternative). Mozy‘s software installs quite easily. Once installed, it asks you to create an account: home use is FREE if you need to back up less than 2GB, and costs $5/month for unlimited amounts. (They have small business backup solutions also.) It will ask you to specify which directories need to be backed up and will send the data over the internet to Mozy’s servers. The documentation says that it is encrypted, so Mozy themselves cannot access your data without the password. (In case you were wondering, that’s a good thing.)

After the initial setup, Mozy runs without any supervision. It waits for a time when your internet connection is up and running but you are not currently working on your computer, and then it sends the changes (only the changes) from the backed-up directories over to Mozy’s servers. If it does not manage to do a backup within 7 days, then it begins to warn you that the backups are not current. And any time that you want to get files back, you can review the files stored on the server and restore any amount from a single file to the entire backup set.

There are a couple of features that I would want in an ideal backup system which Mozy lacks. I would want the entire disk backed up, including the OS so that I could completely swap in a new disk if needed. And I would want all versions of a backed-up file to be saved, not just the latest, so I could return to previous states of things rather like a version control system. But Mozy provides the most important features: it backs up my data, and it is very easy to use (good, because I’m too lazy to use it otherwise).

WagersSo now we come to the wager. At this point, as I predicted, you are thinking to yourself “Gee, this Mozy sounds like a good idea. I should really install it on my own computer.” But it’s one thing to THINK about it, and quite another to actually go DO it. There is a certain mental inertia to overcome. So I’m placing a small bet – shall we say $5? – that you won’t actually step up and do it. If I lose… if because of reading this article, you actually DO go install Mozy or another automated backup tool, then post a reply using the reply box below, and I’ll pay up on my bet. (For the record: Yes, Mozy does have an affiliate program but No, I am not participating. I get no kickbacks with this deal – just the warm fuzzy feeling of having saved someone else from losing their data. (Offer good only for the first 12 days after this is posted. Offer may be rescinded if this gets posted to the front page of Slashdot, Digg, reddit, or the like.)) You could have your data safe AND win $5 at the same time… what are you waiting for? Or are you too lazy?

Comments

4 Responses to “The Wager”

  1. madridon on 2008-08-25 12:43 pm

    as for online storage i use mainly gmail and i use a cool utility called backup to email http://backup2e.com

  2. Brian Alls on 2008-08-26 4:40 pm

    Does it count if we are already doing this? Actually, I don’t want the money, but I did want to share another option. I have Windows Home Server at home and it has a nice backup feature. It automatically backs up all of the PCs in my home (it even wakes them up if they are sleeping). The nice thing about it is that it only keeps one copy of every unique file it finds (single instance storage). So if you have 3 laptops with Vista and Office on them, it only stores one copy of the OS files and application binaries. Of course it does back up Windows system state and all of your personal files on every PC. Home server does have some other nice features, but backup is the only reason I bought it!

  3. mcherm on 2008-08-27 8:04 am

    @Brian:

    No, it doesn’t count toward the bet if you’re already doing it. But Windows Home Server sounds interesting… I didn’t know such a thing existed, and it sounds useful.

    – Michael Chermside

  4. David Horvath on 2008-09-15 11:43 am

    I use Norton Ghost to an external drive. Then I burn the results to a rotating set of DVD-RW. Both get put into a refrigerator sized fire rated safe. For really important projects, I’ll keep multiple copies including burning quick copies to optical that get thrown into the car before going to bed.

    - David

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