Data Backup: Peace of Mind for $9.95 a Month

By Jamie Bsales | Posted January 05, 2006

If your New Year's resolution wasn't to keep your data safe at all costs, it should have been. Last year's devastating hurricane season offers a lesson to small business owners: Not having your critical business data backed up is foolhardy, and having a backup in the same location as your PC could be too little insurance against disaster. Theft, fire or force of nature — any of these could easily wipe out your primary data and your contingency plan.

That is, of course, unless you've signed up for an onlinebackup service. For a small monthly or yearly fee, these providers let you back up a given amount of data securely to their servers, where it's safe should something befall your office or equipment. As a bonus, your backups are available through any Web browser, so if you find yourself at home or at a client site and need a particular file, you can retrieve it easily.

Xdrive schedule screen
The Xdrive Desktop utility lets you set up fairly sophisticated backup operations. Here we're setting the days of the week and time of day for one of our backup sets.
(Click for larger image).

Done in 10
We tested the newly launched backup service from online-storage veteran Xdrive Inc. and came away impressed. Best known as a repository for individuals looking to store and access digital media (photos, MP3s and the like), Xdrive has expanded its service to include data backup.

While any online storage service lets you upload files and folders (and hence count themselves as "online backup"), the Xdrive Desktop utility delivers easy-to-use yet feature-rich backup software that rivals the utilities found with dedicated external storage drives. The result is one-click (or more advanced, if you prefer) data backup, but to an offsite location — all starting at just $9.95 month for up to 5GB of storage.

Getting started is typical of any online service. Log on to the company Web site, sign up for an account, and enter a username and password. Account choices range from $9.95 a month for 5GB of storage space to $39.80 per month for 50GB (or you can pay yearly and save up to 20 percent).

To use Xdrive as a backup service, you'll also need to download a small client utility. We were up and running in less than 10 minutes, including the time it took to download and install the Power Tools desktop utility. Another advantage of loading the desktop client software: when you launch it, your online Xdrive appears as another logical drive (dubbed "X," naturally) in Windows Explorer. You can drag-and-drop or copy-and-paste files directly to it, just as if it were a local drive.

Both the Web interface and desktop software are well laid out and intuitive to use, and there's 24/7 online tech support and live phone support 9 a.m. to 9 p.m Eastern time. We posted a request for help on a Friday evening (before a holiday weekend) and got an e-mail from a support tech within two hours. When we called just before noon on a Tuesday after the holiday, we got right through to a live technician.

Using Your Xdrive
The Xdrive Desktop console lets you manage all of your Xdrive activity, including marking folders to share, files to send and more. A handy pie chart shows you at a glance the amount of space remaining on your X drive.

The utility's Backup tab gives you two choices. The Basic choice automatically grabs your My Documents folder (you can optionally exclude any subfolders) and backs it up to your online account with one click.

The Advanced tab gives you more granular control. You can set up multiple backup sets, specifying the directories to be included and the time and days of the week the backup will occur. For instance, you could have the directory with your day-to-day business files backup each evening, while a less-used directory gets saved just once a week.

Over a broadband connection, backing up your files the first time can take anywhere from a few minutes to over an hour, depending on the size of the directory. But after that, the process takes just a few minutes, since the software backs up only new or changed files.

Xdrive schedule screen
Logging on to your Xdrive account over the Web shows you the history of your backups. This lets you revert to an older file if you prefer, not just one from the most recent backup.
(Click for larger image).

Should you need to restore a file or directory, the desktop client includes a handy Restore Wizard that walks you though the process of reclaiming the lost data. Alternately, you can log onto your Xdrive account through the Web. Each backup instance (automatically stored in a folder labeled My Backups) is clearly marked with a date and time, which gives you a "snapshot" view of your files. This lets you restore an earlier version of a file, in case the one in the most recent backup set is not the one you want.

As with all such online storage and sharing sites, there are a couple of issues. For example, if you are using a personal software firewall (such as Norton Internet Security or ZoneAlarm), you'll need to configure that software to allow access by Xdrive's client utility. (Xdrive provides step-by-step instructions on how to accomplish this, and it's not a complex process at all.)

Also, Xdrive provides file backup, not full systembackup (at least not yet). That means if you need to rebuild your machine from scratch (or switch to a new PC for whatever reason), you'll be on your own to reload all your applications; your Xdrive backup will only include your stored folders and files. If you want to be sure your local mail file is safely squirreled away, you'll need to save an archive of it to your My Documents folder manually.

Not Just Backup
However, there are advantages to using the online service that go beyond backup: As a customer, you receive access to all of Xdrive's features. In addition to safeguarding your business data, you can store and share your personal files such as documents, digital photos and music files.

The site's full-featured photo sharing lets you organize pictures into albums and slideshows that you can share with others. And if you travel frequently, you'll love Xdrive's music-streaming utility, which lets you play your Xdrive-resident music files on your PC over any Web connection.

All told, Xdrive is a mature online storage service with a polished, easy-to-use backup component. For the ultimate in disaster proofing, you'll probably want to have a local, hardware-based solution for system backup, and Xdrive for off-site storage of your critical files. After all, PCs are replaceable, your data isn't.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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