Mozy Remote Backup: Simple, Secure and Free

You’ve undoubtedly heard about the importance of backing up your data thousands of times already, so we know we don’t need to tell you again. But once you finally do decide to start backing up, it can sometimes be intimidating choosing from among the myriad methods and applications available for the task.

One increasingly popular option is to back up your data to an Internet server across your broadband connection, a method employed by Mozy Remote Backup from Berkeley Data Systems.

Mozy Remote Backup offers several levels of service and attractive pricing. For starters, there’s a free version that limits you to 2GB of backup storage but is untainted by any subsidized advertising or marketing distractions. If that’s not enough, you can bump up to five, 30, or 60GB for $1.95, $4.95 or $9.95 a month, respectively. Mozy Remote Backup uses a downloadable client utility, which at the moment is only available for Windows XP (though a Mac version is in the works).

Whether you choose Mozy’s free or paid version, you get 448-bit encryption to secure your data. When you first install the Mozy software, you must decide whether you want to use Mozy’s built-in encryption key or generate your own. (You can also import an existing key if you have one.) Using Mozy’s default key is certainly the most convenient option, but it may not be a choice many people are comfortable with since it means that the company could theoretically decipher your stored data. (The posted privacy policy outlines the circumstances under which this could happen.)

Backing Up
The Mozy software took the liberty of recommending certain backup sets organized by category. It did a good job of identifying the kinds of data one might typically overlook (things like IE and Firefox favorites, or files stored outside of My Documents, for example). You can modify Mozy’s choices using a rules-based interface to include or exclude certain file types, folders, etc.

Mozy will only let you access local drives, so you can’t use it to back up data on say, a NAS drive. But then again, if you do have access to networked storage, you’re probably not a candidate for online backup in the first place. You can use the software to back up data on multiple systems, but the storage quota remains the same for your online account.

When you define your initial backup (or add new files or folders to an existing one) Mozy reports how much of the storage allotment will be used and about how long it will take — in our case it amounted to 1.1GB and 24 hours. Mozy doesn’t actually measure your connection speed but instead bases its estimate on a “typical” broadband connection.

If 24 hours to do a backup seems like a long time, keep in mind that the inherent weakness of any online storage service is that it’s bottlenecked by the speed of your upstream link. Even people with relatively fast 6Mb/sec cable modem connections will likely be limited to a relatively 384 Kb/sec (at best) when transferring data upstream.

The saving grace is that since subsequent backups are differential and as a result only include new or changed files, they complete much more quickly. The time it took to complete our first backup was pretty much in line with the initial estimate, while subsequent backups took considerably less time. Mozy can also back up open files (i.e. that Outlook .pst) as long as your hard drive is formatted with NTFS.

Before any of your data goes out over the Internet, the Mozy client encrypts it using the key you specified at installation. For added security, the actual data transfer is also encrypted via SSL. We didn’t encounter any system slowdown during the encryption or transfer process.

Customization Options
Mozy gives you a number of ways to customize your backups. For starters, you can tell Mozy to back up your data daily or weekly according to a schedule you define. You can also perform backups on an automatic and ongoing basis subject to specified parameters such as how long your computer has been idle or how busy your CPU is. A history log lets you view the details of past backups, and you can enable a notification message in the event that a backup hasn’t been performed for a certain number of days.

Mozy also offers a bandwidth throttling option, which is turned off by default. If you activate it, you can limit the amount of bandwidth Mozy uses (in eight increments from 32 kb/sec up to 1Mb/sec). You can also specify a time window during which Mozy throttles bandwidth, which limits its impact during the day and still gives it full access to your connection at night. This feature is handy if you use any other applications that are particularly dependent on upstream bandwidth, such as VoIP or videoconferencing.

Restoring Your Files
The process for restoring files isn’t quite as straightforward as backing them up. You can’t retrieve your files directly through the client software, but instead you must log into your account at the Mozy site (a button on the client will also take you to it). From there, you can browse through your backups and select files or folders you want to restore. Mozy then “prepares” the restored files and sends you e-mail (we got ours within just a few minutes) with a link you can use to download the files.

The downloads are provided as ZIP files, and when you decompress them the contents are automatically put back in their original locations, so if you’re restoring to a different folder structure or system, it’s best to copy the files back manually. Mozy decrypts the restored files before ZIP-ing them, which means that they’re stored unencrypted on the server while they’re waiting to be downloaded. (As with backups, the link itself is SSL encrypted.)

If you opted to use your own encryption key in lieu of Mozy’s, then the files within the ZIP are still encrypted when you download them. This does add another step to the restore process since you then must input your key into a separate Mozy-provided utility in order to decrypt your files (and as an important warning, if you forget your key, you’re up the proverbial creek.)

Mozy Remote Backup is intended for backup only, and thus limits the number of restores you can perform per calendar month. (The company says it does this in part to discourage use of the service for illegal file sharing.) When we performed our first restore we were informed that we could do four more for the month.

Mozy Remote Backup’s main attractions are the relatively low fees and generous storage amounts it offers. If you prepay annually for a service plan, the company will give you a month free, and it will bump up a free account’s storage limit by 1GB for every four people you refer to the service. We also like that the 2GB plan is both cost- and ad-free. We do wish the restore process were a bit simpler, but we’re guessing most people likely won’t need to restore data very often.

Pros: Generous storage available in free version and low monthly prices for additional storage (if needed); many customization options

Cons: Somewhat cumbersome multi-step restore process; only supports Windows XP at this time; service can’t be used for file-sharing

Adapted from

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