Carbonite, Take 2

For the past month I’ve been “testing” Carbonite, a new automatic backup service that stores your critical files online. I use quotes because it’s pretty hard to test a backup service like this without first needing to do a backup. Since one of my fondest desires – not to say plans – is to avoid that, I’m a bit pressed for a definitive statement, but I’ll tell you what I know so far.

First of all, though, you need to know that Lockergnome is a Carbonite affiliate, as am I. However, in order for me to profit from this you would have to click on a special link, which I have purposely not included. Thus, I have nothing whatever to gain from this article (but do feel free to click on Lockergnome’s affiliate link in the right panel).

The other thing I want to tell you is that the people at Carbonite have shown themselves to be unfailingly responsive and amazingly thoughtful. That’s a personal observation, but one that I believe speaks to the quality of the company.

There is a fifteen day free trial, with a reminder on start up to keep you from forgetting that you’ll need to upgrade if you want to keep the service. Failure to do so will cause backups to stop after fifteen days, but Carbonite will hold the data on their servers for another 30, in case you change your mind or are busy buying another computer. The initial backup takes several hours, so this is a good thing in that regard. You wouldn’t want to repeat it if you didn’t have to. (You will, of course, need to pay if you need the service after the trial period.)

Carbonite only works with broadband. It spends a lot of time uploading changes from your machine, and with dialup – well, it just wouldn’t work out. Installation is dead easy. The small installer downloads in a couple of seconds. Clicking on the installer puts a small program on your computer that will ask you a few basic questions about what files you want to back up. After a few clicks, everything becomes automatic. If there wasn’t a new icon in the system tray, you wouldn’t even know Carbonite was there.

The resident software keeps track of your files and uploads any changes to Carbonite’s servers. You have the option of telling it to ignore files or folders, either in general or specifically. Another option allows you to have files automatically marked as backed up or pending. This is extremely handy. If you see a file marked that you didn’t want uploaded, a right click allows you to “un-designate” it. If you do, it will be removed from the servers on the next update. You can also choose to have important folders uploaded as soon as possible, which in my experience has translated to instantly. When you live in Thunderstorm Alley, FL, as I do, where a lighting bolt can take out your power – and, if unprotected, your computer – in a heartbeat, it’s nice to be able to insure that your work is quickly elsewhere.

Carbonite sits in My Computer, just like an extra drive (except the icon is cuter). You can access a list of your files in Windows Explorer by either clicking that icon or the one in the systray. You can check what files are there and which aren’t, remove files and folders from the process, and so forth, as with any other drive.

The most common cause of data loss is a fried hard drive. This happens so often that it’s really not a matter of if, but rather when it will happen to you. I’m as careful as anyone I know, and I’ve had it happen twice in ten years. Should that – or any other cataclysm – come to pass, such as a necessary reinstall of your OS due to corruption or (heaven forbid) theft of your computer, that’s when your $49.95 a year pays for itself, big time! (That’s about 14 cents a day, to save you from having to figure it out.) The process is simple. When you’re ready, you access the Carbonite site, sign in, download the resident software, and install it. Total time so far, five minutes. Then you click on the tray icon, select Restore, and go to the movies. When you return, your stuff is where you had it before, ready to use. (I can’t attest to that, but Carbonite swears it’s that slick, and everything has been as they say so far.)

The obvious questions are: 1. is my data safe; and 2. what about privacy? Carbonite uses two highly secure server farms, about 3000 miles apart. It’s hard to imagine a disaster that would take out both of them and leave anyone to worry about the data. As to privacy… Anyone who imagines, in this day and age, that they have privacy on the Web is, frankly, more in need of Carbonite than they know, because they’re too stupid to deal with anything other than basic functions like eating, bathing and sleeping.

Even disregarding the hackers, NSA, CIA, BSA, and PTA along with trojans and other malware, every time you send data on the Net it passes through a half dozen or more servers, and can be accessed from any one of them if someone wants to. Use Web mail? Ha! Bank online? Ha! Use PayPal, EBay, or that Micro$oft service (whatever they call it)? Ha! Read my lips: absent encryption – really strong encryption, like 256-bit or better (1024 is nice) – you have no privacy except what someone else wants to grant you. Just forget it. If you’re conspiring to (insert nefarious act here), do it by smoke signals. There’s less chance of getting caught. Even with the best encryption you’re waving a flag. Think the NSA doesn’t keep an eye out for encrypted messages? Ha! Fahgeddaboudit. Keep your nose clean; it’s much easier.

Someone asked me recently, “what about Google and their plans for online storage?” Some of you know that I’m one of the original fanboys, but Google ain’t here with the goods right now; Carbonite is. Do I trust them as much as Google? The answer is “yes,” but it doesn’t really matter. See above.

Do the 14-day free trial thing. See how easily Carbonite works. See how comforting it is to have a backup without having to worry about it? I already did extensive backups, and I signed up as soon as I could. You’ll know the right thing to do.

[tags]backup,back up,data security,carbonite,drive fail[/tags]

  • http://blog.hanfordlemoore.com hanford

    Interesting review of Carbonite. I’ve using the trial right now.

    I find your comment about privacy a little silly though. I feel you’re kind saying “hey, people break into cars, all it takes is a hammer, so you might as well not lock your doors and leave your ipod and your solid gold brick sitting on the dashboard when you park it, because if someone wants it, by golly they’ll get it!!!”.

    I think most people know that nothing is truly safe, but it is worth spending some time investigating the steps Carbonite has taken to at least “lock the doors”.

    Thanks for the review!

  • Brian

    Interesting view on privacy. And while I understand hackers and the NSA might be able to access my private data, I’d liked to have heard how Carbonite actually DOES safeguard my privacy (if indeed they do at all).

  • Bill Webb

    Encryption.

    Further information is available on the site.

  • Dave Hanush

    Bill,
    Your article on Carbonite was written close to a year ago. Are you still “sold” on them?
    You question someones concern for “security” when using the Internet, but my Professional Liability Insurer IS concerned about keeping my clients data secure and private. Do I get any assurances from Carbonite about that?
    Do they provide an “Outside Security Audit”?
    Are they even still in existence? Their Security Hacker Proof “keys” or logos, say they were Checked October 21, or sometime in September, depending on what page you go to. That’s a long time back for assurances to be very comforting.

    Thanks for your insight

  • Bill

    Hi Dave,

    I continue to use Carbonite with good results. Since I encrypt confidential data before it is backed up, I have no idea about their safety levels. They do encrypt data based on a unique hash, but I’m not sure what technology they use. I’m sure they would be happy to explain it. http://www.carbonite.com/contact/

    Hanford: I stand by my statement. Anyone who depends on any other person or entity to safeguard confidential data is, simply, a fool.

    Bill