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Winners of the CloudBerry Online Backup Giveaway Contest

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Our three winners in the CloudBerry Online Backup giveaway contest are:

  • Larry H., who will be using it to back up his business data.
  • Ty Taylor, who has some higher education and training presentations and video files to back up and synchronize.
  • Tim Larson, who needs to back up all the photos and videos of his kids on his Windows Home Server.

Thanks for participating, guys, and good luck with your backups. Keep an eye out for future contests here on the Backup Blog.

CloudBerry: Amazon S3 Backup the Easy Way

Friday, February 26th, 2010

image Back in January when I wrote about Automatic WordPress Backup, Andy K. from CloudBerry Lab popped up in the comments on the cross-post to the WordPress Asylum site asking why I had recommended S3Fox over his company’s product, CloudBerry S3 Explorer. (For the simple enough reason that S3Fox was the first product I’d come across, and worked as a Firefox plugin.)

It seemed to me that I’d heard the name “CloudBerry” before, so I went and checked my collection of backup bookmarks. There, indeed, was CloudBerry Online Backup, so I arranged to download a copy and then talk to Andy about it.

Incidentally, a CloudBerry is not a relation of the BlackBerry. Cloudberries are real fruits that grow in northern climates—like Russia, where CloudBerry Lab is located. Andy explained that he wanted a business name with the word “cloud” in it, but hates made-up names.

CloudBerry Online Backup is not an online backup service like Mozy, Carbonite, or my sometime clients Spare Backup. Instead, CloudBerry provides a simple software front-end to automate and manage backing up to and restoring from your Amazon S3 account.

Unlike S3 itself, CloudBerry Online Backup is simple and user-friendly. The welcome screen gives you two simple options: set up backup plan and restore backup plan:

CloudBerry Welcome

There are some suggested backup plans built in: My Internet Bookmarks (for people who haven’t started using a service like Delicious), My Pictures, and My Documents. But you can choose to back up any folders you want, on any drive—including your network drives. As I’ve mentioned before, not all online backup tools can even see your network drives, or anything at all besides your C:\ drive. This has as much to do with business models as technology, as Andy pointed out during our phone conversation. Since CloudBerry is selling software, not storage space, they have no motivation to restrict the source of your backup data. It’s Amazon you’ll be paying for storage, not CloudBerry, and Amazon bases prices for its S3 service on a combination of the space you use and the frequency with which you upload and download files, not how many different computers or users are putting their data into your account.

When you set up your backup job, CloudBerry prompts you to choose an Amazon S3 account:

CloudBerry S3 Accounts

Just in case you don’t have one yet, there’s a link so you can set one up. They also walk you through the signup process in detail on their blog. (The blog is on Blogger, but you can’t have everything. This blog was on Blogger for years.)

CloudBerry Storage Overview CloudBerry also has a handy monitor to show you how much Amazon storage you’re using. And as of the latest build, you can delete files you no longer want from your S3 backup by right-clicking on the file name in the “Backup Storage” tab and selecting “delete.”

As you can see from this snapshot, I chose a fairly small directory for my test backup. The real issue with any kind of online backup, no matter where you are storing it, is upload speeds. You can both encrypt and compress backups with CloudBerry, but nevertheless, it pays to exercise some judgment and be selective about which files you back up.

Subsequent backups (which you can schedule or run manually) will only back up files that have been changed. You can choose a number of versions to save or a length of time to keep old backups.

That said, the upload went quite speedily, and I was able to see my files in CloudBerry’s browser window. You can restore and delete files from there through the contextual (right-click) menu, or use the “restore” button from the welcome screen. Either method gets you to the same restore wizard:

CloudBerry Restore Wizard

For my test file, I chose “latest version,” though as it was a file I hadn’t changed between backups, it didn’t really matter. I restored it to a different directory just so I could make sure it really was being restored. Yep: it worked just fine.

These are the strengths of CloudBerry Online Backup: it’s easy, and it works. It’s also got a decent feature set, one Andy’s team is slowly expanding in response to user requests. The software retails for $29.99, both for the regular version and the Windows Home Server version. You’ll also be paying Amazon for your storage space. On the other hand, Amazon is charging 16.5 cents per GB here in Northern California; since signing up in January I’ve incurred $0.25 in charges.

If you’re a blogger who will write about the software, you can get a free license for CloudBerry Online Backup. I still have to go collect mine.

Andy also offered me 3 free licenses to give away. The first three people who post a comment to the blog explaining what they would back up on S3 using CloudBerry will get them.

Hey! You! Get off of My Cloud!

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Review of the 3X Remote Backup Appliance

3x_systems_private_cloud_backup_appliance The headline of the pitch I received back in November read “3X Systems Launches Private Backup Cloud Appliance for SMBs”. The notion of a “private cloud” intrigued me, so I decided to follow up. (Besides, no one quoted in the press release used the word “excited,” so they get extra points.)

We all talk about “the cloud” as if it’s some amorphous collective up in the sky somewhere, but none of these “cloud computing” services actually operates among the cumulus and cumulonimbus. Your data is not floating around among the raindrops or waiting to crystallize as snowflakes. All it means to use cloud services is that instead of installing the software on servers in your office building, it’s on servers in someone else’s data center, and you access it through the Internet. Cloud storage puts your data onto disks in a similar data center (or more than one, for redundancy), instead of on a backup drive in your office.

With most cloud services, you rent rather than owning—though with companies like Google making so much available for free, consumers may forget that there are costs involved, the same way they seem to forget that there’s actual hardware involved.

With the 3X Remote Backup Appliance, you become your own online backup service.

Now, if you were geeky enough, you could find a way to do this without a special device. Personally, I’m not geeky enough. And I’m pretty geeky, relative to most people I know. So I think the 3X RBA is a great idea for three reasons.

  1. The biggest disadvantage of online backup is the slow speed of data transfer over the Internet. Because the 3X makes its initial full (or “seed”) backup over the local network, it’s much faster than typical online backup services. (How long did it take me to upload my 2 GB backup to MozyHome Free the first time? 12 hours? And that over a cable connection.)
  2. Many businesses—and even individuals—want to be sure of just who has access to their proprietary or confidential data. Running your own online backup service, with only your own company’s data on it, gives you complete control.
  3. If you have half a dozen or more computers to back up, the monthly or yearly cost of most online backup services is going to start to add up pretty quickly. Many of them charge per computer rather than by the amount of data backed up.

So I arranged to get a product demo and an interview with 3X CEO Alan Arman and some of the team, and also to get an evaluation unit to check out. The demo was very straightforward: it certainly looked easy enough to use. But things are often a bit different in real-life situations. I wanted to see whether the 3X would really be as easy to set up and operate as it seemed to be. (After all, the CloudPlug was harder than it appeared.)

rackmount 3X 500 series The evaluation unit arrived on January 20th—the same day as my mother’s SaveMe drive. I was surprised at the size of the box. Based on the photos I’d seen, I was expecting something more the size of my Buffalo Quattro. This box was square and flat.

When I got home, I found out why. The 3X comes in two form factors: the cube, for desktop use, and the 1U rackmount model. Guess which was in that box.

“They sent you a what?” the Ur-Guru said. “Didn’t you go batty from the 40x40mm fans in a rack model!?”

To be fair, Richard Keggans at 3X offered to ship me a cube version instead when I told him about the mistake, but once he assured me that I could still use the rackmount model without a rack, it didn’t seem worth replacing it when I was only going to be using it for a few hours anyway. (The PR spokesperson, who has perhaps never been in a server room, said “We didn’t think it would make a difference to you.” Ha. I think he just wanted to be sure they’d get their $2500 device back.)

Anyway, for anyone else who’s never been in a server room—it’s not so much that the fan noise is loud. It’s not actually louder than, say, my space heater, which is also an electric fan. I did not really need to warn the neighbors to run for their earplugs before powering the thing up.

It’s just that there’s something about the quality of the noise that causes instant brain death. You can tell immediately why people lock these things in cages behind heavy doors inside secure buildings miles away from where they do their actual work. Even the Ur-Guru doesn’t work with rack-mounted systems, because the noise would be too much even for him if he had them in his home office.

So if I were a real customer, I would have bought the cube model, which Richard says is “almost silent.” And it probably is, too, because it isn’t being stored less than an inch from some equally hot device above and below it. The Buffalo Quattro, which has more hardware (though less software) in it, makes very little noise. (Interestingly, the two draw the same amount of power.)

Installation

Even given the awkwardness of having the wrong version of the device, it was easy to set up the 3X. (The printout of the Quick Start Guide was helpful, too.) Plug in the power cable, connect the Ethernet cable to your router, and turn the monster on. Then insert the memory stick with the 3X admin software into your computer and let it run. Then reboot your computer, and start up the 3X Systems Admin tool again. Your device should automatically appear; just select it and choose “Launch Manager.”

That takes you to the web interface, where you do all the sophisticated stuff, including downloading the client software so you can back up individual computers to the device.

3X Backup Manager

The critical thing at this juncture is to set up port forwarding—something I don’t think I’ve talked about since I reviewed ION Backup. I obviously hadn’t done anything with it since then, because I still had that port set up to forward. (Oops.) It took me a while to find the right screen in my router admin, but eventually I found what I needed, and it only took a minute to set it up after that.

Single Port Forwarding

There’s a connectivity check feature in the web manager tool for the 3X, so you can check to make sure that it’s possible to reach your device from outside your local network. This is important if you’re going to actually use it for its intended purpose as an online backup device. (And if you aren’t, why are you paying so much money?)

I then downloaded the client and set it up on my netbook. This worked pretty much the same as installing any other backup software. Once it’s installed, however, you have to get a key from the administrator (provided in the backup manager, above) and then the administrator has to approve you. The administrator can also create backup sets and set quotas for client computers.

3x-backup-registration

I’d read some of the instructions for creating backup sets while waiting for Enna to reboot after the initial 3X admin tools install, so I figured I was all set to define my backup set and go. I did run into one small issue, however: when I clicked “Edit” under the “Backup Sets” tab, the top of the window ran off my 1024 x 600 netbook screen.

3x-backup-client-interface

I was still able to create a backup set that would copy everything on the C:\ drive except for the Recycler, System Volume Information, Windows folder, and Program Files. When I eliminated those, I was left with 9 GB of data, and the 3X copied them quickly (if loudly) while I had lunch.

I’m not really in a position to test the deduplication and some of the other features of the 3X, but deduplication is the reason you can back up several computers to a 100 GB drive. All enterprise systems rely on it these days, but almost no SOHO systems offer this level of dedupe. (And if you have people sending e-mail attachments to others in your company, you’re racking up duplicate files fast, never mind duplicate software installations.)

So I’ll leave those to another reviewer and just say that my “seed” backup went smoothly. It was time to test the remote backup.

Remote Backup and Restore

The normal way to use a 3X is to disconnect it from the local network when the seed backups are complete and move it to another location—the business owner’s home, a different office, or even a cage rented in a data center. Then you plug it in and hook it up to the Internet, and the client computers will back up incrementally according to their schedules. Because only the changes are backed up, this doesn’t take much bandwidth or time.

I don’t have an alternate office location, much less a pocket data center, so I took my computer elsewhere instead. I headed over to the local public library to see whether I could back up and restore data using their free wi-fi connection.

I didn’t have so much luck backing up. I’m not sure why, but the program just seemed to sit around endlessly calculating the size of the backup. (Not very large: I had downloaded a whole two image files so there would actually be some changes to back up.) This might have had something to do with the very slow wi-fi connection, or it might just be that the backup client has to scan the entire machine before running. My battery and patience were running low, so I aborted the backup and tried a restore, instead. The main thing, in my mind, was to confirm that I could connect to the 3X from outside my network.

Clicking the “Restore” button gave me the option to restore one file or several. I then had the chance to browse to my chosen file and to select which backup I wanted to restore from. (I’d only made one, but had earlier opted to save 10 backups.) In order to be sure the restoration had worked, I restored it to a different directory.

And work it did. It took a little longer than I might have expected for a file of modest size, but I don’t think that was the fault of the 3X. That wi-fi connection was really slow. Not quite shades-of-dial-up slow, but I am reminded of the early days of the Web and the expression “Graybar land.”

So the verdict is: it works. You really can become your own online backup service provider. To make it work, of course, you need a place to set the 3X up. If you’re like me and work out of your home, you might need to make an arrangement with a colleague to each keep the other’s remote backup appliance. But the ideal customer is not the home office user, but the person who runs a small office with multiple computers—enough of them that paying for Mozy Pro for a year would more than cover the cost of buying one of these.

And now that that’s done, I can shut it off and hear myself think again.

PS In the week between the time I wrote this and the time I published it, 3X was named one of the 20 Coolest Cloud Storage Vendors by Computer Reseller News.

A New Way to Back Up WordPress

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Automatic WordPress Backup logo

If you search the WordPress plugin repository for “backup”, you’ll get—as of today—195 results. I wrote about two of those plugins, WordPress Database Backup and WordPress Backup by BTE, just about a year ago, and installed them on all 8 of my own WP sites, as well as insisting that my clients use WP-DB-Backup at minimum.

Both of those plugins back up different parts of a WordPress installation and then either save it there on the server or e-mail it to the admin. I get a lot of e-mails with database backups, as you can imagine. These aren’t large files, and it’s not too time-consuming to save them with other client files and let them get backed up as part of my regular backup routine.

But the BTE plugin backs up your uploads, plugins, and themes directories. And those can start to get pretty large after a while. Not large in absolute terms of how much room I have on my hard drive or backup drives, but large in terms of what it’s convenient to receive by e-mail, especially multiplied by eight or more. And then there’s the fact that the mail server for Author-izer.com, my primary business website, absolutely WILL NOT accept the plugins backup file, even though it’s a ZIP. It believes that file is full of malicious code out to attack me, and refuses it. (Ta ever so, mailer-daemon.) And then there’s the lack of versioning, because each week’s backups of those directories has the same name. These are minor annoyances, but real.

Now there’s a new plugin that combines the functions of these two stalwarts, with a few extras besides: Automatic WordPress Backup, sponsored by Melvin Ram’s Web Design Company, developed by Dan Coulter.

AWB lets you schedule daily, weekly, or monthly backups of your database, your wp-config.php file, your wp-content folder (themes, plugins, and uploads), and even your .htaccess file. Instead of e-mailing them to you, it uploads them to Amazon S3.

aws_logoS3 stands for “Simple Storage Service.” It’s not actually quite as simple as all that, but the idea is that you only pay for as much storage and bandwidth as you actually use. Since a typical WordPress installation—even with a lot of plugins and uploads—isn’t very large, backing up via S3 shouldn’t cost more than a few cents each month.

Before you install the plugin, go to Amazon S3 and sign up for an account if you don’t have one already. (Signing up is free.) Once you get that confirmed, go to “Security Credentials” under the “Your Account” tab to get the information you’ll need to configure the plugin.

WDC-optionsThen log into your WordPress dashboard and install the plugin normally. There’s a handy YouTube video that walks you through installation over on the AWB website. This is a nice touch. I just wish Amazon had done the same for S3! Once you activate AWB, you’ll be prompted to configure the settings. If you need to find them later, they have their own options submenu at the foot of the right sidebar.

 

Fill in your AWS Access Key and Secret Key, create an S3 “bucket” (the Ur-Guru was a bit disparaging about that term) to store your backup in, and decide what you want to back up, how often, and when to get rid of old backups.

AWB-settings

I like both the option to automatically delete old backups and the option to make backups only once a month. There are sites that I don’t update any more often than that, even though I know I should.

When I first installed AWB on the test blog over at the Podcast Asylum, it didn’t seem to work. After you hit “Save Changes and Back Up Now,” you see a message telling you that there will be a link to download your most recent backup when you come back to that page—but there was never any link.

That was when I realized I didn’t know how to see what was on my Amazon S3 server. Amazon’s own site wasn’t too helpful; their AWS Management Console doesn’t work with S3 yet. Fortunately, there are plenty of other tools to let you get access to your S3 account. I picked S3Fox, a plugin for the Firefox web browser. Once I’d installed that, I was able to confirm that while my “testblog” bucket had been created, there was nothing in it.

Yet when I installed Automatic WordPress Backup here on the FileSlinger Backup Blog, it worked just fine. Was this a hosting issue, I wondered? (The Podcast Asylum site is on Dreamhost and the Backup Blog is on GoDaddy—and I don’t actually recommend either of them for WordPress hosting these days.) I got in touch with Melvin Ram, who walked me through installing the development version of the plugin, due for release next week sometime.

That fixed the problem: after clicking “Save Changes and Back Up Now,” I saw the following message:

AWB-restore-interface

That “Restore from a backup” tab is new in the development version; in the current version, 1.0.2, you have to download the backup and restore it manually. Not quite all the bugs are out of the restore process yet, though. I double-checked in S3Fox, and sure enough, the ZIP file was there.

S3testblog

I did notice, however, that while the ZIP file contained my wp-co
nfig.php file, my .htaccess file, and my wp-content folder, it was missing my WordPress database. (So was the one from fileslinger.com.) So I might want to wait through a few more development versions before I completely replace WP-DB-Backup with Automatic WordPress Backup.

Nevertheless, I think WDC has made a great start with this plugin, and that it’s going to be extremely useful once they’ve got the bugs out.

Holiday Special from MyOtherDrive

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

image

Now through December 31st, you can get a whole year’s worth of online backup—a generous 25 GB, at that—for only $30. Here are the instructions they sent me in the mail.

  1. Go to the Holiday Special Page (you can click the coupon above)
  2. Click on the Holiday Gift Card.
  3. Fill in the recipient’s name.
  4. Enter your payment information.
  5. Print the coupon or forward the email that is sent to you.

I have no affiliation with MyOtherDrive and don’t get a kickback if you sign up. But it seemed like a pretty good offer if you or someone you know needs online backup.

FileSlinger Backup Blog at Blogged

 

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