Backup in the Cloud – Part 1 – The Problem

I live in a not especially spacious flat in London and, due to the my technical nature and a strong desire not to fill my flat with any more stuff, I try to store as much digitally as possible. As soon as I started to rely on computers to store important documents, photos, music etc. I realised that I needed some sort of resilience  Mirrored disks helped to protect me from disk failure however, in 2008 I was burgled. The kids who broke in were, luckily, only interested in portable electronics so my ancient grey server case was of no interest to them. Once I realised that this grey box contained irreplaceable data I knew it was time to start some kind of backup routine.

With the best will in the world there was no chance that I would remember to perform regular backups and store them with a friend or family so I started looking at something that would be automatic, reliable, secure and offsite.

Mozy fit the bill perfectly, I had to use the Pro service as I was running a Windows Server OS which cost me $3.99 per month for the license plus $0.50 a month per gigabyte. As I was planning to backup less than 10GB (just the totally irreplaceable stuff) this was an affordable option. It came with no management overhead, just an e-mail once a week to tell me if my backups are up to date. In the years that I have been using Mozy I have had to manually intervene about once a year when backups were failing for one reason or another, but thanks to the alert e-mail I never missed more than a week’s backup.

Fast forward several years, thanks to many holidays carrying newer, higher megapixel cameras and a growth in stored documents, I now have a backup archive of over 80GB (and would like to backup more). Mozy has scaled fantastically well, as has my internet connection having been upgraded from 10Mb down/1Mb up to 120Mb down/12Mb up. Unfortunately Mozy have never lowered their prices, in fact my $3.99 a month license key is now grandfathered (whatever that means) and to setup the service from scratch today would cost me an additional $4 a month.

For about 6 months I’ve been acutely aware (every time I receive the bill) that I really need to change my backup solution. Mozy Pro is now costing me almost $60 per month and with the pound slowly falling against the dollar this is beginning to get quite expensive. Too expensive for a service that is fundamentally insurance against theft, fire, flooding and my own idiocy.

In order to make any solution work for me it must meet some fairly strict criteria:

  • It must be secure – Encrypted to a secure standard on my server before it gets anywhere near the internet
  • It must be easy to manage – I want an e-mail to tell me when my backups are not working, and maybe even a semi-regular notification that they are!
  • It must be cost effective – £10-15 a month is fine, £20 is manageable for an exceptional service, $60 (£40) is outrageous.
  • Restores must be easy – the last thing I want after a data destroying act of god/thieves is a concern that my restore might not work.
  • It must be secure – I know I’m labouring this point but if I’m not certain that my data is being encrypted locally using a recognised, hard to break cipher then I’m not going to upload it to the internet.

I’ve been aware for some time that storage on Amazon Web Services S3 platform is significantly cheaper than Mozy per GB, a quick examination of the costs reveals by how much:

Service Price per GB per month
Mozy $0.50
S3 Standard Storage $0.096
S3 Reduced Redundancy $0.076
Glacier $0.011

S3 standard storage is 80% cheaper than Mozy and Glacier is approaching 98% cheaper. Now please don’t use the above as a definitive guide to pricing, the Amazon S3 pricing structure is horrifically complex. On top of the monthly per GB price, there are costs for retrieving data in the event of a restore from S3, and an additional level of complexity when restoring from Glacier that, if misunderstood, could end up costing you stupid amounts of money to retrieve your own data.

Amazon’s S3 pricing policy is here: Amazon AWS S3 Pricing

If you want to see how badly you can go wrong when restoring from Glacier, have look at these examples (look at “Estimate of your Monthly Bill”):

Restoring 100GB in 4 hours:

AmazonGlacierCalc1

Restoring in 1 day:

AmazonGlacierCalc2

Restoring in 1 week:

AmazonGlacierCalc3

You can try out your own calculations here: Amazon AWS Monthly Price Calculator

As you can see, how quickly you choose to restore your data from Glacier has a massive impact on price. Most users will have limited bandwidth for a restore so would be wasting money to request data too quickly, however for a business that needs to get back on it’s feet in a hurry this may be a viable option.

If Glacier scares you, don’t use it. You can still use S3 for 20% of the cost of Mozy and save a little more if you opt for reduced redundancy storage (RRS).

For me the costs work. Most of my data will be ‘upload’ which is free, and I will only need to restore more than the free allowance in an emergency when I’ll be willing to pay a reasonable price to retrieve my data over a sensible period of time.

Now I have a suitable storage platform that meets my price point I need some software to fulfil the rest of the criteria that I outlined above. In part 2 I’ll be examining CloudBerry Lab’s, CloudBerry Backup and trying to figure out whether this really is a better solution than Mozy.

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