Data Backup Review: Backup My Info

Monday Mar 24th 2008 by Gerry Blackwell
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Lots of companies sell online data backup services, sos what makes one better than the others? Backup My Info might cost more, but we found the extra money is well worth the investment.

“It’s not for everyone,” is almost the first thing entrepreneur Jennifer Walzer told me about Back Up My Info, the online backup service she launched five years ago, and that I test drove recently. She repeated this more than once.

It’s not that Walzer thinks some small businesses can afford not to back up. Far from it. As she said, there’s no question your systems are going to fail at some point with resulting loss of data – “it’s a 100 percent certainty.” The only question is when. And small businesses that don’t adequately protect their data will inevitably suffer.

Walzer’s disclaimer has more to do with the fact that there are any number of different backup solutions available – both online and on-premises – and many of them, possibly most, are less expensive than hers. If you look at price alone.

Walzer built Back Up My Info (BUMI) to be the Cadillac of online services, and it’s priced accordingly. The company places heavy emphasis on personalized, attentive customer service and hand holding.

This makes it great for small companies with no IT resources or skills and little time or patience for the kind of attention to detail and constant monitoring that a successful backup strategy requires. But the skilled labor the company employs to provide this level of service is expensive.

How much does it cost?

Cadillac Service
The BUMI Web site doesn’t even list prices, presumably for fear prospective customers doing comparisons with other, relatively cut-rate and much more automated online backup services will dismiss it before they properly understand the “value proposition.”

The pricing scheme is simple. Customers pay only for the amount of compressed data BUMI stores for them. The backup software, installation, support, maintenance and any restores required – getting your data back in the event of a disaster – are all free.

The minimum price is $55 a month. That’s for up to 1.5 GB of compressed, encrypted data (so 3 to 4 GB of uncompressed data). Which is well within the budgets of most small businesses. But given that there are some online backup services charging a small fraction of that, you can understand why Walzer wants to explain what her service offers before telling you the price.

And it does offer a lot. Backup is a sometimes tricky business. Most small businesses don’t understand it well. What should you back up? How should you back it up? How do you know your backups are actually working? What happens if you have a disaster?

The BUMI value-add is that it takes away all that uncertainty. It provides customers with 24/7 technical support, free installation, free consulting on backup configuration, constant monitoring to ensure backups are completed successfully and periodic consulting sessions to ensure you’re continuing to back up the right stuff.

Good Software
The backup software, which BUMI did not develop itself but licenses from another company, is only a small part of it. The software resides on your system and manages the process of copying data over the Internet connection to BUMI’s storage servers. It provides fairly typical backup software functionality – more than some, but not as much as the most full-featured enterprise-grade systems.

It lets you back up automatically according to a schedule without human intervention – once every week, every day, or some other interval. It lets you choose exactly which folders to back up. You can set up filters that will select only certain types of files to back up.

After the first backup, the software will only back up new files or files that have been changed. And it will keep a number of versions of each file – you select how many – so that if you change a file and then want to go back to an earlier version, you can do that. But it only saves the changed bits so you’re not using up valuable storage space on near duplicates.

The only serious omission, which is about to be corrected, is that the software can’t do open-file backups. Because of the way some applications are programmed, it’s difficult to back them up unless they’re shut down first. Microsoft Office Outlook is a prime example.

Until the latest version of the BUMI software appears in late March or early April, the firm recommends clients shut Outlook down before their scheduled backups. If they don’t, the software won’t be able to copy the Outlook .pst files that contain all their mail, contacts and calendar data. The new version, however, will be able to back up Outlook even if you leave it open.

Better Service
The real point of the BUMI service is not the software, but the customer service. Judging by my experience, it’s at a very high level. The firm assigns an engineer – Walzer said her support employees must have a minimum of ten years experience – to help each new customer download, install and configure the client software.

The engineer I worked with was the soul of patience and obviously knew his stuff. The usual procedure is for BUMI to use an Internet remote support tool so the engineer actually takes control of your computer and performs most of the installation and set-up tasks. You only take over to key in a private encryption key and Windows user ID and password.

For whatever reason, the BUMI engineer couldn’t stay connected to my computer. It most likely had to do with the way my network router’s firewall is configured. It meant he had to talk me through the process instead, which partly accounts for the time it took to get me up and running – well over an hour. It more typically takes 15 or 20 minutes, Walzer said, and sometimes as little as 10.

The engineer carefully explained exactly what I had to do at each step, from downloading the installer from the BUMI Web site and launching it, to managing the install process, to configuring the application.

There were a few additional glitches in the process – again, because of problems at my end, most likely to do with having too many applications running and not enough computing resources available. It took two tries to get the software installed, then several steps went painfully slowly.

Free Consulting
Once the software, including a lite version of Microsoft’s SQL server software, was installed, the process of configuring it for the first backup was relatively simple. This was mainly because the BUMI engineer was able to guide me through the complex business of deciding which choices to make about how to do backups and what to back up.

The firm’s methodology includes the sensible measure of using file filters to prevent the program from backing up certain types of files, including images, videos, temporary files and the like. My engineer was able to e-mail me ready-made coding for this filter, which I could simply clip from the message and paste into the software.

Another part of the methodology is to set up the software so it communicates with a BUMI server to send it a notification when a backup is complete, and show any errors that occurred. The server then turns around and e-mails this notification to the customer.

Setting this up requires the engineer to input a password proprietary to BUMI. Because in my installation, he wasn’t able to take control of my system, he couldn’t do this. Instead, he set up the software to generate a pop-up message on my screen with the notifications, which was almost as satisfactory.

While the set-up process was more involved and time-consuming than either of us expected, the experience was still positive. And the next day after the first full backup was done in the middle of the night, my BUMI engineer e-mailed to tell me it had completed successfully.

Constant Feedback
I subsequently adjusted which folders to back up – the customer always has control of the client software on his system and can adjust backup parameters or schedules or add new backups. Since my backup now included some files that could not be backed up while ope, and I hadn’t closed them before the scheduled event, the BUMI software reported errors in a pop-up message that I found the next day.

A different BUMI engineer – mine was apparently busy in meetings – e-mailed to point out these errors, explain why they occurred and suggest that in future I could exclude folders or files that triggered errors. He also offered to set up a teleconference to discuss what I was backing up and how I might change that to increase efficiency and reduce storage requirements.

A few days after the initial installation, a hand-written note arrived in the mail from my BUMI engineer, with business cards for recording my encryption key. (It’s important to remember this password-like 16-character code because without it, you can’t set up the BUMI service on a new computer and restore all your files from your backups in the event of a disaster.)

You get the idea. BUMI smothers you with service. The attention to detail is excellent.

The software works well enough. I didn’t test a full restore of my backup set, but I did experiment with restoring selected files. It was faster than I expected and was easy to do. In the event of a real disaster, though, my BUMI engineer – or another – would help me through the restore process.

The real advantage here is the company's level of service and the reassurance that brings. It’s like buying insurance for your data, and it's money well-spent.

Based in London, Canada, Gerry Blackwell has been writing about information technology and telecommunications for a variety of print and online publications since the 1980s.

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