Carbonite Backup Service
Carbonite installs a small application on your computer that works quietly in the background looking for new and changed files that need to be backed up. Since 2006, the company has backed up more than 39 billion files and has restored more than 3.2 billion lost files for its customers. Carbonite backs up more than 100 million files every day to high-redundancy storage servers in its data centers.
Carbonite Product Overview
When you make backups, you should always have three copies: (1) the original, (2) one local backup and (3) one remote backup. A local copy is there for convenience and safety, and for when you upgrade your computer. Typically this would be stored on a CD or DVD, or an external hard drive that can be stored in a safe place. The remote copy is for disasters like your building burning down or being flooded, or all your computer equipment being stolen. The remote copy is often ignored or neglected, because it's a hassle. Not any more, provided you have enough bandwidth (i.e. uncapped) and a reasonable speed internet connection.
Carbonite is one of a number of "cloud backup" services. Your data is encrypted and then sent to a secure server on the internet, where the data is stored until you need it. The nice thing about Carbonite is that it works in the background, backing up files once they have been changed, without you having to stop work to make a backup copy.
You install the software and it displays an icon in the taskbar, and runs a background service, so it is really not obtrusive. About 10 minutes after you start up your computer it will connect to their backup servers and start an upload trickle. You can pause it if you need all your bandwidth back, or put it on "low priority" mode, or stop it altogether for a while.
All the files that have been backed up have a small green blob in the bottom left corner of the icon, and files waiting to be backed up have an orange blob. Right click on a file to tell Carbonite to back it up, or not, as required. By default certain file types are not backed up, but you can override this by choosing them anyway.
There is a "Status" page where you can see what is going on (see top image), and an additional icon in "My Computer" called the "Carbonite Backup Drive". You can use this to browse through the contents of the backup server, and see which files are already backed up, and which are still waiting to be backed up. It's all really easy and intuitive. If the file changes, it keeps multiple versions of the file, so you can go back to a previous version if necessary. Just right-click to restore the file.
Recovering a file
The other great thing is that you can retrieve the file even if you aren't at your own machine. Provided you have a good user name and password, this provides convenience (you may be at a meeting or conference and forgot to bring a particular file) and security (without the password the file is encrypted and secure). I have used Carbonite to retrieve and restore a previous version of a file that I was working on and messed up. I have also been greatly relieved to be able to restore data to a hard drive that went weird.
As an Access developer I have developed "Zippy", a utility to repair and compact Access databases and compress them into a ZIP file. That's great for daily maintenance and keeping old versions, but until it is backed up by Carbonite or on my external USB HDD, it isn't backed up.
Don't expect Carbonite to work miracles it wasn't designed to do. If you are trying to transfer your data from a PC to Mac, or from Windows XP to Windows 7, don't use the "Restore Mode" because the folder layout on the new system may be slightly different. In that case rather use your external HDD backup, and then transfer your Carbonite licence to the new PC. If the external HDD is gone, then restore your data files only, not system or program files. Bear in mind this could take a long time and use a lot of bandwidth.
Recovering all files
This is Carbonite's biggest weakness. You can either choose to restore individual files, which works great, or you can restore all files. That's it. There is no option to restore all missing or newer files, which is absurd. If your laptop dies and you restore most of your files from a different backup, and then decide to restore all your Carbonite backup files, it will download and restore files from its backup, even if those files already exist. This is a total waste of time and it means you could end up waiting for days or even weeks for missing files to be restored, and you also run the risk of Carbonite overwriting newly modified files with the original backup files. The only workaround I can think of is to restore the Carbonite files to an external USB drive, and then copy across the newer files. Alternatively you need to rummage through thousands of files and select each one that needs to be restored.
Who needs backups?
In the past two decades I have had 4 machines die on me. The first one took 3 dozen floppy disks to restore the backup. The second one I managed to copy the data to another hard drive after I dropped the laptop. The third one's hard drive died after 7 days so I still had the old laptop. The fourth one I cooked the hard drive and the motherboard, and I was able to restore the data from my USB HDD. In each case I would have suffered a major financial loss without those backups.
I chose Carbonite because they advertise on the TWIT podcast network, and they allow you to try it for 15 days at no charge. There is also an offer code that gives you an extra free month or so. You can also get a free month by using a special URL to recommend it to your friends. So they were generous about letting me try it out, and it proved to be very easy to use. I compared it to similar services and decided that the pricing was cheaper or equivalent. And I like the simplicity of the product. Check out www.onlinecomputerbackup.eu for comprehensive reviews of 10 online backup products.
Carbonite costs $59 per year for a single computer. This is good value for a single laptop or a home computer. For a business environment, Carbonite Business works on a monthly fee for the amount of data stored, which is better value for anything more than around 3 workstations. Discounts are also available if you are willing to pay for more than 1 year at a time.
Their "Technical Support" is basic, and at times clueless, but many of the questions are answered online. They did help me with a bug where some AppData folders were causing Carbonite to overload. Presumably this is a bug that will be fixed.
What about Local Backups?
I use SyncToy from Microsoft. I set it up to copy all my stuff to various folders on an external USB hard drive, which is locked in my office. It also serves as an archive, although I do make archive copies to CD or DVD from time to time. See the Wikipedia page on SyncToy. I also make a complete disk image using Acronis True Image ($49.99) which I store on a different external USB hard drive.
Carbonite page on Wikipedia
Wikipedia list of online backup services
Top 10 online backup programs at www.onlinecomputerbackup.eu
Review of Carbonite in the UK's WebUser magazine