In my Backing Up QuickBooks Data article I talked about the importance of a good backup plan for your business. Today I’ll talk a bit about one portion of a good plan, using online backups.
When I’m hired to evaluate a business and their QuickBooks procedures one of the first things I look at is how they are making backups of their data. Not just their QuickBooks data, but all important electronic business information. All too often I find that there is no comprehensive backup and recovery plan in place. Some businesses have a plan, but they aren’t being implemented correctly. The most common reason is that backing up data is time consuming, complicated and a major hassle to perform. That is why I like online backups – they are simple to implement and don’t take a lot of effort to run.
Please note that you should not rely on these as your only backup procedure. This should just be one part, a safety net if all else fails. These kinds of plans cannot cover all situations and don’t provide the type of comprehensive security that a good plan will provide. (article revised 5/13/2009)
How do they Work?
The basic online backup system (of the type that I like) works in the background. You set the system up, you specify the files to be backed up, and then you can pretty much forget about it. When your computer is idle for a few moments, the online backup program will find any files that have been updated and will copy them to a secure place on another computer, over your Internet connection. If you start using your system, the program waits.
Why is this a good system?
- Once you set it up, you don’t have to remember to actually “run” the backup procedure. Most people aren’t good about making backups because they are just too busy, they put it off until later. These online systems work in the background and do not require you to do anything. They just work.
- The backup copy is an off site copy of your data, so if there is a disaster of some sort that destroys your local copies, you have this
- The backup is made every time that you change a file. If you are backing up important Word documents, for example, each time you save a revision it will be backed up at the next opportunity. QuickBooks files are usually backed up whenever you close the company file (this may vary with different backup systems).
What are the potential problems?
- Some systems only keep one revision, so if the file has been damaged (and you don’t realize it right away) your one backup copy may be bad data (which is one reason why you don’t rely ONLY on this method).
- You might not have protection against deleted files. Some of the backup systems only keep files that you are currently using, rather than archiving everything you have ever had on your computer. So if you accidentally erase a file on your computer and don’t realize it until a week later, that file might not be found in your online backup.
I can’t say this often enough – this is just a part of a good backup plan. Don’t rely JUST on these kinds of backups. You need archival backups, and you need to use different “layers” of backups, as I outline in my data backup article.
Which Product to Use?
There are many different products available, each with it’s own benefits and drawbacks. I don’t have a comprehensive evaluation of all that are available, but I can relate my experience with two: Carbonite Online Backup and Data Deposit Box.
Working With Carbonite
This is the online backup system that I currently use. It is simple to set up, it works flawlessly in the background. If there is something wrong in your setup and several days go by without a backup taking place, you get an email reminder asking you if there is a problem.
The biggest advantage of this system over Data Deposit Box is price. You pay a flat fee for each computer you back up, without regards to volume. I generate a huge amount of information with document files, source files for programs I write, and more. With systems that require you to pay by volume I found that the charges were getting very high, and I had a tendency to pick and choose which files to back up. Sometimes I might miss a new file, or I might decide to not back up something to save space and later find that I needed that. With Carbonite, I don’t worry about this. I just specify the folders to watch and it takes everything.
Another advantage is how you work with your file. The Carbonite backed-up files are accessible via a the Carbonite Backup Drive. You can easily locate files using Windows Explorer, just as you manage any file in your system. Also, in Windows Explorer, you have visual cues that tell you if a file or folder are backed up, or waiting to be backed up.
The primary disadvantage to this is that it doesn’t keep “revisions” of files, or a history of files. That is, the copy that you see backed up is the only copy, Carbonite keeps a limited number of “revisions” of files, and you might not find a particular revision if you have to restore an older version. AND if a file is erased on your computer, it will eventually be removed from the backup. This is not an archival system, you can’t rely on it as your primary backup.
Working with Data Deposit Box
I used this product for several years, and I still use it in some circumstances. The system is simple to set up, but it is a bit more “technical” than Carbonite. Some people who aren’t very comfortable with managing files on their computer may find this a bit complicated to set up. Restoring backups also was much more complicated to do. Rather than working through Windows Explorer you will use a web based system.
Another issue I ran into with this was that you pay by the volume you have backed up. Initially this wasn’t a problem for me, but as time went on, the monthly fees became much higher than I wanted to pay. If you are backing up a specific set of files, such as your QuickBooks data, this should not be a limitation.
Data Deposit Box has some significant advantages over Carbonite. The most important, for some users, is that it can be used as an archival backup. That is, you have options to save multiple copies of files. If you have a Word document, for example, and you revise it, you will end up with two copies of the file. The most up to date, and the prior revision. For some circumstances this is very important. You are less likely to find that your backup copy has been damaged – you have the option of going back to a prior version (perhaps several). Another significant feature is that if you delete a file from your computer, Data Deposit Box will continue to hold a copy of the file in the backup (rather than erasing it after a period of time, like Carbonite). Of course, the more copies you keep, the higher the fee.
You may find, in some cases, that you pay less for this service than you do with Carbonite. If you back up a limited number of files your volume charges will be low.
Choosing a Product
So how do you choose which to use? Of the two that I list here, if you have a small volume of data (or your data is scattered on a large number of desktop computers) and are comfortable with setting up some slightly technical software (or have an IT person available), I’d probably pick Data Deposit Box. If you have a large volume of data, with a smaller number of computers, and you want something that is very simple to set up and use, I would think about Carbonite.
There are many other products out there that can do the same kind of thing. One of the originals is “Mozy”, but I have no experience with that. Of course, if you are using QuickBooks, there is the QuickBooks Online Backup Service. I haven’t used this service either, as it is too expensive for the large volume of data that I have to back up. Again, note that I’m backing up quite a bit more information than just my QuickBooks data.
If you have used ANY of these kinds of services please leave a comment about what you have used and how you liked it!