Backups For (a Little More Than) Bubkas

You know the dreaded words that follow the blue screen of death: Did you back up?

According to stats from Ferris Research and Gartner, you probably didn’t. They say less than 3 percent of home computers are backed up on a daily basis.

“Most backup technologies are way too complicated and way too expensive for most people,” said David Friend, CEO and co-founder of Carbonite, a Boston startup that offers customers cheap and unlimited backup and recovery services.

“It’s one of those things you just keep putting off until someone spills Coke on your computer and it’s fried and your data is gone.”

Friend would know. His wife’s PC was stolen and a few weeks later his daughter’s laptop crashed, taking a term paper and six weeks of work with it. The data? Gone. With images of the flash-freezing scene from the Star Wars movies flickering through his head (Han Solo eventually got unfrozen), a company idea was born. hopes to attract a wide base of consumers, telecommuters and small businesses by offering an “all you can eat” menu for data storage. It’s a different approach than competing companies such as xDrive and iBackup, which base pricing on how much storage a suscriber uses.

Carbonite’s subscription services are priced less than $5 per month for unlimited storage, and less than that if you sign up for a two-year plan.

The data is encrypted and stored at the company and backups occur anytime that user is connected to the Internet.

“Companies have been giving away free disk space for a long time, but most of these solutions consist of just dragging files from one place to another,” Friend explained. “People should be able to set it and forget it.”

Carbonite is also pitching security as part of its marketing strategy, providing a duplicate of your data in the event your PC is damaged or lost.

When first used, Carbonite offers subscribers the option of backing up the entire disk or just files contained on a PC or laptop’s Desktop and My Documents folders. However, the always-on service does not backup system files, executables or temporary files, and will not backup files larger than 2 gigabits  since this would take too long, Friend added. Software installed on the user’s PC will constantly look for and mark new and updated files for backup when connected to the Internet.

He’s cagey about how many customers are using the Carbonite service. But he’s confident the idea will catch on. In an exploding digital media world, backup and recovery are hot topics, especially among SMBs and work-at-home types.

These users are looking at personal and even high-end networked disk storage and recovery alternatives, according to International Data Corp., which expects 2006 to be a breakout year for storage among SMBs.

Driving this demand is an increased need to backup e-mail and digital content, IDC said. “The deployment of local area networks and broadband has helped drive storage needs to unprecedented levels,” said Ray Boggs, vice president for IDC’s SMB research practice. “A growing number of manufacturers have been crafting storage products and services to meet the often conflicting SMB needs of performance, ease of use, and affordability.”

Even PC chipmaker AMD just introduced a free disk storage service as part of its AMD Live! campaign for its 64-bit processors. The Media Vault service is offered as part of the company’s entertainment software suite and includes 25 gigabytes  of free storage for registered users of PCs equipped with the latest AMD chip.

As storage costs continue to decline, Friend does see some degree of competition from external storage manufacturers such as Iomega and Ximeta, both of which offer compact storage devices that can be used to backup home and business systems. However, these backups are usually not selective and can take hours to accomplish. The devices can also cost hundreds of dollars and are not always easy to use.

“These systems have been around for a few years and a lot of people use them,” Friend said. But he contends that it is still vulnerable if your house burns down or someone breaks in and steals all of your equipment.

Or you could simply be in the percentile that thinks the cost to backup is too high. For five bucks a month, he’s planning to remove that excuse.

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