Going paperless has been a computing mantra for decades. Lawyers have experienced the opposite result - more paper files than ever, but this is because the computer era generated more information for review. As electronic files are sensitive to media failure, backups are needed.
Onsite electronic file backup use attached servers, drives and network-attached storage (NAS). These are generally low tech, making them inexpensive, and even portable. These advantages are offset by the risk of data loss from hardware failure, disaster damage, and of hardware theft or data breach with the resulting worries about client and office data security. (This is a reason to use encryption software in your office).
The fast-pace of electronic storage development also created a problem for the recovery of data stored on media which became obsolete in as little as 5 years.
Offsite electronic file backup and online document storage reduce these problems by moving data and its inherent problems to the data storage company. Offsite electronic file backup refers to an offsite company with servers to which onsite files are copied. Some users even keep their files offsite and download the documents for viewing and editing, then upload the changed document. This was called online document storage, but the inability to handle multiple users and the upload and download efforts limited the attractiveness of both solutions.
In 2010, Application-Service-Providers (ASP) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers developed software that could handle multiple users and made offsite electronic file storage and recovery easy and inexpensive. For clarity, we'll address offsite electronic file backup first and then online document storage.
Offsite (online) backup software may be ASP, SaaS or both. The major benefit of online backup is the assurance that a hard drive failure, theft, or local disaster does not wipe out your data. With some companies, you also have remote access as well when you are out of the office.
There is though two points of concern regarding data security. The first is during data transfer where if you are on an unsecured (public) Internet system, your files are available to snooping during transfer. The second is during storage, where your files might be accessible to anyone with electronic or physical access to the servers.
While the online backup companies state your data is protected, the actual circumstance might be different. Unless the data is encrypted before leaving your computer, your protection is dependent on the online backup company not snooping, and on employees adhering to a 'privacy' policy. Employee data breaches (theft) were a common way to farm email addresses for the spam market, which led to several lawsuits (Ameritrade, among them). These breaches resulted in some companies paying for credit monitoring for the affected individuals, and forced the companies to use data encryption. Electronic file backup companies, however, are not required to encrypt your data. (This is another reason to use encryption software in your office).
Another concern with online electronic file backup regards the tolerance of Internet Service Providers to heavy Internet use. Electronic file backup counts against your monthly limit, so if your ISP limits you to 250 GB of monthly service, your first backup should be spaced over an end and start of two months. Here is some information about a few online electronic file backup companies as of July 2011.
Adrive (adrive.com) provides three levels of manual (not automatic) backup service, Basic, Signature, and Premium. The Basic plan provides 50 GB of free storage using a SaaS (browser) interface, and it has file sharing (discussed in Part 3). To use the Basic plan, you open your browser, logon to Adrive, which opens a special window, and then select and transfer files.
The Signature plan is $6.95 per month for 50 GB of storage and includes ASP desktop software, which has more functionality than the basic (browser) plan, and some useful additional services. The Premium plan starts with 100 GB of storage at $13.95 per month and includes the same services as the Signature plan. Two other selling points are that Adrive allows you to backup any computer or drive connected to your computer, and ADrive has Zoho online editing (discussed in Part 3).
Adrive has two significant disadvantages. First, Adrive lacks both transfer and storage encryption, so you MUST encrypt confidential files before uploading them. Second, Adrive storage is prone to file redundancy and orphans. If you rename or delete files on your local drive, you would have to manually rename or delete the files from the 'Adrive' backup, or have the old files still in Adrive storage. This can be good if you like keeping old files, but it also increases your storage use and expense.
To recover your files, you access Adrive through your browser or the ASP desktop software, and manually select and download the files. This may take a significant amount of time for a total data loss and would count towards your monthly ISP service limit.
Carbonite (carbonite.com) is a two-tier automated and encrypted backup service. You download and install the Carbonite software. It then runs in the background, waiting for you to walk away so it can backup your files. Carbonite automatically copies and encrypts your files and transmits them to the Carbonite server for storage. Carbonite also allows you to create a custom encryption key.
The Carbonite Home/Office plan provides unlimited online backups for $59 per computer per year. Carbonite automatically deletes from its files any files that you renamed or deleted, but with a 30-day delay, so there is usually enough time to realize and recover files you want to keep. To recover files from Carbonite, you go online, log in and download the files. Carbonite also has a smartphone application that allows file access from the iPhone, iPad, Android or BlackBerry, except for custom encryption users.
Carbonite 'unlimited' backups are not really unlimited. Carbonite does not automatically backup software programs (executable files), temporary files, system files, or files from network or external drives. You can manually backup videos, executable files, files larger than 4GB, and additional internal hard drives, but these are manual operations in the Home/Office plan. Carbonite also slows uploads when over 200 GB is on its servers.
The Carbonite Business plan allows an unlimited number of computers, and permits external hard drive backups, but limits the account to 250GB of backup at a pricey $229. Additional backup space in 50GB increments is available for $46 per year. Unless there are five or more computers, Carbonite might be overly expensive compared to other services.
Mozy (mozy.com) is also a two-tier plan automated and encrypted backup service. While easy to use, Mozy has quirky pricing plans. Mozy charges $71.88 per year for 50GB and one computer, which is more expensive than Carbonite, or $119.88 for 125 GB. Additional computers are another $24 per year per computer plus an additional $24 per year for a mere 20 GB of storage. A comparison to other services and actual conditions would require a spreadsheet. On the plus side, recovery via Mozy is somewhat smooth through the restore manager in the software that allows file streaming directly to your computer. Mozy also has free iPhone, iPad, and Android applications so monitoring and viewing your backups.
Backblaze (backblaze.com) is a single-tier automated and encrypted backup service. Like Carbonite and Mozy, the program runs in the background, waiting for you to walk away so it can copy, encrypt and transmit your files. You can also set Backblaze for manual activation, meaning you can walk away for a break and not have the computer occupied in a backup that takes a couple minutes to disengage.
At $5 per month per computer (or save $10 by purchasing a year for $50!) with unlimited storage, Backblaze is effective in both ease and expense. Backblaze also allows you to create a custom encryption key. This free service means that no one but you can decrypt the files - not even Backblaze, so there is no encryption breach-risk.
On addition, you can change the settings and backup executable files and large files, and backup multiple internal and external (USB) drives, but not network drives. Adding these files can result in significant data streaming, which might cause a problem with your ISP limit.
Recovery with Backblaze over the Internet is free, but as with the other services, file streaming is time-consuming. Backblaze offers a DVD recovery at $99 per disk and a USB drive is $189. Backblaze also has a computer location tracking function, but not mobile applications.
IDrive (idrive.com) also provides tiered service. IDrive allows 5 GB free, 150 GB at $4.95 per month per PC, 500 GB at $14.95 per month for up to 5 PCs, unlimited storage for $49.50 per year for one computer with there is another plan of $9.95 per 50 GB per month for multiple PCs, and higher storage of a higher price. As with other companies, if you delete the data from your desktop, the company deletes the corresponding data from its servers after 30 days. The problem with IDrive is that after 150GB of data, IDrive throttles your upload rate, so uploads are slower.
There are many other companies in the market, and some companies now work with you to provide both local and offsite backups. For lawyers, the primary consideration should be encryption (more on this in Part 3). Data breaches are a substantial risk and at a minimum could result in paying for credit monitoring for clients plus other expenses and fees. The other considerations of the amount of storage and the ease of use for backups, access, and recovery, are essentially a matter of price. This author has used Backblaze for over a year, primarily because the balance of encryption, limited functionality, and price work well in this office. Offices with several computers or sites would likely select a different service. Another consideration is the use of local encrypted backups as well.
Gerald R. Prettyman is an Intellectual Property and Patent Attorney serving entrepreneurs, start-ups, and established businesses seeking to protect and profit from their ideas. Please visit http://GotABrightIdea.com.