Mozy: Cheap, But You Get What You Pay For

Part 1 of a two-part series about my experiences with the on-line file-backup service Mozy. Part 2 is here.

I’ve been using Mozy since the fall of 2007, when I stumbled across it while researching backup options. I was about five months into working as a full-time freelancer, and I was getting more and more worried by the fact that not only my photos, music and personal files but also the work I was doing for clients were all unprotected.

At first, I was going to get an external hard drive and use a synchronizing program, but the pessimist in me was quickly swayed by the arguments for remote backup systems, such as Mozy. An external hard drive is a great way to protect against data loss from machine problems (disintegrating hard drive, file corruption, etc.), but what about fire or burglary? In one of these worst-case scenarios, if the external hard drive is in the same location as your computer, the backed-up data might be gone, too.

I was also swayed by the price difference. Setting up an external hard drive and a synchronizing program would probably cost at least $100. Mozy costs $5 per month and protects against anything from accidental deletion of a single document to total loss in a tsunami (admittedly uncommon in Montana, but you can never be too careful).

I also thought that an online backup solution like Mozy just seemed elegant. Like Gmail, Flickr, Google Docs, and so many other similar services, Mozy felt like it was letting me tap into the distributed “survivability” that was the original purpose of the entire internet – which, after all, was originally designed to support the continuity of the U.S. government in the event of, say, a nuclear exchange.

So, in November 2007, I signed up for Mozy’s Mac beta version and started backing up.

The initial upload of the data that I wanted backed up took about a month or two. That’s nothing against Mozy – I ultimately selected close to 30 gigabytes of data for backup, and I was using a cellular modem in an area with poor tower coverage, resulting in low bandwidth – but the amount of data and the connection speed weren’t the only factors slowing things down.

The additional factor was the frequent errors that caused the service to disconnect itself, which meant that – when I wasn’t keeping a close eye on the upload process – I would sometimes lose a day or two in what was already an immensely long process. When I complained to Mozy Support (available to “home” users only by email and – during business hours – web chat), I was told that these interruptions were “known issues” for which there was no fix but to uninstall and reinstall Mozy on my computer.

And these interruptions didn’t go away once I had completed my initial upload. I had to go through the reinstall process about once every two months for the year and a half that I was using Mozy. This was understandable as long as I was using a “beta” product (the software industry’s term for a product that is still being tested and improved), but the product came out of beta while I was using it, with no noticeable reduction in the problems I’d been experiencing.

Frequent reinstalls of the Mozy application wouldn’t have been such a big deal, except that – each time – I also had to re-select the files I wanted backed up. When uninstalling Mozy, there is an option to save your configuration, but I learned early on that doing so also “saved” whatever problem I was having. It seemed that the only way to successfully eliminate the errors I was experiencing was to utterly wipe the application, its log, and its configuration settings from my machine, and to start from scratch after reinstalling, including reselecting which files I wanted backed up.

And having to reselect what files I was backing up introduced the risk that I might overlook something I had selected in a previous configuration, which, in turn, would signal to Mozy that I no longer wanted that particular file backed up.

As an aside, another potential problem with Mozy for some people is that, if you (1) back up a given file and then (2) accidentally erase that file, Mozy only keeps the backed up version of the file for 30 days, after which it interprets that file’s absence from your machine as evidence that you want it to become absent from the backup as well. If you think about it for a moment, this is a pretty strange policy, since it means that – if you don’t spot an accidental deletion within 30 days – you’ll never be able to restore that file. It also means that you can’t store something on Mozy long term, say 5,000 photos you don’t have room for on your machine while you are waiting to upgrade your hard drive, or something like that.

Still, for all these limitations, Mozy seemed like good value for the price. Then, earlier this month, I needed to restore everything, and I learned the hard way just how little that $5 per month was really buying me.

Next, Part 2: Mozy is great okay… until you need to restore. And isn’t that kind of the point?

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