A friend asked about using Dropbox vs. Carbonite

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Leeland's picture

Today a friend asked me which was a better backup solution Dropbox (http://dropbox.com/ if your going to sign up please use this referral URL http://db.tt/74rAyEsm) or Carbonite (http://carbonite.com). I can see the confusion of Dropbox as a backup solution, it does kind of look like one to most folks. As long as I answered it for my friend I might as well put it out for others too. Plus I might get some nice feedback on other options.

To the serious techies (geeks/nerds) Dropbox and Carbonite are not the same solutions.

Dropbox lets you have a shared folder of stuff (pictures, files, etc.) which is kept in sync across multiple devices (computers, laptops, mobile devices like smart phones).

I use Dropbox for things like: shareable pictures, office notes, project notes, and funny items I want to share. I only keep about 4GB of data in Dropbox at any one time. I often remove stuff (such as completed projects, rolled out oldest vacation pictures when I add new ones, etc.) from it when my Dropbox is getting too full. These things are either deleted (because I have them someplace else) or moved to my archive folder on my large storage device at home to be kept for eternity.

Most people only need a small amount of storage for their "shared" current projects files so Dropbox free is perfect for this. It is reasonably secured; if you forget your password they can't get you back in, data is always encrypted when moving over the networks; data on the Dropbox server is stored encrypted using your password as the key; and most of my security super brain friends considered it reasonably safe.

Carbonite is a computer backup solution which will give you an "off site" backup solution (which I highly recommend having). This is more like having a safety deposit lock box at a bank for keeping copies of your important documents. The whole purpose of the safety deposit box is secured storage someplace other than your house. This is insurance against theft and disaster (fire/flood/earthquake). It isn't very big and is primary for items which are difficult to replace or which you will need in an emergency.

For computer data I have about 500GB of "personal data files" which includes every project I ever did, all my pictures and my family pictures, and electronic copies of all my papers (taxes, degrees, legal papers, bills, funny things for all my kids, etc.). This is far too much data to be keeping in Dropbox, and also it is stuff I don't want to be "accessible" should someone get my laptop or phone. All of this is data I want back should something happen to my house or computers. This is what I need the off site backup of and it is far more than can or should be stored in Dropbox.

This leads us to the off site backup solutions like Carbonite, Crashplan, and Mozy. I have tried all three for about 6 months each. I had technical issues with Mozy (which are really differences of opinions between them and me), and felt that Crashplan and Carbonite were about the same. I went with Crashplan as they had a multi-computer plan so I have one account but am able to back up all my computers. Essentially all three of these services are fine solutions, pick the one you like best for what ever unique reasons you might have. Essentially they are all install, setup and forget solutions. Put these on your laptops, and your desktops. These services will NOT keep the files in sync, they will only back them up. The backups are transported and stored securely enough to leave me with little worry of the government looking through my data (which to be honest they could do easier by walking into my house and looking at my desktop, which is exactly what they will do if they feel the need).

So what about super-sensitive data. These are files for work which should NOT be stored on any of my devices in the event of theft or loss. This is where Truecrypt comes in. If you are not technically savvy enough to be comfortable playing with mounted special drives, and digital encryption technology usage (like ssh, ssh-keys, pgp, etc.) this might still be for you. However, Truecrypt is very easy to use. It allows you to create a file which is strongly encrypted that can be "opened" and mounted like a thumb drive. Files put in it are safe once you unmount the drive. I carry a USB thumb drive with a handful of Truecrypt drives for the organizations I work for and personal data. I keep them smallish (roughly 250MB each) to allow them to be backed up easily but also to keep me from putting too much into them. I keep them in sync with their counterparts on the organizations computers using Microsoft's SyncToy, or the Linux program Unison. This fills the last crack in how I manage my data.

In summary to protect my data I use a combination of technologies. I cover all the cracks for disaster recovery and theft of devices/data using the right service or technology for each piece of the puzzle. I have a device at home which protects from disk failures (Drobo). I pay for services to keep all of my data backed up someplace other than my house (Crashplan). I keep my current non-sensitive files for projects and personal stuff in sync automatically between all of my computers using Dropbox. Finally for sensitive files I keep those in smallish mountable encrypted drives using the free program Truecrypt and I keep those in sync between the incrypted drives by using Microsofts SyncToy (i.e. I mount one on G: and the USB copy on H: and sync them up, then dismount).

I think that about covers the bits I need to protect. In short I use:

1) A Drobo (http://drobo.com) on my main desktop computer at home (this provides huge amounts of storage which is guarded from losses due to disk failures, of which WILL happen from time to time).
2) Dropbox (http://db.tt/74rAyEsm) for my "working files" between all my computers, tablets, and cell phone.
3) Crashplan (http://crashplan.com) to backup all the user data (not the whole box just the user directories and all of my Drobo) to an off site storage facility.
4) A USB thumb drive with a Truecrypt (http://www.truecrypt.org/) files on it for any super sensitive stuff kept in sync using Microsoft's SyncToy (http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?id=15155)

I hope that helps.

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