Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sleeping at Night for $5 a month

Several months ago, I confessed to being a Scan Artist. I bought a fantastic, speedy desktop scanner from Fujitsu and converted almost every paper record in my home office into a PDF file. I don't keep hard copies of anything anymore.

There are many virtues to a paper-free life. For those of us living in small Manhattan apartments, the space saved by eliminating paper files was enough, by itself, to motivate my transition to committed scanner.

Remote access is a second virtue that I really enjoy. I have configured my home network to make it easy for me to log on to any of my home PCs from virtually any internet-connected computer. (Eventually, I intend to post more on this to solicit comments on the 'hackability' of my home network. For now, I'll continue to pretend that security through obscurity actually works.)

There is a third benefit of paper-free living that I have been hoping to realize for months, but only last week did it finally become a reality. With all my important home/personal records on paper, a house fire or flood would have been disastrous. With everything stored digitally, I thought it would be trivial to keep an off-site copy of everything. After investigating a number of alternatives, I couldn't find a cheap and reliable way to maintain a backup.

I thought about copying my files onto DVDs, but the manual process is much too laborious. I thought about copying them to my laptop, but I have more than 50 gigabytes of data to backup, and my laptop hard disk doesn't have sufficient capacity. There are dozens of online backup services but none offers what I want:
  • At least 100 gigabytes of online storage with the potential to add more as my document library grows.
  • A large, profitable company standing behind the online service (or some type of distributed infrastructure that does not depend on the balance sheet of a small company)
  • A way to encrypt my files, before they leave my desktop, so I can rest assured that my sensitive records will never be read by anyone else.
Here's the solution:
  • For $25, buy Syncback from a small publisher called 2 Bright Sparks. The product is cheap but fabulous. It is infinitely configurable to back files up from one location to another. The destination can be another local disk or directory or it can be a remote FTP server. You can schedule and group backups with dozens of options including on-the-fly encryption of files into 256-bit AES encrypted ZIP archives.
  • For $4.99 a month, get a Home Hosting package from 1and1 Internet. It comes with two free domain name registrations, 100 GB of online disk space accessible via FTP with 1 TB of monthly bandwidth. It also includes some free email accounts.
Syncback runs as a service on my home server and synchronizes all of my documents, photos, and music with an external USB hard drive where it stores the copies in encrypted ZIP form. On a weekly basis, it then sync's the encrypted ZIPs with my 1and1 FTP server.

The only gotcha was the time it took to complete the first backup. My roughly 50GB of data required 22,000 minutes (that's almost 16 days!) for the initial synchronization. Of course from now on, it's just the incremental changes that get copied, so it will be a lot faster. It was a very painful reminder that cable broadband isn't really broadband in the upload direction.

Now if one of my neighbors drops a lit cigarette into the trash and sets my building on fire, I can focus on getting my family to safety without having to grab a hard drive while rushing to the fire escape.


Sean Tierney said...

that sounds like a good solution and $5/mo is a steal- looks like that software is only for PC unfortunately... we use the mirra backup appliance for all computers in our startup's office and then do an offsite rotating backup to external hard drive.

You might be interested in "lojack" technology for your computer as well if it contains highly-sensitive info. This is the 2nd piece of the puzzle and it allows you to track your laptop down in a theft and worst case you can wipe the drive remotely. I wrote an article on it for Law Office Computing here->

the last puzzle piece is to encrypt your harddrive so that in the event it's physically stolen, the SAM file cannot be cracked and files accessed (this is a trivial task btw using one of the linux live discs). If you're on PC, check out Truecrypt. Mac OS X has Filevault built-in so we're covered already ;-)


Anonymous said...

i like 1&1 Internet's prices too, especially for offline storage/backup only.

you should join their affiliate program, so when you post links to them you get a small piece of the action ;-)

Breck said...


Another great scanner for having a paperless office I would suggest is the NeatReceipts( Scanalizer.

Not as hi speed as my main scanner, but it is ultra portable and simple to use. Great for sending faxes, scanning business cards, or other everyday scanning tasks(especially when on the road).

ventureblogalist said...

I will second the NeatReceipts recommendation (disclaimer its my firm's portfolio company).

also check out


Computer and Network Security Sales, Engineering and Product Managment Blog said...


My business is reliant upon technology, and backup is one piece we haven’t had luck with. The main problem was that we couldn't get the backup systems to backup our Outlook email. Not sure why, but never got it to a place where it would actually back up our email. So on your recommendation I have just signed up and keeping my fingers crossed.


Nick Gogerty said...

you may be interested in a firm called tout virtual, the have a heterogenous virtualization management solution you may be interested in having a look at.

Guy Kingston said...

"Broadband isn't really broadband in the upload direction". What with Flickr, YouTube, on-line back-up, etc., there must be massive latent demand for decent upload speeds. Someone's going to make a lot of money offering broadband-type upload speeds at consumer price points.

Erez Chocva said...

"A way to encrypt my files, before they leave my desktop, so I can rest assured that my sensitive records will never be read by anyone else."

--> Jeremy, Note that since you use FTP which is not encrypted (1and1 don't support FTP channel encryption) , the File-names are still passing visible over the Internet... (this could reveal a lot by itself) said...

Would you please explain me how to do back up in zip files with encryption format. I couldn't find that option. The only think I do see is the encryption during data transport from my local computer to remote place (I am using 1and1 as well)

Thx much,

Jeremy said...

TechnologyMadness, you need a software application called SyncBack from 2BrightSparks. There is an encrypted zip option available in SyncBack.

Anonymous said...

Jeremy - you might like what Pixily is doing in the personal doc management space - great service w/online and offline components.

backup system said...

Well let's not forget by converting your office into a paper free office you are also going "Green." So not only is it convenient, but it is also good for the environment.