Backing up: You know you should do it. It's the simplest method of recovering all of your valuable documents, music tracks, photos, and videos should your notebook's hard drive give up the ghost. In those instances, an automatic solution such as SOS Online Backup makes it simple to duplicate data to both the cloud or an external hard drive. Even better, this software gives you the flexibility to back up from an unlimited number of computers, offers file versioning, and includes an extremely useful service that allows users with large files to physically mail them to SOS, who will then upload them to the cloud. The pricing plans seem a bit steep on the surface, but with that premium comes functionality that makes SOS Online Backup one of the premier backup programs.
SOS Online Backup offers three online storage capacities: 2GB ($19.95 per year), 5GB ($29.95 per year), and 15GB ($49.95 per year). These consumer-end options initially appear to carry a higher cost-per-gigabyte ratio than a backup service such as MozyHome (which offers 2GB of free storage, and unlimited data backup for $4.95 per month or $54.45 per year), but with that price--and unlike Mozy--you get unlimited free local backup to external devices, and the ability to back up and retrieve online files from any number of computers. Business accounts have even greater storage and price flexibility; prices start at 45 cents per month (or $4.50 per year) for 500MB of backup, and scale upward to $360 per month (or $3,600 per year) for 200GB.
Setting up SOS Online Backup was a breeze. After creating a username and password at SOS Online Backup's Web site, we downloaded its 20MB installation file to the desktop of a Gateway P-7808u FX notebook, installed the software, and logged in. You can opt to log in using UltraSafe, which prevents SOS Online Backup from having access to your encryption key. The good news is that you get an additional layer of security; the bad news is that if you lose the password, you won't be able to access your files. SOS Online Backup also employs a three-tier security system that encrypts data on your PC, a second time in transit through the Web, and once more when it arrives at its storage destination.
We were then presented with four backup wizard icons: Backup Online, Backup Locally, Restore Online, and Restore Locally. An Advanced drop-down box in the upper-right portion of the window allows users to change the amount of purchased storage capacity, and launch Physical Media Upload (more on that later).
File Selection and Backup
After selecting Backup Online, we were presented with a clean, Windows Explorer-like system tree where we selected a 4.97GB folder of mixed media on our desktop. SOS Online Backup includes a gauge that runs horizontally across the bottom of the application window, displaying the total capacity of the selected folders, and whether you've overshoot your allotted capacity. The easy-to-read visual representation made it remarkably easy to keep track of our available storage.
Next, we determined backup times. By default, SOS Online Backup is set to execute automatic daily backups, but you can set the software to run at hourly, weekly, and monthly intervals. We would've liked the ability to choose specific backup days, but that was no huge loss. Finally, we were presented with Internet connection options: dialup, DSL/cable, or corporate.
It took nearly four hours for our cable connection (featuring a 0.5-Mbps upload speed according to Speedtest.net) to back up a 4.97GB mixed media folder to SOS Online Backup's server, which calculated to approximately 0.4 MBps--far slower than the United States upload speed average of 1.6 Mbps. Unfortunately, there's no progress meter, so we had no indication of how long it would take for the process to be completed. Right-clicking on a file allowed us to select LiveProtect, which caused the software to back up changes immediately, instead of waiting for the scheduled time. It's a great set-and-forget tool; you never have to worry about an important file missing an immediate backup when you perform an edit.
An unlimited number of computers can be backed up with one account, with each one identifiable by the name of the system that's automatically added when installing the software. By contrast, MozyHome charges $4.95 per month for each computer on which its software is installed. SOS Online Backup wisely keeps an unlimited number of file versions and archives files, so if you delete something important on the desktop, it'll still exist in the cloud should you wish to retrieve it.
Local and Shipped Backup
SOS Online Backup also lets users back up to DVDs and external storage devices using a wizard that is very similar to the one used to execute online backups. Copying the 4.97GB folder to a 250GB Seagate FreeAgent Go external hard drive took 3 minutes and 54 seconds (or a rate of 21.7 MBps), which was far speedier than the hours taken to back up the same folder to the cloud. Keep in mind, however, that speeds vary based on the external drive used.
When you have large files that you wish to back up to the cloud, but you can't stand the thought of waiting hours or days for the upload to finish, SOS Online Backup offers Physical Media Upload, which lets users back up data to a DVD or external storage and mail it to the company so that they can add it to your online storage. SOS Online Backup charges $20 to upload data from an optical disc, but if you send an external hard drive filled with backup data you'll only be charged for shipping. You can also opt to purchase a 500GB external hard drive from SOS Backup Online for $150 that you can load with data and return to the company. Once that data is uploaded to the cloud, the backups that your PC makes for that particular information will only take minutes.
File Recovery and Web Sharing
The process of recovering files is remarkably intuitive. When you select one of the recovery options in SOS Online Backup, you're presented with a calender that you can use to select a particular day (you can also search by file name). Once the file is located and selected, you simply choose a drive location to house the file upon recovery.
When you log into the SOS Online Backup Web site, you can share files with others by sending them a link (which they can use to download a file). This is accomplished by clicking Online Recovery > Recover > Share, selecting the PC's name and folder, and entering the recipient's name and e-mail address. This is an incredibly useful tool, as it prevents the dreaded bounce-back that occurs when e-mailing large files, but we would've liked to have seen an easily identifiable Share button that didn't require as many steps. Still, the Web interface is convenient, as you can use it to access your files when you're away from your PC.
If you're looking for a flexible backup solution that allows you to simultaneously store data to the cloud and physical media, has multilevel security, and offers the ability to share files, SOS Online Backup is a compelling choice. Backing up to the cloud may be molasses-slow, but the company offers a handy alternative that can do the dirty work for you. Perhaps more importantly, you can back up more than one computer with a single subscription. All in all, this is an excellent service for anyone in need of online storage.