Those of you who know me or are familiar with my other articles about online backup know that I’m not a big fan of online storage for a number of reasons. That being said, I decided to take the plunge into the world of online backup using the Amazon Simple Storage Service (s3). To see why I chose s3 over the other online backup choices you can see this article. In my venture into the online backup cloud I had three basic goals:
1. to backup the my pictures folder on my XP machine
2. to encrypt this data
3. to easily be able to restore this data file-by-file (e.g. I didn’t want an all-or-nothing restore solution)
After researching the myriad of Amazon S3 clients (freeware and commercial), I elected to give Cloudberry Online Backup for Amazon s3 a whirl with their free 14-day trial.
Cloudberry Online backup installs quickly and easily, and will guide you through the installation of the .NET framework 2.0 if needed on your machine. Once the program is installed you will need to let the program connect with your s3 account so you can start backing up. The Cloudberry blog has an excellent step-by-step post on how to get the Cloudberry software to “talk” to your Amazon s3 account, and overall the steps were easy. (Amazon s3 has updated the link that you will need to use to get configured — I left a comment on their blog reflecting the new url).
Using the Program
The program is simple and intuitive and the UI is clear and easy to use. When you open the software you are presented with a dashboard-type look where you can setup a backup plan, or restore a backup. This is the Welcome Page. There are three other “pages” available: Backup Plans, Backup Storage, and History. A backup plan is basically a configurable backup “job”, and the program comes with a few preset backup plans, including one for Internet Bookmarks, My Pictures, and My Documents (including my pictures).
There is also a right column in this opening screen that gives you a quick look at the space used in your s3 account, along with the recent status of some of your backup plans. You can also browse what you’ve stored on Amazon via a Windows-explorer type interface using the “Backup Storage” tab.
Setting Up the Backup
As I said at the start of this article, I wanted a quick and easy way to backup my /MyPictures with compression and encryption. I did not use the predefined plan as I wanted to explore and fully customize my backup. Creating the plan was simple. From the main program interface, the “Welcome Page”, I selected “Setup Backup Plan” which opened a wizard. The wizard smartly first allows you to pick the Amazon S3 account you want to use. You are then given a tree-view of your computer, where you can check off which folders and files you wish to include in the backup. The next screen allows you to include or exclude file types, as well as hidden and system files. The next screen gives you compression and encryption options, while the following screen allows you to configure your purge settings. As this backup is a My Pictures backup, I chose not to purge anything. The purge settings, however, can be helpful as you can select the number of versions you which to keep at one time. An additional feature of this screen is the ability to “delete files that have been deleted locally” so as to provide a basic synchronization between your selected backup files and your s3 account. The next window you are presented with is the scheduling option dialog, which permits you to run the backup manually, on a specific date , or on a recurring basis. Lastly, you are given the option to have an email sent to you when your backup succeeds or fails, or in all instances when the backup runs. This is a feature I find extremely helpful, and you computer-types know the feeling of relief you get when you get that email that your backups have run successfully. Once you have completed setting up your backup plan you will now see this custom plan in the list of your overall backup plans.
Restoring the Files
One of the gripes I have with many backup software products is that it can be difficult to restore individual files because the files are stored in some proprietary hierarchy, or because only full restores can be done. It’s rare (if ever) that I do a full system (or even a large directory) restore, so one of the key features about Cloudberry Online Backup that I like is the ability to restore individual files from Amazon s3 very quickly. On the Welcome Page you can select to “Restore Backup” which will give you the options to restore your latest backup, a version in time, or a manual restore. As I build versioning into my file structure, I didn’t use the versioning features of this program. But restoring an individual file was easy, and the software lets you pick a directory or an individual file, and lets you select if you want to restore the file to the same directory (with or without an overwrite) or to a different directory.
All programs have limitations and this one is no exception. Before I jumped in and created a backup, I was curious about the available encryption options. I was not able to easily find a help file online, and the F1 Help feature in the program did not work. I contact technical support which very quickly responded and explained to me that a help file with be forthcoming, and that the company is considering putting a help file online in the meantime. With this in mind, however, most of the features and workflow in this program are self-explanatory, and anyone who is at the technical level of setting up an s3 account and running their own backups (i.e. me) probably doesn’t need a help file.
The other potential limitation I found was that although the program does encrypt files, the file names are stored on s3 in plain text. For low-sensitive data I don’t find this to be a problem. Some users, however, may want their data – including the file names — encrypted as well. That being said, if someone is able to crack 256-AES encryption, I’m not sure the first thing they’d be looking to do is hack your amazon s3 account to see how much you paid in overage last month on your cell-phone bill. So even though the file names are not encrypted, the fact remains that the files themselves are encrypted (and you can choose the password).
Service and Support
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, support was excellent. I peppered them with questions about security, encryption, and the help file, and all of the responses were helpful and timely. I cannot overstate the importance of having reliable tech support on the other end of a product (in fact this last weekend I purchased a non-computer related product but one of the reasons I chose product A over product B was because the support staff from product A received great reviews).
In all I think Cloudberry Online Backup is a great product to use to manage Amazon s3 storage for the individual user. The simple interface allows access to robust features, and the program works quickly and does what it’s designed to do. A help file, though not critical for using the program, would be helpful, however, in explaining some of the nuances of the program to explain some of the different encryption options, as well as to discuss best practices for using the program’s versioning capabilities.
Disclosure. I originally approached Cloudberry Labs about writing a review of Cloudberry Online Backup. I was given a free license to use the product.