Any Data Port in a Storm
Uploading your pictures and important files can protect them from disasters
Hurricane Katrina did no damage to Debra Ferguson's home near Jackson, Miss. But the storm's devastation made the photographer nervous about her digital files. "You've got to think about these things when you see people completely wiped out," she says.
So how do you make sure your important computer files--images, videos, music, and documents--are safe in the event of a big hurricane, a house fire, or other emergency? Keeping a box of backup CD s in the basement is not the answer. Instead, you can defy both Mother Nature and human nature by backing up remotely before disaster strikes. "We're all going to back up our data, eat better, and get more exercise," says Michael Gartenberg, a market analyst at Jupiter Research. But after Katrina, procrastination is no longer allowed.
Fortunately, it is getting easier--and cheaper--to store at least some files in far-flung, professionally managed data closets. Yearly fees, starting at $100, buy gigabytes of online storage at sites like xdrive.com, ibackup.com, and online backup.connected.com. They also can automatically tuck away new files at pre-set times--say at 2 a.m.--so you sleep more soundly knowing your family photos and spreadsheets are safer.
Perhaps the best deal comes from Streamload (streamload.com) , which offers 10 gigabytes of storage free of charge. That's enough to lay away 10,000 photos of decent quality and about 3,000 high-quality images. There's a catch, of course: Streamload makes you pay to get the files back. You have 100 megabytes--approximately 100 photos--of downloads free per month. After that, fees start at $5 a month for a gigabyte of fetches. Paid accounts also give users access to essentially unlimited storage (it's limited to "reasonable usage," which Streamload says is rarely an issue). Streamload is also readying a new service called MediaMax (mediamax.com) that will ease the organizing and sharing of high-quality music, photos, and even videos.
Mail it in. Another way to save important files is to send them to free E-mail accounts, particularly Google Mail (gmail.com) , with its generous 2.5 GB of storage. There are even programs that turn a Web mailbox into a virtual hard drive, making it easy to drop files into a Gmail account. A free example can be found at viksoe.dk/code/gmail.htm, though be warned it isn't Google-approved.
Jupiter Research's Gartenberg cautions that online storage should only supplement, not replace, backups on CD s, DVD s, or external drives that are preferably kept in some location outside your home. For one, transmitting data is slow; even with a broadband connection, it can take a full day to upload a gigabyte. External hard drives, meanwhile, are fast and often come with good backup software: $100 will buy at least an 80-GB drive that plugs into a USB port. Those drives, however, can also fail--just ask Ferguson. When Katrina knocked out power to her home, everything in her kitchen freezer thawed, including a dead hard drive she was trying to revive. "People swear it works, at least briefly," she says of icing a drive. It didn't in this case, so Ferguson is now looking for a new data port, a distant harbor from the next storm.
This story appears in the October 10, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.