Easy online backups

Check your speed limit

Copying files over the Internet can take a long time. By figuring out exactly how long, you’ll know whether your best course of action is to limit the files you back up, shop for a speedier broadband connection, or ditch your online backup plan altogether.

Most broadband connections offer slower upload speeds than download speeds. With backups, you’re mostly interested in the upload speed. (Download speeds apply when you’re restoring files, which you hope not to have to do very often.) But don’t trust your ISP’s claims: actual throughput often falls below that number. To get a more reliable idea of your connection speed, check it using a service such as Speakeasy or Speedtest.net.

Once you know your true upload speed (usually expressed in kilobits per second), divide it by 2,276 to figure out roughly how many gigabytes per hour you can transfer (see “Test Your Speed”). For instance, if your upload throughput is 768 Kbps, that means you can back up about one-third of a gigabyte per hour. In that case, if you have a 500GB drive that’s filled to the brim with critical data, online backups may not work well for you.

Safe and secure

Most services that provide Mac-compatible online backup software offer encryption that in most cases you couldn’t turn off even if you wanted to. Encrypting your files ensures that they can’t be read by anyone without a password—including someone intercepting your Wi-Fi signal as you back up files in a café.

However, if someone discovers your password, all bets are off. Therefore, choose a strong password for your online backups, guard it carefully, and change it periodically. (See our previous report on choosing secure passwords.)

[ Joe Kissell is the senior editor of TidBits and the author of the e-book Take Control of Mac OS X Backups (TidBits Publishing, 2007). ]

Test Your Speed: A broadband speed test, such as Speedtest.net, can tell you what upload and download speeds to expect.

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