A Closer Look

New Options Emerge for Better Data Backup

By Daniel Greenberg
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, November 27, 2005

Let's face it, most of us don't give much thought to data backup until we lose something important -- crucial documents, our digital music collections or irreplaceable photos, for example.

Creating backup files can be a tedious chore, and despite nagging articles (like this one), many people still don't do much to protect their data.

Now there are new products that are trying to take the hassle out of backups by delivering high-end business solutions at consumer-friendly prices.

Many companies protect their data by using a technology called RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks), which copies all files to a second hard drive as they are created. If the first hard drive ever fails, the second drive contains an up-to-the-minute "mirrored" copy of all the data. The downside is that adding RAID requires opening your PC to install a RAID controller and at least one more hard drive.

To simplify this, several companies are creating RAID external hard drives that connect via USB or FireWire, or over a network.

Hard drive maker Maxtor Corp., for example, has evolved its single-button external drive, the OneTouch, into a two-drive RAID system, the OneTouch III, due in December. Because it copies everything from one drive to the other, the 600-gigabyte version ($550) yields 300GB of mirrored storage while the one-terabyte (or 1,000 gigabytes) version ($900) delivers 500 gigabytes of storage. As a bonus, the backup software also can synchronize files on multiple PCs.

On the value end, Netgear Inc. has created an empty RAID enclosure, the Storage Central SC101 ($130). It allows consumers to add their own hard drives -- maybe inexpensive drives bought on sale or scavenged from older, obsolete computers. Installing the drives is significantly easier (and less panic-inducing) than opening a PC case.

The least expensive solution is a software program that delivers some of the functionality of RAID without additional controller hardware.

Shadow 2 ($30) from NewTech Infosystems Inc., or NTI ( http://www.ntius.com/ ) can also copy selected directories of your PC as soon as they are created, functionally mirroring them onto an external device such as a hard drive, USB key or even an MP3 player like the iPod. Conventional backup software copies data only once a day or once a week, so the backup is rarely up to date with newer, and often the most essential, files.

Shadow 2 also makes it easier to restore your data. Other backup programs store layers of incremental backups in a proprietary format that only they can unlock and recreate. Shadow 2 preserves data in the original format, simplifying and speeding the process of copying your data back.

Through Dec. 31, Shadow 2 software is being sold for 99 cents, making it both inexpensive and easy to make data backup one of your New Year's resolutions.

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