backup services

Jul 30, 2008

Online backup for small and medium nonprofits

by Matthew Latterell — last modified Jul 30, 2008 12:00 AM

(Note:  This article needs some updating.  The fundamentals are covered well and have not really changed, but available services have.  I have added a few alternative services at the bottom of this article and will fully update this soon. hn)

A computer backup is like car insurance. You know you need to have it and you hope you never need to use it. Given the critical importance of technology for today’s nonprofits—membership/donor databases, client databases, grant applications, educational and advocacy materials are all created and maintained on computers—it is stunning to me that still many (MANY) small and medium sized nonprofits do not backup their data.

Sure, some do it now and then—the “I should burn that to a CD” approach. Some even have attempted to set up backup schedules and have time set aside each week for staff to backup their critical files. And some (bless their hearts) do backup data to CD or DVD or tape drives on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in twenty years of technology support work it is that any backup strategy that requires human involvement is doomed. People forget. People get distracted. People are lazy. Even server-based backups that run nightly or weekly to tape drives require a human being to take out one tape and put in the next. It is something I usually do for folks when I’m in their office fixing other problems—and it usually hasn’t been done in weeks. And actually testing a backup tape or CD to see if it contains data that can be retrieved? Forget about it.

Of course some organizations do a great job of backing up (and testing) their data. To all of you I offer a huge “thank you!” since you make the work of nonprofit technology support folks that much easier (not to mention make it possible for your organization to go on functioning after the server fails, the office is flooded, the power outage fries the Development Director’s computer, etc.).

To the rest of you, however, I present one of the truly magnificent wonders of the modern world—the automated online backup.

The automated online backup takes the human factor out of the equation—once the service is set up it backs up the data you have selected. It also takes out the “leaving your backup (on CD, tape, etc.) sitting in or next to your computer” factor. So if something really awful were to happen like your computer getting stolen or a disaster like flood or fire were to damage or destroy your office, your backed up data is somewhere far away from the action, needing only an internet connection to get it back.

Online automated backups have become cheap and easy for the simple reasons that (1) hard drives are big and cheap and reliable and (2) fast internet access is affordable and available for most nonprofits in the U.S. Put those two things together and the missing link is just the software running on your computer that backs up your data.

While there are ways to create an automated backup of data to the internet for free (imagine a scheduled task that creates an FTP connection to your organization’s website and copies the contents of specific folders on your computer to a folder on the web server), free solutions won’t necessarily try again if they can’t make a connection, won’t easily recognize that much of your data didn’t change between the last backup and this one and so will copy it all again, and won’t (unless you are deliberate in your approach) back up your data over an encrypted connection.

How much is your donor database worth to you? Or the information you’ve been tracking about your clients? Or that grant application you are almost finished writing? I’d imagine quite a bit. So, just as you buy insurance for your car and for your own health, invest in your data. And if the very existence of automated online backups isn’t already making you giddy, the fact that these services are actually affordable (most are in the $50-$100/year range) should have you jumping up and down.

Excited? The following is an alphabetical list of five services that fit the backup (and budget) needs of most small and medium-sized nonprofits. Some I’ve used, some I’ve tested, some are in use by one or more of our clients. All are far better at backing up your data than most forgetful, distracted or lazy humans—at least the ones I know.



Carbonite is a Windows-only (Mac edition is supposed to be available mid-2008) automated backup service. Only one computer can be backed up with a single Carbonite account although you can transfer that license to a different computer (useful if you need to do a complete restore from one computer to another). Carbonite does not offer any web-based backup or restore services—access to backed up data requires use of the Carbonite software. Carbonite costs $49.95/year with better pricing for two and three year service plans.



iDrive offers desktop-based automated backup for both Windows and Macintosh. iDrive offers 2GB of free automated backup as well as iDrive Pro Personal (up to 150GB for $49.50/year) and Business (50GB for 99.50/year up to 500GB for 499.50/year) versions. Only one computer can be backed up with a single iDrive account. The iDrive service can also be accessed via the iDrive website. Through the iDrive website you can view backed up files as well as restore those files to any computer.


Jungle Disk

Jungle Disk is operated by Amazon and provides support for Windows, Macintosh and Linux computers. Unlike the other services included here, Jungle Disk charges for the amount of data stored and transferred. 10GB of stored data with about 3GB of new/changed data backed up monthly is roughly $2/month. Jungle Disk is an affordable option for use on multiple computers as well, since a single account can be used for as many computers as desired. A one-time $20 purchase of the Jungle Disk Desktop Edition software is also required for full functionality. Jungle Disk offers desktop clients for Windows, Macintosh and Linux. Jungle Disk can function as both an automated backup solution as well as a network drive, meaning organizations can also use Jungle Disk as a shared “server” environment, although the costs for this usage will be more since files will be transferred (opened and closed) frequently. Complete pricing is available at



Mozy offers a number of different automated backup services including Mozy Home, Mozy Pro and Mozy Enterprise. Mozy Home has desktop clients for both Windows and Macintosh and is priced at $4.95/month for unlimited backup for one computer. Mozy Pro is $3.95/month plus $.50 for every gigabyte of stored data. Mozy Enterprise is essentially the same as Mozy Pro but offers more support options. Mozy Home can be used for free for backing up up to 2GB of data. Mozy can be configured to automatically backup new/changed data as often as twelve times a day but Mozy will only start a backup when your computer has been idle for a period of time that you can adjust, which means if your computer isn’t idle for that long it won’t back up changed data. Alternatively you can set Mozy to do a scheduled backup daily or weekly at a designated time. Mozy offers web-based restore services and will also burn the restored data to DVDs and send them overnight via FedEx for an additional fee.



Xdrive is currently a service of AOL, although AOL recently announced that they are planning on selling the service or, if they cannot find a buyer, shutting it down by the end of 2008. Xdrive provides automated backup services for Windows computers through the Xdrive Desktop application. It provides limited flexibility over what folders you can backup but instead bases the backup on file types—you can backup all Word files, for example. You can have it monitor and “Auto Copy” changes to your My Pictures, My Music and My Videos folders, but otherwise backups can only be scheduled weekly.






Jungle Disk










$49.95/year for unlimited backup for 1 computer

$4.95/month or $49.50/year for up to 150GB of data for Personal accounts or $99.50/year for up to 50GB of data for Business accounts;

Based on storage and data transfer volumes. 10GB of storage is $1.77/month. Jungle Disk Desktop Edition software $20.

$4.95/month for unlimited backup for 1 computer.

50GB of storage for $99.50/year

Free Version?

Free 15-day trial.

Free for up to 2GB of data.

30-day trial.

Mozy Home Free offers 2GB of data backup.

Free for up to 5GB of data.


Windows; Mac client expected soon (although they have been saying that for a while now)

Windows and Mac

Windows, Mac, Linux

Windows and Mac

Desktop application for Windows; web-based backup/recovery for Macintosh.

Web-based Options

You can log in to the Carbonite website to install the software to a different computer and transfer the license. No direct web-based backup or restore options.

Web-based logon allows access to and recovery of data to any computer.

Available with Jungle Disk Plus for an extra $1/month.

Web-based logon allows access to and recovery of data to any computer. Restored files are queued and Mozy send an email when they are ready for download. Mozy will also backup to DVD and send the DVD via FedEx.

Provides Xdrive Web to retrieve backed up files from another computer.

Number of Computers







Yes, encrypted transfer.

Yes, encrypted transfer.

Yes, encrypted transfer.

Yes, encrypted transfer.

Yes, encrypted transfer.

Backup Frequency

Carbonite will back up changed/new data every 15 minutes or less, or you can schedule a daily backup routine.

Backs up changed/new data every 10 minutes or can be scheduled by user.

Manual backups, 5 minute, 15 minute, 1 hour, 6 hour, daily and weekly intervals.

You can set the frequency

Scheduled backups can be made weekly, nothing more frequent. Can use Auto Copy to back up an changed/new files in My Pictures, My Videos and My Music.

Recovery Options

Integrated Restore feature with desktop software.

Integrated Restore feature with desktop software; Java client for restore to any computer via web-based connection.

Integrated Restore feature with Desktop Edition software.

Integrated Restore feature with Desktop software.

Integrated Restore feature with Desktop software.

Restore Previous Versions

Available, can restore up to 3 months of previous versions of any backed up file.

Available, can restore up to last 30 versions of any backed up file.

Available and can be configured by user.

Yes by backup set date.

xDrive does not support the recovery of previously backed up versions.



Notes on Backup Services

For any online backup service the first backup will take a long time, often several days depending on the amount of data to be backed up. After the initial complete backup only new or changed files in the designated folders will be backed up and will go much more quickly.

Some of these services—Jungle Disk in particular—can also be used as a shared drive that appears as an additional drive on your computer. This, in combination with web-based access to files, can make these online backup solutions work for file sharing within organizations, especially for organizations with staff based in different locations.

Automated online backup can be used with individual desktops and laptops as well as dedicated file servers—even those running server software. Organizations that have file servers and store most or all of their organizational data there can simply install one of these online backup services to the server and configure it to back up the data stored on the server rather than buying multiple licenses for the online backup service and backing up individual machines. Automated online backup of server-based data can take the place of onsite backup options like tape or external drives or can provide redundancy and peace of mind knowing that you now have another layer of protection in the event of data loss or worse.



If you aren’t using an online automated backup service already, you should be. The five services included above vary in pricing and features but one will most likely meet your needs. Once properly configured they effectively remove the biggest point of failure with backups—human beings. Get rid of the stress over not knowing if your data is being backed up, get rid of the guilt that comes when your IT consultant or Board member asks if you are backing up your data and set up an automated online backup for your data. Do it now. Thank you.

Some Additional Alternatives

  • Dropbox -
  • SafeSync -
  • SkyDrive -