Tools Of The Trade: A remote, secure service for backing up your computer data

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The Independent Online

If any part of a computer fails, the chances are it will be the hard drive. And when that happens, recovering data will be difficult and expensive - if it can be done at all.

If any part of a computer fails, the chances are it will be the hard drive. And when that happens, recovering data will be difficult and expensive - if it can be done at all.

Large companies can afford to set up robust backup systems, including data centres in remote locations in case disaster should strike the main building. But such systems are out of reach for smaller companies, let alone for individuals.

As a result, a number of IT firms are offering remote backup services, sold on a pay-per- use or subscription basis. UK company DataFort provides remote data backup starting at capacities of a gigabyte, and ranging to the terrabytes - more than enough to back up an entire corporate network.

Users sign up online for the amount of data they want to store and the backup process is handled by a small software utility that subscribers download.

This sets up the schedules for backing up data from your computer to the DataFort servers, and which directories or folders should be copied. The system can do a full backup each time, or it can carry out incremental ones that only copy the most recent changes, so the task happens much more quickly.

This makes services such as DataFort's a practical option for people who may have only intermittent access to a fast connection. It certainly makes a lot of sense for laptop users: even the entry-level 1gb service is easily enough to store most people's critical files. Home-based workers who do not have the option of storing data on a corporate network would also benefit.

That said, the DataFort service needs some configuration to work at its best. It can either schedule backups automatically or the user can prompt it to carry one out when it is convenient. With an automatic backup, the utility will go ahead and try to move the data over whatever connection is available. This is fine on broadband but could be prohibitively expensive over a dial-up connection in a hotel or over a mobile phone link.

One option that is useful is the ability to specify file types to include or exclude. This way, subscribers can ensure all their contacts files are copied, but not MP3 music files, for example.

With prices ranging from £9.95 a month for up to 1gb of data, to £337 for 150gb, DataFort is cost-effective, especially if it is set against the possible costs of total data loss. But there are some reservations.

The company's terms and conditions appear to give users little comeback if DataFort lets them down; the document even excludes DataFort's own negligence. And when we signed up, the confirmation email contained both our, and another user's, account details. This might be a one-off error, but any company handling data for others needs to maintain strict confidentiality and security procedures. If these issues can be tightened up, this could be a valuable service.

THE VERDICT

DataFort Wide Area Backup

Rating: 2 out of 5

Pros: great concept, quite easy to use.

Cons: terms and conditions seem biased towards DataFort; confidentiality issues with sign-on email.

Available from: www.datafort.co.uk

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