Testing MyOtherDrive

OK, here we go again, testing yet another online backup system. All of you ARE backing up your computers, aren’t you? For those of you out there in the cybersphere who are not, you know I’ll know who you are eventually. You’ll be the ones asking “My hard drive crashed … what do I do now?”

MyOtherDrive is now on the testing launch pad. They were reading my blog on ElephantDrive and noted that I had recently given up on it. So on this coolish “wannabe winter but not really” morning with a fresh cup of hazelnut flavored coffee, here we go.

(Feb 21 2009) Final conclusion

I’m going with MyOtherDrive. It has some rough edges in the FAQs and Help stuff, and the interface could be a little better in places, but the funtionality and utility is excellent. They’re a small company but have been around for a couple of years and the support from them has been nothing but exemplary. I hope they keep that flavor as they grow and if they do, they will succeed.  Windows XP Home caution: the system requires the file “schtasks.exe” on the computer for the unattended backup to work, but XP home does not include that. Here is a link to it on my shared MyOtherDrive. Drop it in your c:windows directory and the MyOtherDrive unattended backup works great.

The details follow starting with my original foray into MOD

No software to download. It’s a java applet. Signup is easy. The initial screen is a bit off-putting with busy-ness but I immediately sort of “get it.” I first click on “Settings.” Seems logical but you are not explicitly directed there.

I select each day for an unattended backup and keep the default for “2” as the time — I’m guessing that’s 2:00a.m. Upon clicking “select folders” a popup appears with some of the logical file groups such as “My Documents” and for a test I click on that. Applying the backup settings then asks for the Windows password setting for the java applet to be able to run the backup later. Not sure I like that. Hopefully that is stored locally in an encrypted cookie. Update: it’s not transmitted, and not stored. Sets up a scheduled task.

So how do I start a backup right now? Hmmm, not certain but I try “Backup” and there is my backup selection and away it goes.  Update: That’s just a test backup. Have to use the Upload to blast it right up to begin with. I see the “My Files” tree with some of my files already. Appears that I should have named a “My Documents” directory for MyOtherDrive (MOD) first. MOD gave me a root (i.e. “”) selection by default rather than mirroring my selection from the local drive. No, just start at the root and the system preserves the full path under “Files.”

Now I discover that there is a desktop client. Had to stumble across it. It’s a java applet also and installs quickly. Now I discover that I had not actually selected any files so I select the same dataset as for the unattended backup and it starts at 5:57a.m. Having navigated away from the applet to continue this blog entry, I go back … to nothing. The applet that had been showing file upload progress is gone. So I restart it and I have no files uploaded.

I’ll now select one folder instead of all, watch it all the way through to completing the upload. Starting about 6:04. Without batting an eye (or moving the mouse), the applet disappears while uploading the first file. Update: As noted elsewhere, this was my misunderstanding (read the manual) — here’s how you do an initial manual upload:  Restart, and this time choose the “Upload” icon — small folder with 3 files and it completes. I’m even able to alt-tab away and come back. What’s going on?

Alright, I’ll go ahead and purchase a month’s worth of the 100gb service to really try it out.

With my upgrade in place, now I select to do the full backup. It starts and after about 6 files (that were uploading quickly) … boom. Applet quits.  Restart. Use the “Upload” route again and it seems to start ok and continue even when navigating away from the applet.

I now note that the program populates the subdirectory (My Documents) under the “Files” directory on MOD so it’s not necessary to set up the “fake” My Documents (I used “_My Documents”) that I did before since the backup did not appear to be doing that. Maybe it did and I was fooled by the applet quitting.

The Upload is running. Started about 6:20, now with the full account so it should be as fast as the system allows and I would guess the traffic on the net is not too bad right now. Happily, I’m not seeing any impact on the computer. Memory usage is 89.9mb. CPU is staying around 20% and disk activity is varying 20-40% of total. Network usage is right at 100% whenever I glance at it.

(6:41) Now I’m about to get impressed. Ran a Speed Test and got almost my normal speeds (was 5.4 out of 6gig download and .6 out of 1gig up) while running MOD. Ran another and got 5.1 and .9 (impressive). Watching the network usage Firefox shot up to about 98% and MOD dropped to about 1.5% of the total usage, but watching MOD which was then uploading a large group of pretty small Word files (2-5k each), visually it appeared to slow down just slightly.

Can you log into the MOD website and look at the files while the desktop client is running? Yep. That’s pretty handy. Download via the web interface while still uploading via the client? Yep. Did a whole directory of small files. That is truly handy.

(8:18) Actually forgot that the upload was running. No impact at all on using the computer. The desktop client applet is still running and the web interface is still open.

(2:27p.m.) Upload continues. The document set is quite large, the majority of what I will eventually backup. Bar graph shows about 20% done. Also just read an email from MOD with some explanations of a few things which cleared up some questions:

I also forgot to mention about how MOD supports using the same account from multiple machines.  Many of our competitors, like Mozy, will offer you “unlimited” storage, yet if you want to use it on a second computer, you would need a second, third, etc. account.  With MOD, we have many customers with the common laptop and desktop, or husband and wife laptops, backing up into one MOD account.

Let me explain about Backup and maybe this will clear things up, and with your hints, we can upgrade our help to make this clearer.

When you use the “Backup” toolbar button, that is like a trial backup.  It lets you select the files and folders from your local computer to backup.  These are kept for the automated “unattended” backup under the settings.  But the Backup toolbar button allows you to “fine tune” your backup data set first.

The “destination” folder is any MOD folder you would like all of these local files to “hang off of.”  When using the “immediate mode toolbar button” commands, the destination defaults to the currently selected folder.  When using the Settings dialog, it is kept locally and never changes unless you explicitly change it.

The reason for the windows username password prompt is so that it can create a Schedule OS Task.  Windows requires this to be an administrator account.  These entered credentials are not stored on your computer or sent to MOD – they are only needed to execute the command that creates the scheduled task.

As for running – once configured, the Windows Task Scheduler will wake up our backup program, it will run, do the backup, and then finish.  Only new and changed files are backed up.  Files that have not changed (determined by an MD5 checksum of the file against the server) are skipped.  This means the initial backup is the tough one, and then subsequent backups are quick (usually not that many files change). (from John)

I had a question about encryption and received this response:

Encryption
Yes, the files are encrypted on your PC before they are sent to MOD. They are then stored on our computers in encrypted (unreadable) format. On download you are prompted for the encrytion password and the files are decrypted on your computer, after they are downloaded from MOD. With our approach no one but you can read your encrypted files. If you lose your encryption password, there is nothing we could do to restore them. (FromJohn) (emphasis added by me)

Sounds good to me.

(7:10am, Day 2) Upload still running. Graph shows about 40-45% done. I wish I knew how big this upload dataset is — it’s big. Guessing 25-40mb total is likely. It’s all of My Documents with documents, multimedia, tons of photos, etc. My 100gb drive has a total of 80gb of programs and data.

(9:45am) Discovered the backups were not continuing.  (see update below) Clicked Cancel which resulted in the following screen

mod_timeout

Need to figure out how to resume. Not sure where that means it left off, or how to re-start. The last files dealt with were in the Sarah McLachian album, last completed is “I Love You.” Saved a full log in NoteTab file.  Internet connection had not been lost. If the session timed out it was on the MOD end.

Could not get (using the applet) the Refresh to work. Could not view files. Killed and restarted the applet. I’m thinking it stalled. Now can see files. Cannot get the backup to start unattended.

UPDATE: My bad. In a quick reply from the MOD folks this was caused by my logging into the applet from two Firefox tabs, thus killing the session in the active upload. MOD gives several ways to look at the site in multiple instances, if necessary.

(11:51) Starting identical upload. It’s skipping the already done files. Running from the website, not the applet.

(Day 3, 9:00pm) Upload still running. I’d say 80% done looking at the graph bar indicator. This really is a big upload and some time was lost when I had to restart it due to my glitch above in starting a second session of the applet.

(Day 4 about midnight) Not sure, guessing when it completed. Says

Processed 29449 files successfully, transfered 15,437,159,137 bytes.  That’s in the 2nd upload. Total was 22gb.

Questions

  • How does MOD handle file versions and archiving? Does it keep multiple versions? Is there an archive? What if a file is deleted locally … does it eventually delete from MOD? Answer: No versioning for now, therefore no archive. Just does changes and additions.
  • Are the files being encrypted on the fly? The connection is NOT a secure one. Answer: Yes, see support response above.
  • If during a long backup or upload (they’re different) you click Cancel, what happens? Does the upload know where to start back? Any difference in cancellation of a backup? Seems to me there should be a Pause button.

Suggestions & possible bugs

  • Calculate and display the total upload/backup.
  • Display % done and estimated time to complete.
  • Display upload speed — help understand if time required is due to slow connection.
  • Need a “Pause” button during upload/backup.
  • BUG: changing backup settings via the applet does not change on the website.
    • Answer: (from John) the Settings that you change regarding online backup days of week, time of day, files to backup, and destination folder on MyOtherDrive – those are all stored on the local machine.  If you are switching between the applet and the desktop client, you will not see the changes take place unless you logout and back in.

(this is a continuing entry … come back often to see the updates ….)

Testing ElephantDrive for online backups

(update 2/21/09) Canceled my ElephantDrive account. See my comment below for a brief explanation. Nice folks, some good concepts, but not fully ready for primetime. Have gone with MyOtherDrive (testing blog here) and will be canceling Mozy by month-end.

(update 2/11/09 — see my comment about repeat uploads — posted as a comment to the blog entry — and not getting support feedback had a support email later in the day … dialogue begun)

(update 2/4/09) ElephantDrive finished the initial upload. Still no clue why it took so long, but it is trucking along very unobtrusively now. Not near the impact on the computer as Mozy had while it is checking for modifications or doing actual updates. Things I find now to be remarkable:

  1. Minimal impact on the computer. Works nicely in the background.
  2. Easy to drag and drop a file from computer to “My Trunk” online — use if there is a file that is not part of the normal backups, but you want it online.
  3. Easy to share a file – just highlight in My Trunk view and click SHARE button.
    1. However – there is no public share. Sharee (is that a word) has to have an ED account. My guess is the free account will do.
  4. Still not convinced the STOP button really works, or works all the time.
  5. The error reports are still quite cryptic except for the “file locked” which are ok.
  6. Love the “Your files” view and think I’ll like the online file explorer but have not tinkered with it much.

Now testing ElephantDrive — here is their blurb:

Unlimited online storage for your photos, music, video, documents, and all other valuable files you have! Pre-made categories and our simple wizard make sure that all your important data gets automatically backed up!

Learn more about plans for Home users

Plans start at $4.95/month  Learn More

via Online Backup, Online File Storage – Simple, secure, & affordable online backup & storage.

At the moment I’m running a backup under their 1gig free account but will probably do the $4.95 plan and test it thoroughly for a month, along with Mozy. Why am I considering changing? Because Mozy is slower and slower, and tends to really hog the machine. If you have a backup that starts and you need the computer, it takes over the machine during all of the prep work. Once the actual data transfer begins the throttle function works and you can resume your work. But that can be 1/2 hour or better (anecdotal — have not timed).

Initial info and impressions

  • Quick installation. Registration took 1 minute or less, no credit-card required.
  • Program installation after download took maybe 3 minutes.
  • Initial scan of the desk to detect files falling within the default categories took maybe 10-15 minutes (Mozy took an hour or more). This is on a drive where Mozy has been backing up 39GB of files. ElephantDrive (ED hereinafter) identified 46GB.
  • On a 6gig broadband connection it appears 1GB of files will take about 4 hours.
  • Has a nice report screen showing the backup in progress, file by file, with upload speeds. Mozy’s status screen is more cryptic.
  • Can access your “trunk” (i.e. your cluster of online data) with either the desktop client or via the web. The file explorer populates much faster than Mozy, but will need to see how that is once a full backup is completed.
  • Includes a file-sharing function.
  • Has an option to automatically throttle upload usage during set hours.
  • The impact on the computer, even when set to the fastest upload usage, is far less than with Mozy.
  • QUESTIONS & CONS
    • Open file backup available only in the Pro versions
    • Not sure about the scheduling — how often will this run and how controllable is it?
      • Double-click the BACKUPS button and configure for individual categories of files
    • Reports window cannot be resized, thus the columns cannot be adjusted so as to see essential info such as the complete path and filename.
    • Problem report is nonsensical: many lines of “It has been removed from the queue.” No explanation of WHAT has been removed or why.
    • Upload appears to stall if the computer goes into either screen saver mode or even just turning the screen off. Left at 6:45AM with about 965mb done, came back at 1:15PM to find only 1015mb done. It was left running all night and similarly appeared to have just stalled. Total now of 20 hrs 37 minutes and only 1015mb done on a 1gig upload connection.
      • It’s now Jan 31 and the initial upload is still not finished.  Here is my Total Progress screen:
        Progress screen
        Progress screen

        which to me doesn’t make a lot of sense. The elapsed time is clearly wrong and the time remaining is as well. The number of files may be about right. Is it 62% done of the initial load? Or of all the files, old and new, to be uploaded? I do note that the total files varies, apparently taking into account both files never uploaded and changed files (or pieces) to be refreshed.

      • (2/1/09) The progress of the initial load continues to be a mystery to me, witness this progress screen:
        Uploading progress
        Uploading progress

        where the transfer indicated now exceeds the size of the entire drive which I assume includes changed files + the remaining initial load. Look at the total number of files to be transferred and how it has lept. This change is in 24 hours.

    • The initial upload finally finished. This started on 1/19 and here is the result as of early 2/1/09: Initial load The first three categories had finished some days ago, but Video and Movie Clips on down just finished inthe last 24 hours or so.
    • There is no “pause” button. It is unclear what will happen with the “Stop Backup” button but here goes: file encrypting and transferring is continuing, presumably clearing out the queue. Button came back out as un-selected and transfers continue. Clicked the stop button again. “checking for modifications,” encrypting and transferring still occurring. No messages in either the transfers or problems report. It’s the STOP button — DOUBLE-click it and it pauses the uploading and click again to restart — program does not unload. (updated 1/21)
    • It can’t handle a file being deleted from the disc while it’s being uploaded. Program just stalls — can’t figure out what to do. Further: it may not have stalled. Just closed and re-opened the Reports window and another file is now being transferred.
    • There needs to be a way to adjust the speed of the backup with a simple slider without going through the routine of testing the speed of the link (Advanced|Network Settings).
    • The progress bar is confusing. It doesn’t show overall progress, just that during the current session, I think. See notes above on progress.
    • Throttle doesn’t really work. I’ve been clicking along at around 700Kb/ps, ran the Network Settings and set to next to lowest, still running same speed while using the computer.
      • Clicked stop button: continues upload of current file – that’s probably good.
      • Having trouble finishing that file — ed_progress4it was within bytes of finishing and now apparently has started over trying to finish that “re-sending” process. And why is it re-sending? That file has not been touched.
  • (update 2/2/09) The system as now (as of wee hours of 2/2) finished the initial upload of all of my categories. See ed_progress_currentthe screen shot here. I now observe a real thrashing of the drive while modifications are scanned for. It’ll be interesting during the day when I can watch what’s going on and see how the ongoing updates are handled.
    • Question: is the fact that this is a laptop that gets hibernated with some frequency possibly part of the explanation for the long initial upload? It doesn’t stay down long, but every day it’s hibernated enroute work, and again enroute back home. Otherwise it runs all the time and connected to the internet always.

Other systems I’m looking at

My Other Drive — which I’ve not yet installed or tried. It gets a lot of good reviews and also includes file-sharing so it’s worth looking at. Also apparently has a photo album capability — is it a Flickr replacement?