Disaster Recovery optimize

Cross-platform Dropbox provides easy backups and file-syncing between computers

Dropbox is a convenient, automatic backup system that works on your Macs, as well as Windows and Linux PCs. It allows easy access to files through a Web interface and helps you keep files synced.

Dropbox is a convenient, automatic backup system that works on your Macs, as well as Windows and Linux PCs. It allows easy access to files through a Web interface and helps you keep files synced.

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Anyone who knows me, knows that one of my biggest issues is backups. Backups are crucially important, so having convenient, automatic backup system makes it more likely that people will perform them. That's why I like "cloud" backup services, like Dropbox.

Dropbox is really useful. It makes doing backups easy, and it makes accessing your files from different computers a breeze. It also includes a great Web interface that allows you to access your files even when you aren't at a computer that's linked to Dropbox. And for iPhone users, there's even a Dropbox app for the iPhone.

With Dropbox, you associate computers to the service. On each computer, there is a folder or directory where you can store files. Everything stored in this directory is then transparently synchronized to every other associated computer. For instance, if you had Dropbox on your Mac Pro, Macbook, and also on a Windows or Linux workstation, you could drop a file into the Dropbox folder on your Mac Pro, and it would be copied to the Macbook and workstation either the next time they came online or within seconds if they're already online (depending on the size of the file and the number of files copied). This allows you to not only keep redundant backups (back up any file on one computer and you can get it on any other associated computer as well as the Dropbox site itself), but it also allows you to easily transfer files between computers as well.

Dropbox has clients for Mac, Windows, and Linux so it is a cross-platform service. And, like the extremely useful rsync tool, it only synchronizes changes, so if you change a 100MB file, it only transfers the bits in the file that have changed, not the whole 100MB file. Not only that, but if the file originated on computer A, then you change it on computer B, the changes are synced back to computer A - a two-way synchronization.

Another nice feature of Dropbox is that you can designate sub-directories in the primary Dropbox directory that can be made public. This means you can store files on your Dropbox that others can have access to, without having to give them access to all of your stuff.

Dropbox is a paid service, but you can use it for free as long as you want if all you require is 2GB of storage. For more storage (up to 100GB), you have to pay a yearly fee. While 100GB won't back up your entire computer, it can back up a fair bit of data. It's obviously not a replacement for a good local backup routine, but it is convenient and very hands-off, which makes it great for documents that change often, especially if your backup routine is spotty.

Finally, the last great feature of Dropbox is that it retains changes in files for 30 days. So if you made a change to a file that you didn't mean to save (or deleted it), you can go through the Dropbox Web site and get the file back to it's state before the unwanted change. A 30-day undo is the default; you can, of course, pay to have this unlimited.

Dropbox is a secure service, but if you're ultra-paranoid, you can back up using an encrypted disk image (dmg) file. If you choose to go this route, be sure to use a sparse bundle disk image. This way, if your disk image is 200MB, you're not transferring big files all over the place, which is more prone to transmission errors, but instead, little bits of the file (called bands) that make up the whole image. It makes for a much more efficient and reliable way to store large files. Using Disk Utility, you can create a sparse bundle disk image, with encryption (128-bit or 256-bit AES), easily.

About

Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.

9 comments
chris_black
chris_black

Dropbox is great but I wouldn't call it a backup solution. Sure it gets your data into the cloud, but it's too easy to delete files. There's no automation, and unless you're paying for tons of storage space, using Dropbox is just too great of an online file storage tool to use all the space just for backups. Better to use Mozy for actual backups and Dropbox for keeping files accessible. (I store all my IT tools and apps on Dropbox so I can get to them no matter where I am.)

brewerj2000
brewerj2000

I've been using Dropbox for a year or so and really like it. My business requires me to keep multiple copies of information on multiple laptops. Dropbox makes that easy.

galley
galley

This works great with another cross-platform app I use - 1Password. Each of my Macs saves its 1Password keychain in its Dropbox folder, so my passwords (and other things I keep in 1Password like software serial numbers and account numbers) are kept in sync across the Macs, and are accessible via a web browser from any other computer on the internet.

apazcogu
apazcogu

I love my Dropbox- recommended it to most of my family & friends- you can get more than 2gigs- so many mbs with every recommendation/acceptance you get.

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

I use DropBox (the 2GB free version) to store files where I can access them from my WinXP laptop, my Ubuntu 9.10 desktop, and my work desktop through my browser. It's especially handy as a place to store a password management database, because that gives me access to it from any location and since it's just one file (practically speaking), I don't have to worry about it getting out of sync.

RNR1995
RNR1995

Is it just me or doesn't anybody have an issue with letting strangers handle your data? Or am I just paranoid?

wendygoerl
wendygoerl

First of all, how much data are your worried about the wrong person finding? True, you wouldn't want somebody getting a hold of you password lists, but is it a matter of national security if someone gets a hold of your "Before You Call IT" troubleshooting guide? Second, there're a lot of places that don't own multipule chunks of real estate to perform "in house" backup "off site." Recall the WTC and Katrina stories of offices having to reconstruct their client lists from MEMORY because their computers (and most hardcopy files) were destroyed and they had no off-site backup?

RNR1995
RNR1995

1) Company data in a strangers hands is just plain foolish, look at all the companies that went out of business so far and lost peoples music, pictures etc. External hard drives are cheap, backups are easy, the hardest part of all of this is to actually get someone responsible enough to change the discs and take it home and store it safely, not in their car, etc. 2) Most companies go out of business when they have total data loss, and the number one reason for data loss is the user. Obviously I think these kind of services are a security risk and would never recommend one to a customer. Bottom Line...."What's your data worth?"

vdanen
vdanen

There are pro's and con's to it, absolutely. Off-site backups are essential. I maintain an offsite box at my mother's just to rsync data to -- beats storing a HDD in a safety deposit box! If you're paranoid enough, you can store the data encrypted. I've got clients that store encrypted DMG files that contain backup files and they're synchronized via DropBox. They use AES 256bit encryption, stored in bands to make the data transfer minimal, and I'm not at all concerned about security. Nice thing with DropBox then is you get redundant backups... the two systems in the office being backed up use the same DropBox so they retain each other's data -- I also have an alternate DropBox here that syncs their data. Plus it's stored on the DropBox server. This has saved our butt huge. Unfortunately, they had their computers stolen a few times in a short period of time and without DropBox, they would have been in an extremely difficult position. Well, let me clarify that -- because of _off-site backups_ we were ok. DropBox just happened to be one of the easiest ways to have up-to-the-minute backups. For me, if I don't want the world at large to see it, and I want it in DropBox or "in the cloud", it gets encrypted. Period. And passphrases need to be good, as well as the type of encryption. =)