Monday, October 1, 2007

Trapped in Carbonite?


By David Gewirtz

In space, no one can hear you scream. Apparently, the same is true if you're Han Solo and you're trapped in carbonite. It's the whole trapped in carbonite theme that made us very curious about Carbonite, a company that does Internet-based backups. Their offer is compelling. Unlimited backup for $49.95 per year.

But, we wondered, if you back up your data to Carbonite, would you then be trapped there? Just how unfortunate might the name Carbonite be?

The whole idea of Internet backups is simple, if somewhat flawed. Basically, rather than backing up to a local DVD or removable hard drive, you upload your files to a server located at a service provider. On the surface, the idea is a good one. Using one of these service providers, your PC just spews files up to the backup provider automatically. You never have to bring disks to the bank and otherwise pay any attention.

"There are two problems with this seemingly idylic answer to backup."

There are two problems with this seemingly idylic answer to backup. The first is that most backup providers only offer a limited amount of storage space, and uploading data, even over broadband, is slow. Staples, for example, is currently offering a 300GB Maxtor drive for the idiotically low price of $69.98 after rebate. With drives this cheap and files (movies, tunes, and the like) taking more and more space, backing up online seems more and more impractical -- at least until upstream broadband gets a lot faster. It'd take you almost four months of constant uploading to make your first backup of just that one seventy buck drive.

The next problem is much more of a concern. What if the backup provider, the company that now has all your information, goes belly-up? What happens to your data? First, how do you get it back? And, second, how do you prevent your data from getting into the wrong hands?

The scenario is scary. Let's say the service provider dies. What's likely to happen? In most cases, the company's furniture and fixtures go to bankruptcy auction, and the hard drives containing your data (and those of thousands of other customers) fall into the hands of the highest bidder.

If a company like Carbonite fails, you could well and truly be trapped in Carbonite.

It was with these sorts of concerns that we approached David Friend, CEO of Carbonite. He politely answered some of our questions. Of course, the big one, what happens if his business failed, was noticeably sidestepped.