September 16, 2004

Q. I recently saw information for a personal server that provides automatic backup of selected files and remote access and file sharing through a link so that colleagues can log on by way of the Web. They claim security, ease of use and setup designed for average users.

What's the deal here?

A. There was a time when the crystal-ball gazers thought that this idea of selling backup storage of their key files would be the Internet's proverbial better mousetrap.

Instead, storage just became another one among all the little-known but fabulous tools still waiting for the world to click a path to their Web sites.

For small businesses and individuals there are any number of services that sell storage space on their own banks of computers located in secure locations. An entire industry called data warehousing has sprung up for large corporate clients, but we lesser players need other resources. Among them are remote warehousing systems and products that rely on keeping backups on site but on dedicated equipment separate from the computer itself.

At the high end for consumers and small businesses are local storage offerings like Mirra Inc.'s Personal Server. It is an innovative system where you buy a hard drive and software that lets you make complete backups of a machine and then allows those you approve to log on to a Web page and download whatever is kept in a secure shared folder.

Prices start at $400 for an 80-gigabyte hard-drive-based system and range up to $750 for a 250-GB setup. See for details.

Less costly in the short term and much simpler are remote data warehousing services like that let you either work through a Web browser or the networking features in Windows XP to do backups by dragging stuff into a so-called Web Folder. My Docs Online Inc. charges as little as $10 per quarter for 50 megabytes of storage on its machines.

While quite different from Mirra's hardware-based system, My Docs Online nicely serves the need to back up key information and readily share it with whomever you care to trust. You also can put stuff in a public folder that the unwashed masses can access.

These are two of many data recovery and sharing models. CMS Products Inc., for example, offers appealing data-backup hard-drive systems similar to Mirra but also sells software that lets you use other removable storage equipment to hold the data. CMS lacks the same easy access to stuff by way of the Web.

However CMS' standalone software and its hardware storage products let you run automatic incremental backups throughout the day in the background, thus leaving you at all times with an exact copy of your machine.

A particularly appealing product lets road warriors keep backups of their laptops on a conveniently sized portable hard drive. Check out for details.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Q and A

James Coates of the Chicago Tribune may be reached via e-mail at jcoates

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