Last month, Tech on Deck brought you some simple backup options for your personal PC. This month, we'll take a look at other options for backing up multiple computers on a home network, as well as new offerings for backing up computers over the Internet.
Other companies have stepped in to offer products that can back up PCs -- and sometimes Macs as well -- over a network. The Maxtor Shared Storage II and HP's MediaVault product come with hard drives; HP's allows you to add a second one. These products are often called NAS (network-attached storage) devices and have some other features, such as being able to make photos and music available to televisions and stereos.
Consumer networking company Netgear offers an enclosure called Storage Central Plus that lets you install your own drive. The tradeoff is more flexibility at the expense of some simplicity. And other companies offer adapters that will simply put an off-the-shelf external hard drive on the network. This ability is also built into some network access points.
The da Vinci of data duplication is HP's MediaSmart Server, which comes with a special version of Microsoft's operating system called Windows Home Server. Like many of the NAS products, it automatically backs up all the Windows machines it finds on your home network. But at $599, it's a lot pricier than most NAS products because it uses the full power of a PC to offer a wide range of capabilities. For example, someone could write a program for Windows Home Server that automatically collected lyrics and cover art for your digital music or fix the red eye effect in all of your photos.
Of course, none of these products will help if disaster strikes and everything in a home is destroyed. This is why we're seeing more online services that can back up your files over the Internet. One, called Mozy, offers free backup of up to 2 GB per month or unlimited files from one Mac or PC for $5 per month. One limitation is that you can only go back to the way things were 30 days ago.
Another Internet backup startup with the dubious name Cucku adopts the philosophy that friends don't let friends lose data. Your files are backed up onto the PC of a friend or family member and can offer some of your available disk space to store the files of others. But back up your Air Supply music collection without fear of reprisal. Even though the files are stored on someone else's computer, they are encrypted and thus not visible to the other person.
Whether you want to back up just your most important files, your entire computer or a network of computers in your home, there's no excuse not to use one of these set-it-and-forget-it products And when it's time to get back a precious lost file, you'll wear that beautiful smile of yours. You do floss, don't you?
Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at the NPD Group.