Internet Backup

Introduction

The importance of performing daily backups of clinical data is well understood by Australian medical practices. Unfortunately, from time to time, catastrophic data losses do still occur.

The increasing availability of cheap, fast, reliable Internet access has finally made Internet backup solutions a viable prospect for many businesses.

This article seeks to examine whether one such Internet backup solution, “Mozy”, can be used to effectively protect the clinical data of Australian medical practices, while at the same time minimising the potential issues associated with manual backups.

What Is Mozy?

Mozy is a simple and cost effective Internet backup solution designed to take the hassle out of backing up important data.

The brainchild of Berkeley Data Systems, Mozy software is available for both Macintosh and Windows platforms. This software interfaces with Berkeley’s secure data hosting facilities via the Internet.

How Does It Work?

To get started with Mozy, users need to download some simple software, specify the files they wish to backup, and schedule the time of day they wish these backups to occur.

Mozy is designed to backup files on a computer system incrementally. This essentially means that only files that have been modified since the last backup are copied to the Mozy servers.

To optimise this incremental backup process even further, Mozy uses sophisticated “block level technology”. This technology allows Mozy to detect and upload the discrete parts of large files that have been modified since the last backup, saving the software from having to upload the entire file.

The first time a backup is performed with Mozy, all the data the user wants to protect must be uploaded. Depending on the speed of the Internet connection and the amount of data, this may take hours, days or even weeks!

After this first upload has completed, subsequent backups occur in a much more timely fashion. In the event that Mozy is interrupted during the initial or subsequent backups, it simply resumes from where it left off.

In addition to being able to manually trigger a backup, Mozy includes some fairly basic automated scheduling features. As well as being able to specify a time to perform the backup each day, Mozy can be configured to perform a backup after a certain amount of idle time (i.e. time when the computer hasn’t been used).

On networks where backups are performed during the day and users need to access the Internet, Mozy can be configured to limit the amount of bandwidth it consumes during a backup. Called “bandwidth throttling”, this feature prevents Mozy from monopolizing the network’s Internet connection, but still allows backups to be performed in a timely fashion.

A backup report is automatically generated, listing the files that were backed up and the length of time it took to perform the transfer. This log file should be monitored at frequent intervals to ensure that the backup is being performed reliably.

Is It Secure?

All data is encrypted prior to being sent to Mozy's servers. Customers can utilise Mozy's built-in security system (i.e. 448-bit Blowfish encryption), or elect to use their own certificates.

How Much Does It Cost?

Mozy offers two different pricing options, both of which are extremely cost effective:

  1. A free plan providing up to 2GB of storage.
  2. An “unlimited“ plan for $4.95US (approximately $6AUD) per month, which allows users to backup as much data as they wish.

As most ISPs don’t charge their users for uploaded data, performing backups with Mozy should not increase the cost of your Internet service. As there are some exceptions to this rule however, readers are encouraged to check with their ISP before using Mozy or any other Internet backup service.

How Do I Restore My Data?

In the event of data loss on a computer protected by Mozy, there are three ways to restore data from the Mozy servers:

  1. The easiest option is to use the Mozy software’s “Restore Files” feature. The user is presented with all the files backed up in their folder hierarchy, as well as a list of dates the files were backed up. The user simply selects the version of the file that they want to restore, and specifies the file path on the local machine where they wish to restore it to. The file is then downloaded from the Mozy servers, ready to be used.
  2. In the event of a total system failure, the user can specify the files they wish to restore via the user portal on the Mozy website. After nominating the files, an email is sent with a link to a downloadable archive containing the requested files.
  3. While not available outside of the United States at this time, Mozy can also ship data to users on DVD. This service starts at around $80 for a single DVD, but scales at the cost effective rate of only $3 per additional DVD.

Will It Work For My Practice?

Despite its low cost and convenience, there are several issues with Mozy that make it difficult to recommend as a practice’s primary backup solution.

The first problem with Mozy (and other Internet backup solutions) is that practices need to be able to quickly restore their backups in the event of data loss. Whilst Internet access speeds are gradually improving, the potential need to download gigabytes of data in the event of a server crash is still a daunting prospect. It should also be noted that even if the data can be restored in a timely fashion, it is likely that the practice’s Internet quota would be taxed heavily, potentially resulting in excess data charges or ISP induced bandwidth throttling.

The other major problem with the Mozy service is that backups are deleted after 30 days. While this does allow for a reasonable amount of “roll back”, practices should ideally have in place a backup system that allows them to restore a data “snap shot” of any week (or ideally any day) in history.

Despite these shortcomings, practices and the IT professionals that support them may see the merit in deploying Mozy as a secondary backup solution.

What About At Home?

Fueled by the proliferation of digital still and video cameras, the amount of “sentimental” data stored on home computer systems has grown exponentially. Despite the importance of such information to families, it is unlikely that many doctors or practice staff are as rigorous with their backups at home as they are at work.

Depending on the speed of their Internet connection at home, doctors and practice staff may find Mozy to be the ideal backup solution for their home computer systems.

Conclusion

Mozy is well priced, easy to use and frankly, quite cute! Despite the quality of the service in its own right, typical Australian medical practices are likely to find Mozy to be unsuitable as their primary backup solution, however they may find it to be a reassuring and effective complement.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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