The OS Quest Trail Log #51: May is Finally Over Edition

Kebabs on the BBQMay is finally over. It seems like every May is a hectic month. Between birthday’s, anniversaries, and other family events there’s a lot of running around. Then things also seem to hit on the day job side of things too and this month was no different. But now the month is thankfully over.

There wasn’t to much happening on the quest so it should be fairly easy to catch up.

KeepVault

I’ve made KeepVault my primary offsite backup tool and it’s been working well. A couple times this month I grabbed a few directories and restored it to do a quick file compare and things looked good. Nothing methodical in my selection, just an old directory unchanged from the initial backup, another that was in the initial backup but has had file changes, and a third that was backed up immediately before the restore.

The main attractions of KeepVault are the low cost, immediate offsite backup and reliability. It doesn’t have some features in it’s more expensive competitors or even it’s own siblings, such a multiple version backups. But in my case the files I want versioning with is pretty small.  For those I still use Jungle Disk.

iPad Is Taking Over

Even though I was among those who pre-ordered an iPad I’ve been surprised with how much I’ve used it. I’m using it now to type is article (although the final edit will be on my PC).

Saturday was the first day I didn’t touch my iPod Touch. My last regularly used app was transferred to the iPad on Friday. I put a selection of music (via smart playlists) on my iPad and dug out my old iPod Nano for those times when I want audio in my pocket. I mostly listen to podcasts and audio books and the iPad’s speaker is surprisingly good for mono. Hooking up headphones for music while I work on the iPad also seems to work well.

So rather than being coupes up inside at my desk I’m sitting on the patio enjoying the cool night-time weather and enjoying a cup of coffee. The on-screen keyboard makes the iPad easier to use than struggling with a net book. At least in my opinion.

But it’s not perfect. Glare is a significant problem outside during the day, even when I’m not in direct sunlight. Fingerprints are more of a problem out in daylight also as they compete for my attention when I try to concentrate on the screen.

Windows Home Server

My WHS started acting up a bit today. The three drives in the top of the case are running a bit hot. That part of the case has always been a couple degrees warmer than the rest despite having a fan blowing across the drives.

Awhile back I’d freed up enough space that I was able to shut down the external SATA drive enclosure but it was still ready to go. So I ended up moving those three drives to the external enclosure and they’re running cooler now.

But as usual, try to fix something and something else breaks. When I fired the WHS back up one of the drives decided it no longer wanted to report SMART data, including temperature. Although it seems fine.

So the plan is to pop a new drive in the last available bay in the external enclosure and go through the process to remove the problem drive tonight. Hoping it finishes by the time I wake in the morning. Then I’ll replace that problem drive tomorrow. Might as well take the time to reseat all the cables too.

Wrapping Up

That’s about it for this edition. Hopefully June will allow for more time to have some PC fun than May did.

KeepVault Backup: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Backup Logo - Laptops connected to backupI’ve been using Jungle Disk as my offsite backup solution with the backup going to Rackspace Cloud Files (RCF). RCF is similar to Amazon S3 although ever so slightly cheaper. This has worked well and while it can be a low-cost solution for some it can become expensive over time as the amount of files being stored continues to grow. My bill had reached the $11/month level with about 75 GB  backed up. It was past due time to look for another solution and KeepVault popped up on the radar.

KeepVault backup caught my eye because it has a Windows Home Server add-in and a Windows Home Server  connector for PC backups. I can’t emphasize enough about how much I like this concept. My WHS is the hub of my network (from a data point of view) so being able to run the backup on the server itself is a huge benefit to me. I’ve been running KeepVault for a couple of weeks and have a favorable impression of it.

This article is an overview that concentrates on what I like and don’t like about KeepVault Backup. It’s the list I put together when deciding whether or not to subscribe for a year (I did). Future articles will include details about usage and how it specifically fits into my backup strategy.

There is a Windows client for backing up PCs, but I only looked at the Windows Home Server solution.  There also is a beta for Mac and USB based backups. I haven’t looked at either of these either. KeepVault Pro includes additional features, primarily designed for business, but at significantly higher cost so I didn’t consider it either.

The Good

  • It backs up the Windows Home Server shares through a Windows Home Server add-in! Did I mention how much I like this?
  • It works (well, generally, see what I say under ‘bad’). I did a backup, restore and compare without having a problem.
  • You pay for the storage used. If I decide to use the PC software I just download it and set it up. Assuming I have the space there’s no extra charge. If I have multiple PCs they can also use the same account. In my world all PCs save files and backup to the Windows Home Server so that the only computer I have backing up to KeepVault’s data center.
  • Storage can be added on a prorated basis. So you can start out low and add space as needed. It will be prorated for the time left in your subscription.picture of Clint Eastwood
  • You can use your own encryption key. This was another must have feature for me. While I need to have a certain level of trust (like they aren’t lying when they say they don’t have the encryption key) I prefer to trust no one. If the files are encrypted and only I have the key then I won’t be burned by some programming error, security breach or greedy employee.
  • The KeepVault Connector – when this is enabled a share is created on the Windows Home Server and set to be backed up. The KeepVault Connector can then be installed on a PC and configured to backup files to that share. This does seem to duplicate the WHS backup, but I’ve found a use for it and am using it.
  • There is the built in ability to do local backups on the WHS. If you have a disk attached and set to be backup storage (rather than in the data storage pool) KeepVault can be configured to back up to this drive. The configuration and usage is the same as backing up to KeepVault’s own storage. You can then either restore through KeepVault or take this drive to a PC, connect it and copy the files off it. I can see where this feature would be useful for many, although it’s not something I’ll use once my curiosity is satisfied.
  • Files being backed up can be compressed. This is on by default but can be turned off. This helped me a little as I have now backed up just over 81GB to my 80GB account and I have about 5GB still free.
  • This is probably more than I need, but it’s nice to be able to work on this article and save it along the way. The KeepVault Connector backs it up to the Windows Home Server (since the editor doesn’t lock the file open) and the WHS immediately sends it offsite. So if my PC crashes I’m not stuck with the regular backup that was done this morning. So I get continuous backups throughout the day for data on my PC.
  • It backs up the Windows Home Server through a Windows Home Server add-in. Did I mention how much I like this?

The Bad

  • Open files will not be backed up. So if you use Outlook (my sympathies) you’ll have to shut down to get the backup. Also, there’s no block level back up so if the files are large the entire file will be copied every time.
  • If you use your own encryption key and you forget it then your screwed, your data is not recoverable. OK, this shouldn’t really be bad since it’s the way it should work and not working this way would be bad. If you let the software generate a key for you then the key will be regenerated on re-install (I did not test this as I have no intention of ever using it.). The KeepVault people can reset your account so you can set a new key and start over with your backups.image of a burning hard drive
  • It’s difficult to know if a specific file was backed up. There’s a “protection history” dialog but there’s no search feature. Unless your file was backed up recently it will be difficult to find in the list. I have over 241, 000 files in the list. If I want to know what was backed up last night I can probably find the file. If I want to see what my initial backup did there’s no way I’m scrolling though that list. I generally went through the restore process to verify files but it’s not realistic to do this on a regular basis.
  • Some options are slow. Sometimes. This may be due more to the nature of the internet and how busy KeepVault is at the time. In one case it took several hours to think about deleting several thousand files. Another time it deleted a little over a thousand files in a couple of minutes.  It’s hard to be sure, but this appears to be related more to the number of files rather than the file size.
    Other times it been too long for even a message to appear when clicking the delete or restore options in the console. It appears to lock the console although I may just be impatient waiting for activity and if I was willing to wait I may have gotten a response. Backups were working during this time so the KeepVault itself was available.
  • Subscriptions are yearly (at least I didn’t see a monthly option). If you pay via PayPal the subscription will auto-renew (unless canceled in PayPal) and you’ll get a 15% discount over a manual credit card. I put this under bad because the cancellation policy is based upon actual usage and while I didn’t do perfect calculations a back of the envelope calculation indicates it would be a bit expensive if you actually used the service. In my case I’d be out of a refund in less than 5 months based on my current usage. (You can sign up for a trial before subscribing.) So if your usage declines drastically you can’t really drop to a lower subscription level until renewal time. Which is one reason I haven’t expanded my 80GB subscription even though it’s over 90% used.
  • Hidden files are not backed up. This is usually OK but if your hidden file contains configuration data you need then it will be a problem. I like that all my Thumbs.db files don’t get backed up, saves me from having to exclude them.

The Ugly

I had some problems. Most seemed to clear themselves up but since I never found the cause I’m still hesitant to use it as a “set it – forget it” backup. I’ll probably keep monitoring things closely for awhile.

  • KeepVault seemed to stop backing up some shares for no good reason. Files changed in one share wouldn’t be backed up, files changed in another share would be backed up. This was resolved by toggling the “protection” setting of the share. I told it not to back up the share, then immediately told it to backup the share. At this point it backed up the newer files. This is one of the problems that just seemed to go away. Maybe KeepVault needed to sort out my initial backups since these problems all occurred in the days right after my initial backups where I was sending data for a few days straight.
  • When trying to delete files in from KeepVault storage I would get errors on some files and they wouldn’t be deleted. This would be repeated. I waited a day and I then successfully deleted the file. It’s probably coincidence, but those problem files were all files that had been copied to my Windows Home Server from my Mac and were file packages. It wasn’t that every Mac file had the problem, but the ones that did were Mac files copied to the WHS. (There is no Mac Connector, I simply run the files from the WHS or copy them there as a backup.) This is another problem that seems to have gone away and all the problems were with files that went up in those initial backups. I should mention that I restored those problem files and a file compare showed they matched the ones on my Windows Home Server, so the files themselves were fine.

  • There’s a setting to send alerts via SMS and/or email when there’s an error. I kept losing these settings. I put in the settings, send a successful test and then go back an hour later to verify the settings were still there and they were. But later there was and error I didn’t get an alert. I checked the settings and they were empty. This was consistent and the alerts never went out when errors actually happened. I’ve yet to take the time to contact support on this.
  • I have the KeepVault Connector installed on my 64-bit Windows 7 PC. (It is 32 bit software). There have been times where the KeepVault Connector UI will not open on my PC. The Connector is running and files are backed up, but the UI won’t open. I need to stop the connector (select ‘exit’ from the systray icon) and restart it. At that point the UI displays fine.
  • You’ll be backing up over the internet and will be at the mercy of your ISP’s upload speeds and policies. Some ISP’s may throttle your traffic after it reaches a certain level which will make that initial backup take even longer. Upload speeds are typically lower than the download speeds that are so prominent in ISP advertising so the upload may take awhile.

The Morally Ambivalent

There are some features or quirks of KeepVault that are either good or bad, it just depends on your point of view.

  • There’s no archival history or versioning. If you change a file it gets backed up and replaces the previous backup copy. If you want this you’ll need to look elsewhere.
  • Files are never deleted from KeepVault storage. Delete it on your WHS and it stays in the backup storage. In general this is good since backup is usually instantaneous (it can be scheduled). But if you do any large scale file reorganization or cleanup those files will still be using space in the KeepVault and you’ll need to go in a delete them manually.
    At first I didn’t like this but I’ve grown into it. While a simple one-click cleanup would be nice I’ve found that deleting a directory tree from the KeepVault after it’s been cleaned up allows the remaining files to be backed up again without a problem.
  • While the files are encrypted, the file names are not.
  • KeepVault is offsite backup at an extremely reasonable price. But because of this features are limited and things like open file backup or versioning will probably only appear in the more expensive pro version. I would expect this to remain the case for the foreseeable future so don’t get the base level of KeepVault because it’s cheaper than Jungle Disk (or anything similar) and expect it to grow into the same feature set as Jungle Disk (or Mozy, etc…).
  • Minimal configuration. You can pick shares to back up You can enable/disable encryption. You can enable/disable compression. You can set backup times or keep it as continuous. That’s it. You can’t exclude files or directories. There is a Kludge I saw that uses the fact that KeepVault doesn’t back up hidden files. Apparently once KeepVault sees a directory has hidden it excludes it even after it’s unhidden. I didn’t test this. On the KeepVault Connector side of things you pick directories to backup. Every file and sub-directory then gets backed up but since you can pick the directories you can get detailed in your selections. Sure, I’d like more configuration options but I can make this work, and the previous bullet point about low price applies.

The Conclusion

After going through lists I decided to sign up for a year of KeepVault Backup. I had been backing up just under 80GB to Jungle Disk so I signed up for the 80GB plan. At $89 for the year this will save me about 1/3 of what Jungle Disk would be costing me for the year.

I was also able to clean up some of the files being backed up and cleaned up enough space so that I could back up my iTunes, Amazon and other music purchases, along with music ripped from my CDs. Previously I relied on local backups and it was a hole in my backup strategy that I needed to plug.

The lack of versioning and deletions is still a concern I have for a very small number of my files so I’m still backing those up through Jungle Disk. At least in the short term. They also happen to be my most critical documents so I don’t mind having them two places.

This article has already topped 2,000 words so it’s time to stop. After I’ve lived with KeepVault for several more days I’ll post information about how I’m specifically using it.

News & Links for May 3, 2011

Paragon Software is offering their backup software for free through 9AM eastern time on Tuesday May 4th. It’s Paragon Drive Backup Pro 9.5. You need to register it to get the serial number before the time expires, so don’t just download it and file it away. If you run the downloaded installer you’ll have the option to register and not be forced to install. I can’t guarantee you can put off the install as long as you have the registration info, but it does appear you can. I was impressed to see a 64-bit version of the software was included.

The NY Post is reporting that the feds are arguing over which agency (DOJ or FTC) will begin an anti-trust investigation into Apple over their new developer agreement. Apple’s trying to control their eco-system and HP is buying Palm, anyone still think the future isn’t mobile?

Amazon has apparently started to distribute a Kindle update that makes their device more social. I can see where some people may like this, but I hope they’ve learned from other high profile fiasco’s and have these sharing feature off and opt-in.

Mint wasn’t the only new Android app today. Twitter has released their official twitter app for Android. According to Engadget it needs Android 2.1.

Mint Arrives On Android

Mint.com has released an Android version of their Smartphone app, joining the iPhone version. I use it on my iPod Touch and now on my iPad. (On the iPad it’s just a iPhone formatted app able to expand to 2X).

The Android feature set is similar to the iPhone app features. The Android apps adds a widget that can be used to show your total cash and debt. You can tap the widget to go to the full app.

It’s up to you whether you trust your financial info to a website but I eventually gave in to Mint and figure it’s as secure (or not) than my online banking. I do like Mint’s attention to security. The ability to communicate with the widget, have a live folder or have transactions available to global search are all off by default and have to be enabled.

I’d been using Mint on my iPad because it’s been handier than my iPod Touch these days. Now it’s nice to have it on Android with my always on connection. The only thing on my wish list is the ability to add pending transactions but that’s not on the iPhone version either.

The OS Quest Trail Log #50: Spring is Here Edition

Picture of a reservoirDespite some roller coaster temperatures recently today turned out to be great New England spring day. Mother nature must have forgotten it’s the weekend because tomorrow is supposed to more of the same with no rain forecast until Monday. But the days leading up to this weekend did bring some activity on the Quest.

The website remodeling is moving along. Still a work in progress since I’m making the changes live to see how they look. But I took down the “under destruction” messages. Those can be a crutch for only so long and a week is pushing it. I figured the category reorganization would take me awhile but once I found the trick it moved right along. The second feature I wanted was to be able to limit a post list to a certain category.

Among other changes were the elimination of the topic specific category feeds. If the stats are right no one was using them so their deletion will go unnoticed. If the stats are wrong and you used them, hit me up in the comments and add them to my list of things to do. It just didn’t seem worth the effort to maintain them with the other changes.

I Love It When Backups Work

My iPad fiasco threw a scare into me but it’s always nice when backups work as expected. Especially a backup process that hasn’t been touched or verified in months. I almost didn’t was to dedicate the space to a Time Machine backup, but it’s now secured its place in my backup strategy.

Software

I purchased the new Transmit FTP software and have started looking at it again. With my Mac problems last year I had moved a lot of my computer routine to my Windows 7 machine. Mac or Windows? I tend to use what works or what’s working at the time. Once I was on Windows it was the path of least resistance to stay there. Software like Transmit it making it worth going back.

I’m deep into testing KeepVault as my new offsite backup solution. I’ve backed up over 261,000 files totaling over 74 GB. There’s a lot to like, an some things I less than happy with. I’ll write it up once I’ve had some more time with it (especially restores) but it looks promising.

May on the Quest

The month of May is usually brings a challenge to find the time to work on the PC. And this May is no different. Due to Mothers Day and other family events this is the only weekend in the Month where at least one day isn’t booked solid. So things may slow down a bit for the next few weeks. Hopefully the day job won’t beat me up so much that I won’t want to do anything at night.

Domains For Sale

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’ve been dabbling in domains and have offered some for sale. I have some computer & tech related domains up for sale at Snapnames. Check them out of your interested. If you want to buy them you’ll need to set up a Snapnames account (the account itself is free). You’ll also need a free account at Moniker. The domains will be transferred to your Moniker account by Snapnames once they receive payment. No waiting for me to do anything.

BackupUtils.com is a domain I bought with the intent to develop a site with resources and information related to PC backups. Since I haven’t gotten around to it I’ve decided to offer it for sale with a buy it now price of $79. This domain is registered until December 2011.

DiagnoseComputerProblems.com and DiagnosingComputerProblems.com are both up for auctions which end May 11, 2010. DiagnoseComputerProblems.com has a minimum bid of $15 while DiagnosingComputerProblems.com has a minimum bid of $19. Both these domains were just renewed and expire in July 2011.

PCSecurityQuest.com is another domain I intended to develop and just haven’t gotten to it. It’s listed with a buy it now price of $49. There’s almost a year left with the domain registration which expires in April 2011.

I also have the following domains registered at Dynadot and available in their marketplace. You’ll need a Dynadot account (free) to buy them. To find the domains go to Dynadot and click the “Marketplace” link then search for the domain name. Dynadot will automatically transfer the domain once they collect the funds. Everything is listed with a buy it now price. The “<.>” between the name is simply to avoid having the names followed/indexed by search engines. The brackets are not part of the name.

SecureInternetGateway<.>com – $99 (registration expires March 2011)

SecureMacQuest<.>com – $29 (registration expires April 2011)

SecurePCQuest<.>com – $29 (registration expires April 2011)

WinmacHome<.<com – $49 (registration expires Jan 2011)