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5 online backup services keep your data safe

February 6, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Norton Online Backup

Although Symantec is better known for its security and virus-protection programs, Norton Online Backup is also part of the company's arsenal.

Norton Online Backup
Norton Online Backup
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Norton is available for Macs and PCs, but not Linux systems. The vendor also offers Norton Connect, a beta iOS app that lets you download archived files. (Symantec had a similar Android app that it pulled from the market last October; the site says that it is working on a new version.)

Norton's home screen lets you back up your system immediately, restore files, download files or change the settings. A log lets you know the details as well as displays a green check mark or a red X that shows whether the task was completed.

As is the case with the other applications reviewed here, Norton's default settings copy only basic files, including contacts, financial files, pictures, browser favorites and documents. The interface includes check boxes to quickly add music, email and video. You can add any folder or file manually; you can also copy your entire drive, including system files. The program provides a progress bar and displays the percentage of the task that's been completed, the amount of data and the number of files being moved.

While the software can back up a connected external hard drive, it won't back up the system to an external hard drive. Backups can be scheduled, but the program doesn't support continuous backups of files as they are saved.

At any time, you can restore a lost file or rebuild the entire computer from the stored online data. Deleted files stay active on Norton's servers for 90 days.

In addition to restoring any stored file, Norton provides a great way to share material with colleagues or friends via email. All you do is select the file and the service emails a link to anyone; the process can be password-protected.

Norton colocates its servers at several data centers in the U.S. and the U.K. and uses a 128-bit SSL encryption key for online transfers and 256-bit AES encryption on its servers. Data is mirrored at two locations, just in case there's a failure or disaster.

Test results

The initial default backup amounted to 1,226 files (190MB); it was completed in just 1 hour, 2 minutes and 7 seconds.

At a Glance

Norton Online Backup
Decho Corp.
Price: $50/year for 25GB of backups for up to five computers
Works with: Windows, Mac OS X, iOS
Pros: Can back up entire drive; licensed for up to five computers; fast data flow
Cons: Doesn't back up to an external drive; iOS app is beta and there's no Android app

It took Norton 15 hours and 21 minutes to archive the contents of the system's C: drive, six times faster than CrashPlan took to do the same thing.

I was able to perform an incremental backup with 25MB of data in 7 minutes and 23 seconds and the service was able to locate a deleted file in 2.7 seconds. I recovered it in 1 minute and 45 seconds.

Norton Online Backup has a 30-day free trial period; after that, it costs $50 for 25GB. There's no unlimited capacity plan, but a single subscription can accommodate five separate computers, something others charge an extra $2 or $5 for.

Bottom line

The software may be showing its age, but the service is fast and rock-solid.


This story shows the bifurcation of the online backup business these days. Some applications let you archive only your photos, music, videos and other personal files; others can save the entire contents of your hard drive.

Of the two applications in the first category, both have positives and negatives. Backblaze does a thorough initial backup but doesn't offer mobile apps that let you grab files from a smartphone while you're on the go. In contrast, Carbonite has apps for iOS, Android and BlackBerry devices, but it is the most expensive service that I looked at.

Three of the five backup services that I looked at could copy the entire hard drive to online servers, but they differed in many ways. Norton Online Backup lacks recent creature comforts, like the ability to augment online services with a local backup on an external hard drive. By comparison, CrashPlan seems to have it all, but its full system upload at more than four days was too slow to be practical.

That leaves Mozy Home as the winner. It may not be perfect, but it offers a great mix of economy, security and features. I just wish that it kept deleted files forever.

How we tested

To measure how these online backup services compare, I downloaded each application and checked out its features. I performed backups and updates and restored a variety of files on an Acer Veriton M4 desktop PC with Windows 7 Professional. I began by backing up the system using Norton Ghost 15 with a LaCie 2big USB 3.0 external hard drive.

After getting familiar with the service, I timed how long it took to perform an initial backup of the system using the service's default settings. I noted the connection speed and how much data was moved. Because the amount of data varied depending on what types of files the application handled, the timing here is more a point of information than a way to compare the services.

If the application supported it, I then did a full backup of the system's C: drive -- a total of 35.4GB of data.

To see how each handles new data, I added a folder containing 25MB of assorted files, including images, video and Office files, to the system. I timed how long it took to make the incremental backup.

To mimic what happens if data is lost or corrupted, I then deleted a 10MB WMV video file and timed how long it took to search for the file with the online backup system. Lastly, I timed how long it took to restore the lost file.

When I was done, I restored the system to its original specs and repeated the sequence with the next service.

5 Online Backup Services: Performance

Backblaze Carbonite CrashPlan MozyHome Norton Online Backup
Initial default backup 1 hr., 42 min. (978MB) 28 min. (135MB) 4 hr., 7 min. (321MB) 2 hr., 9 min. (160MB) 2 hr., 7 min (19MB)
Full system backup (35.4GB) NA NA 4 days, 20 min., 5 sec. 22 hrs., 11 min. 15 hrs., 21 min.
Incremental 25MB backup 4 min., 31 sec. 1 min., 9 sec. 1 min., 3 sec. 5 min., 7 sec. 7 min., 23 sec.
Search for/recover lost 10MB file 2.1 sec./ 25.3 sec. 1.3 sec./1 min., 6.8 sec. 2.3 sec./35.6 sec. 4.6 sec./34.8 sec. 2.7 sec./1 min., 45.6 sec.

Brian Nadel is a frequent contributor to Computerworld and the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.

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