Thursday, November 02, 2006

Protect Your Photos

When a customer tells us that their machine has crashed and they need to recover their data, the first category of data that they refer to is normally their photos. With the proliferation of digital cameras it is now a relatively easy matter for a click-happy camera owner to generate many gigabytes of data, what with holidays, birthdays, stag parties, christenings, new baby, etc. etc. What isn't so easy is having the discipline to back up these photos on a regular basis to CD, DVD or external hard drive.

There are a number of reasons why people don't back up their data as regularly as they should. Data backup is boring, it's tedious sitting at a screen selecting folders and files for saving to a backup medium. It's somewhat technical, not everyone has been shown how to back up their data and some of the software available is less than intuitive. There is a lack of awareness that data loss, for either software or hardware failure reasons, is not uncommon. The sheer amount of data to be backed up nowadays can lead to inertia as one has to decide what has been backed up and what hasn't. Finally, many people are just lazy about it - Mañana, Mañana!

Now there are ways to automate your data backup so that it happens with little or no intervention on your part - but this requires investment in an external harddrive or network drive and appropriate software and is best left to the more technical-minded. Which brings me to the subject of this blog - a neat service from that allows you to back up your precious photos (and other files) without even thinking about it. So how does it work? Actually it's a very simple process.

First you go to their website and sign up for an account. You can get a free account with certain limitations, namely that your photos will be in low resolution and only jpeg files can be saved. Alternatively, you can pay $39.99 for a yearly account that allows unlimited storage of your pictures at full resolution and also allows you to save your music files e.g. mp3 and wma as well as documents e.g. xls and doc.

Next you download a small ProtectMyPhotos utility from the download page on their site. Once dowloaded you simply double-click on the file to install the utility. Opening the utility (which will now normally reside in your system tray) presents you with two simple options: Set Up Photos For Protection and Restore My Photos.

Selecting the first option presents you with two further options: Automatic Discovery and Custom Folder Options. The former option will scan your entire computer and back up every file that corresponds to a photo format. If you're not sure where your photos are stored on your PC then this is the option to choose. However, be aware that it will back up gif and jpeg images associated with other programs, such as games, that are not necessarily photos. If you know exactly where your photos are stored e.g. My Pictures then you should select the Custom Folder Options.

Once you have made your selection, that's it, you never have to do anything further to ensure your photos are backed up, even when you add new pictures to your PC. What happens next is that the ProtectMyPhotos utility works in the background uploading your pictures to their secure servers for safe-keeping. The program was designed to run in the background, requires very few system resources and backs up photos only when your Internet connection is idle. When you're busy using your computer and Internet connection, ProtectMyPhotos throttles down its use of your connection. Once a photo is backed up to the servers, the software won't need to upload it again.

Needless to say you will need a broadband connection to use this service, uploading 20 GB of photos is not something you want to try on a dial-up connection! Bear in mind that your photos are not uploaded in an instance, it took 3 days for all of 5 GB of test photos to be uploaded from our system. However, the PC that the pictures were uploaded from was turned off overnight and had moderate internet usage during the day - your own experience may be faster or slower. Currently we are in the process of uploading over 20 GB of music from a music server and this looks like it will take over a week to complete. To argue that the backups are slow and take a long time is to miss the point of this service, the beauty of it is that it is completely unattended backup. As I add more pictures or music to my PC it is automatically backed up, and much more quickly than the original file transfer because the incremental quantity of data is much smaller.

Restoring all your photos to your PC is a one-click operation from the ProtectMyPhoto utility, if the day comes that you need to do it. You can, of course restore your pictures to any PC, not just the one that you uploaded them from.

What I can't say is whether ProtectMyPhotos is a sufficiently robust company to still be there in 5 years' time when I may need to restore all my saved data. However, I hope that they are as they have a good product that deserves to be around for a long time. Check it out.

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