Say you can't afford to buy two or three hard drives. On the other hand, you find optical media too limited in capacity. Then you hear about an amazing product called DV Backup (www.coolatoola.com). This software enables you to use your FireWire-enabled digital camcorder as a backup device. Because MiniDV or Hi8 tapes are relatively inexpensive and easily reusable, media cost is reasonablebut more importantly, you avoid the expense of conventional tape drives by pressing into service a device you already own. Best of all, a single 60-minute tape can store as much as 16.5 GB of data, and larger backups can span multiple tapes. You may think this is the ideal solutionwhat's not to like?
Amazon.com recently introduced a service called S3, which provides virtually limitlessyet inexpensiveonline storage, complete with encrypted transfer. Could this be the Internet backup solution we've all been waiting for? Maybe in the future, but at the moment, some significant issues exist.
To sign up for Amazon S3, fill out a form (including credit card information) at www.amazon.com/s3/. After your account is activated, Amazon.com provides you with two access keys, both of which you'll need to reach your space on their servers. You can store as much data as you want for $0.15 per gigabyte per month, plus $0.20 per gigabyte transferred (upload or download)a tiny fraction of what you'd pay for a service like BackJack.
You should be aware of a couple of catches, though. First, you need an application that knows how to communicate with the S3 service, because ordinary FTP, Web, and backup clients cannot. As I write this, the only mainstream Mac Internet client with built-in S3 support is Interarchy (www.interarchy.com; $39). However, a new, free tool called JungleDisk (www.jungledisk.com) performs some magic to mount your S3 storage space as a network volume. JungleDisk handles the back-end communication with S3 and runs a WebDAV server in the background on your local machine; you then connect to that WebDAV server using the Finder's Go > Connect to Server command to access your files.
Because most backup programs can copy files to any mounted volume, they should also be able to work with Amazon S3 via JungleDisk, right? Well, maybe. A second catch is that no single file on S3 can be larger than 5 GB. This spells trouble for most archiving schemes (which often produce files or disk images larger than 5 GB). And without using archiving software, you're likely to lose important metadata when copying files. In addition, I've found early versions of JungleDisk to be somewhat finicky; I ran into difficulties getting the virtual network volume to mount and unmount at the right times.
For now, these and other problems limit S3's usefulness for backups. But when full-featured backup programs gain direct support for S3, I expect it'll turn into a fantastic and cost-effective backup option.
I have rather mixed feelings about using a camcorder as a backup device. Well, not truly mixed: I wouldn't do it myself. All right, if I were stuck on a desert island with just my PowerBook and a camcorder, then maybe; as I mentioned earlier, I believe that something is better than nothing. But for regular, day-to-day use, I worry that your camcorder may actually be worse than nothing.
With all due respect to author Tim Hewett, who has done what can only be called an extraordinary engineering job, DV Backup is at the mercy of your camcorder and tapes, which were not engineered to provide the bit-perfect quality you need for backups. DV Backup, to its credit, does provide user-adjustable error correction as well as an optional data verification pass after recording your data. However, you trade security for speed and capacity; at the highest level of error correction, which essentially puts two copies of each data block on the tape, backups take twice as long as without (logically enough) and use up twice the tape. Because magnetic tape is notoriously error-prone, I wouldn't recommend using anything less than the highest level of protection. But doing so significantly reduces the advantages of this approach.
Here are some other reasons I urge you to think twice before trusting your backups to your camcorder:
The speed of backups and restoration is much slower even than that of optical media, and nowhere near the speed of hard drives.
Restoring arbitrary individual files is possible (though time-consuming) only if you store your data uncompressed.
Your computer monopolizes your camcorder. If you want to shoot video, you have to go without backups for a while (and vice-versa).
Because digital camcorders were not designed for data backup, the (often miniature) electronics may wear out prematurely due to the frequent stops and starts imposed by backup software.
If you still think a camcorder backup is right for you, you can minimize your risks by observing the following advice:
Buy high-quality tapes, and use only brand-new tapes for backups. And always stick with the same brand of tape for best results.
Use the SP speed rather than the LP speed.
Always use the highest level of error correction; always select the auto-verify option; never use compression.
Perform test restorations of your data on a regular basis.
Consider supplementing your camcorder with a secondary backup method, such as periodic backups to optical media.