A nice thing about online backup services is that they are automatic. You install the software, let it run, and then it should take care of everything for you.
The hands-off nature of any good automated backup program is a plus, of course, but from time to time I get questions from readers that can be summarized like this:
This online backup sounds great, but how does it know what to back up? Is it searching through my files? That seems kinda creepy. Also, how do I make sure that it is backing up what I want it to? Also, how can I tell what it is doing? All I see are my cable modem lights blinking.
Excellent questions. Every online backup service that I am aware of has a way that you can control what is being backed up, and you can see what is going on.
I am going to show you how to do it in CrashPlan, which is the service I use. The steps will be a bit different if you use a different service like Mozy or Carbonite, but the general concept will be the same.
If nothing else, I recommend that you take a look and make sure that your backup is actually protecting the files that you think it is.
Default Backup Settings
Most online backup services have a default set of folders that get backed up automatically. Nothing creepy here – this is done so that you can get started without the annoyance of going through and setting everything up manually.
By default, CrashPlan (and I believe most online backup services) will back up the files in your home folder. This is good for most users, but if you keep important information in other locations, you’ll want to modify what is getting backed up.
Choose Files To Be Backed Up
If you want to change (or see) which files are being backed up, you will want to go into the application for your software.
Using CrashPlan as an example, start up the software by clicking on the CrashPlan icon in the menu bar and choosing Show CrashPlan… (on the Mac) or double clicking the CrashPlan icon on your Desktop/Start Menu (on Windows).
Once the software has started, there is a Backup tab, and you can click Change to bring up the list of folders.
You can choose which folders and/or files should and should not be backed up by checking and un-checking.
Again, your specific software might be different, but the general concept should be the same. Click the icon to start up the user interface, and you should be able to check/un-check your folders.
See What The Backup Is Doing
Most backup software will let you see what it is actually doing. There is often an indication in the menu bar or system tray that the software is active. In CrashPlan, you can see that it is doing something because the little “house” is glowing. When it is done, it will show a checkmark.
If you want to see more detail, you can start up the CrashPlan application. If you click the little i icon beside Backup running, you can see how many files are being backed up, and even which specific file it is working on.
Become Familiar With These Settings
Even if you are sure that everything you need to protect is in your home folder, don’t be complacent. Go in and make sure that there is a checkmark beside your critical information.
Also, from time to time, make sure that you can actually retrieve some files out of your backup. The time to discover that something isn’t working is not when you have a failure.
(Photo by kkirugi)
Other than you regular testing to make sure that it is working, of course. ↩