The disk crash is many PC users’ worst nightmare: All data lost, the last backup is from months ago, and all that downloaded software has to be downloaded again. And, saddest of all, all that personal data, the digital pictures, etc. Will that backup still be restorable? There couldn’t be a worse scenario, or could there? There could: What if your house burned down and your PC, including all backup media was destroyed? Now, those family pictures are surely lost. Of course, you could store those pictures on a DVD and take it to a friends’ place. In a different house, maybe a different part of town. Or you could take it to a bank locker. But who’d leave the house for that?
Now online backups, in particular Jungledisk, ElephantDrive, provide an alternative. Simple to install, they provide relatively low cost datastorage in large vaults run either by Amazon or other providers. With the possibility to mount network storage as a Windows drive, they integrate into the Windows Explorer, so even non-sophisticated users can access them, making them a much more feasible solution for these user groups than old school hosting providers.
Two major drawbacks should be mentioned: Both Jungledrive and ElephantDrive do not offer client side encryption. This basically means you cannot be ultimately sure that nobody can ever access your secret data. This can be overcome by encrypting your data locally, e.g. with GnuPG and then submitting them for backup. However, this requires some expertise on the user side, reducing the ease of use of the online backup solutions somewhat. If your data isn’t secret or you trust those providers, this drawback may be irrelevant for you.
The other drawback is of course speed. With the limited upload speed of retail DSL connections, a backup of your digital photo album can easily take several days. You can run those backups in the background and limit bandwidth usage, so you can continue to work with your PC and even run the online game of your choice, but this increases backup duration even more. However, since your photo album probably increases in size only slowly, and backup is incremental, these long durations are generally acceptable — for me. Your mileage may vary.