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Acronis True Image promises to store all your data so you can recover it in a hurry. The company’s marketing says the process is complete and easy.

You are give a choice of storing data to a local drive, in the cloud or both. Acronis also says it has high levels of security.

None of this is unique to Acronis. Almost every other backup tool offers the same basic story. Acronis differs from the pack by adding defence against the ransomware dark arts. It also uses blockchain to keep the marketing, if not the software, bang up to date.

For testers there is a 30-day free trial. If you want to buy the software you can choose from a variety of options. You can choose a US$50 standard one-time payment for one computer. This rises to US$80 for three computers and US$100 for five devices.

Backup to cloud

Acronis’ advanced package is the same price. It is a one-year subscription that adds up to 250GB of cloud storage.

There is also a premium plan. This has 1TB of cloud storage. It also includes blockchain certification of files and electronic document signatures. This costs US$100 for a single computer and $160 for five devices.

I tested the advanced package. My first job was to download and install the software on my Mac. That task isn’t going to trouble anyone that has used computers before.

The software loads as a background app on the Mac. It places a discreet icon on the menu bar. This doesn’t add much functionality, but does remind you the software is running. Most of the time the software chugs away in the background making backups. It needs little human intervention.

Dashboard

Acronis deserves praise for its software dashboard. The design is clear and uncluttered. Although there’s a nod to the MacOS Finder design, you’re never left wondering where you are.

On the left of the display a column shows the important functions: Backup; Archive; Active Protection and Account.

When you’re in the main backup function you’ll also see a list of devices and their backup locations. Adding new ones is simple. You can choose the Acronis Cloud or browse your local network to find a suitable place to store a backup. You can check earlier backups from this screen.

There’s an option to backup now. When you create a backup you can choose whether to save everything or select files. Once you’ve made an initial backup, incremental backups are automatic. by default the software makes an incremental backup once a day. You can change this. If you like, hourly backups are an option.

Slow start

While the software works as promised, Acronis True Image 2018 is not trouble-free. The first problem was that I had difficulty activating the software with my code. It took a few attempts.

The other issue that might put you off is the sheer amount of time it took to make my first cloud backup. My MacBook Air has 256GB of SSD storage. I like to keep around 20 percent free, in part so there’s headroom when huge files come my way.

Acronis True Image 2018
Four days to go

Four days to goFor my initial backup I choose everything on the drive. A total of 203GB. You can see this in the screen shot above. Acronis interpreted this as a total of 180GB that it needed to send to the cloud.

The software warns: ”This backup is going to take a while…”. It wasn’t kidding. According to the display it was going to take four days and three hours.

Often MacOS starts a huge backup to my network drive warning it will take a long time. It then reconsiders and re-estimates once the transfer gets underway. I assumed this might be the case with Acronis True Image.

It wasn’t. It really wasn’t. In the end the initial backup took a little longer than four days and three hours.

Now here’s the odd thing: that screen shot above says the backup is running at 3.9Mbps. That’s fair enough, but I have a VDSL2+ connection that usually runs at between 45 and 70Mbps. I can BitTorrent at around 40Mbps. Streaming HD video works without a hitch.

Bandwidth blues

It’s good that Acronis doesn’t hog all the bandwidth on the home connection. But it could take more than under 10 percent. It turns out, it doesn’t use anything like 10 percent.

I took the second screenshot 24 hours after the first. Acronis says it works in the background while you get on with other tasks. That’s possible. But a whole day after starting the initial backup, it had only uploaded 4GB of the total.

Acronis True Image 2018 - after one day
After one day, there are another 33 days to go…

After one day, there are another 33 days to go…As the second screenshot shows, at this rate it would take 33 days to handle the initial backup. In the event it took 4.5 days, about 110 hours in total. So the average speed was about 0.5Mbps.

In the preferences there’s an option to halt backups if your laptop is working on battery power. There are no other settings here to tweak to speed things up. For the record I had the software set to continue while on battery power.

Australian servers

On the backup screen there’s a small cog icon to adjust settings. The options here allow you to chose where to backup your data. The software selected an Australia default server for me. If that bothers you, there are alternatives.

You get the choice of optimal or maximum data backup speed. Optimal uses less of your bandwidth freeing up capacity for other apps. At first, this didn’t appear to make much difference to the upload speed for the initial backup. The pace picked up some time after I chose the option. I’d like to see more transparency in these settings, four and a half days for an initial backup is not acceptable.

Once it finished the initial backup, Acronis works at a cracking pace. Subsequent incremental backups often hit speeds in the mid-20Mbps range. They all happen in the background. It’s reliable and rock solid.

There are some neat touches. Acronis allows you to archive files to its cloud. You can send them via the app, and retrieve them using a web interface. In fact, you can use this web interface to recover your data at any time without the app.

More secure than alternatives

Acronis’ key selling point is the blockchain technology. This determines if anyone else has altered your online archive.

Before we look closer at how this works, the description above should trigger alarm bells. You might think an online cloud backup service should be secure enough to guard against anyone else accessing your data.

Acronis says that one of the best defences against ransomware is to keep regular backups. Ransomware works when criminals encrypt your data. They say they will give you the encryption key in return for money, usually Bitcoin.

That defence only works so long as the ransomware criminals don’t encrypt your backups along with the main data store. Hence the need to check no-one else is tinkering with your files.

You’ll have to decide for yourself if this is useful.

Verdict: Acronis True Image 2018

If you’re in business and have important data you should already be making local and offsite backups. There are plenty of choices for making offsite backups in the cloud, Acronis is a good, secure option.

Once you’ve made the first backup, the incremental updates are fast. There’s little work needed on your part and you don’t need to be a geek to understand how the software works.

While True Image 2018 may feel like overkill for many user, Acronis prices are reasonable. It costs little more than alternatives that are neither as safe nor as simple.

Ben Kepes writes about an infosec panic:

Bitglass, a company that is all about protecting organizational data, wanted to see the impacts of widespread use of public wi-fi, alongside the use of unsanctioned file sharing solutions…

…Bitglass’ threat research team tested two real-world scenarios—public wi-fi use and sharing of data from within a cloud app. The assumption being that the combination of public (and, one assumes, at-risk) wi-fi and cloud file sharing apps (shock, horror, cue the “cloud is risky” FUD) would deliver a double blow of cataclysmic risk.

Source: Public WiFi plus cloud file sharing: A recipe for InfoSec panic? « The Diversity Blog 

Kepes goes on to talk about his experience of using public wi-fi. He says he uses it a lot and never runs into trouble.

That makes sense. But it misses something. Kepes is motivated. He owns a business. He has enough experience, knowledge and sense to steer clear of obvious traps.

You, I and Kepes might be sensible. You can’t assume everyone using an enterprise computing app on a mobile device will be as careful or as savvy.

No amount of training or awareness programmes changes that.

Risky, not too risky

Organisations are at risk from careless use of public wi-fi. As Kepes points out the level of risk might not be high.

There is a simple way to deal with the risk. Build VPN functionality into every heavy-duty mobile enterprise app. That way that users have a secure, encrypted end-to-end link from their mobile device to the server handling their data.

VPNs are not expensive, they are not hard to build. They don’t impose much of a performance overhead.

Enterprise software companies can absorb the cost, a few cents per month, into their pricing model. It makes sense to guarantee security with an insurance policy against data being hijacked between a mobile device and the server.

Kepes’ point, is spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt undermines cloud computing. In general, cloud is more secure than older computing models. You might not expect cloud infrastructure vendors to address mobile access risks; it should be a priority for an enterprise SaaS business.

wellington cloud
wellington cloud

Four years ago Microsoft lost its mojo. The software giant had failed to compete in web search.

People questioned whether Microsoft was on an IBM-style path to irrelevance. When the phone business flopped, it looked like Microsoft’s time in the sun was over.

Today it is back. The 2017 Microsoft is a different beast, the main reason for its revival is a successful transition to selling cloud computing services. Microsoft’s birth isn’t yet on the same scale as Apple which came back with the iPhone, but that can still happen.

This week Microsoft reported quarterly profits that are more than twice the level of a year earlier.

It’s not all good news. Some of the jump was down to the company realising a tax benefit after writing off its failed mobile phone business.

Fast growing cloud transition

Yet that’s the past The important part of the quarterly announcement is that Microsoft’s cloud business is growing at a clip. That was enough to send the share price up three percent.

This wasn’t the first quarter where Microsoft’s cloud business was the star of the show. It’s been climbing for years now. In the latest quarter Intelligent Cloud revenue was up 11 percent to US$7.4 billion. Revenue for the company’s Azure cloud services was up almost 100 percent.

While Azure still trails behind Amazon Web Services, there is clear blue sky between Microsoft and the next set of cloud service providers. Being second in the most important market of the day is a huge win for Microsoft.

Azure profits

At the same time, cloud economics means it is close to a winner takes all game. Amazon and Azure share almost all the cloud profits.

The other cloudy good news from Microsoft is that revenue from the cloud version of Office 365 went past traditional software sales for the first time. There are now 90 million Office 365 users on iOS and Android. That is a big thumbs up for CEO Satya Nadella’s decision to support non-Microsoft operating systems.

Although Microsoft is doing a better job of transforming than rivals like IBM, Oracle or Google, it isn’t in the clear yet. Sales of Surface devices fell two percent during the quarter. Meanwhile enterprise service revenues fell. Yet it appears to be keeping pace with AWS, that’s something no-one else can manage.

Cloud storage

Cloud storage has changed the way we use computers and data.

Thanks to the cloud you can breathe easier. Your files are safe, even if something terrible happens to your computer, phone or tablet.

You can have near-instant access to any of your files from almost everywhere.

There’s a chance you already have cloud storage. Limited free services are part of the deal when you buy an Apple computer or Microsoft Office 365. You also get free cloud storage if you use Gmail or Google Docs.

Free storage is good, yet it’s worth paying extra. That way you can get the cloud storage plan that best suits your needs. When you pay, you get more storage. You may also get more features and tools or extra security. In some cases paying means you can not only store more data, but also store larger files. You may also be able to share them with friends or colleagues.

Most, but not all, cloud storage services double as syncing services.

Microsoft OneDrive

OneDrive is the default cloud services for Microsoft Windows 10. It integrates well with the operating system. It also works well with Office.

If you’re a Microsoft 365 customer you get 1TB of OneDrive storage with your account. If not, Microsoft’s 50GB Basic plan costs US$24 a year.

Microsoft offers a comprehensive set of cloud tools and apps. This includes web versions of Office apps like Word and Excel. In practice OneDrive seems to be slower at syncing than the other options listed here. While there are apps for iOS and MacOS, the integration isn’t always smooth.

Apple iCloud

Apple customers often use iCloud in a different way to how Microsoft owers use OneDrive. iCloud is more about syncing between devices than simple storage. Although it does that too.

If you own Apple hardware and use Microsoft software you may end up using both services.

There is a 5GB free tier. The 20GB for US$12-a-year plan gives you 50GB. The price of the 200GB plan is US$36 a year while a terabyte of cloud storage costs US$120.

iCloud is a must for Apple users. You only get one 5GB allocation even if you have many devices. If you have a Mac, iPhone and iPad you may find it isn’t enough. Windows users can sign for any iCloud plan.

iCloud can be confusing at times. Apple designed it to work with Apple apps. That is still where it shines the most. Even so, it is easy to install on Windows computers and there is a great web interface.

Google Drive

There’s more to Google Drive than cloud storage and sync. You could say the same about OneDrive and iCloud. Those services complement Microsoft software and Apple hardware offerings.

Drive goes further. It is a key part of Google’s collaborative online office suite. The emphasis is less on backing up your phone or PC docs than replacing them in the cloud.

Google Drive’s 15GB is generous compared to the other cloud storage services. Yet it is not as generous as it first looks. The allowance includes mail messages and images stored with Google Photos.

Some find Google Drive harder to navigate than OneDrive. Of the three big services, it is the least geared towards conventional back up. In practice backup works well enough.

Dropbox

Dropbox is the independent alternative personal cloud service. You get less storage for free, but it’s independence means flexibility. It is also a great way to share files with others.

 

Personal cloud storage services compared
ServiceWhat you get for freeStoragePrice
Apple iCloud5GB50GB$12
200GB$36
 1TB$120
Microsoft OneDrive5GB50GB$24
Office 365 Home subscription1TB is included$80
Google Drive15GB Storage shared between Drive, Gmail, Google+ and Google Photos100GB$20
 1TB$100
10TB$1200
20TB$2400
30TB$3600
Dropbox2GB1TB$120
Box10GB100GB$138
Unlimited$204
Mega50GB200GB$65
500GB$130
2TB$260
4TB$390
All prices in US dollars, annualised and .99 prices rounded up

The cloud only holds a fifth of the enterprise workload, which means there is time for the enterprise to decide the risks are not worth the rewards.

Source: When the Cloud Becomes Just Normal Infrastructure

After ten years of writing about Cloud Computing, it’s easy to lose sight of how far the technology still has to go. And as Arthur Cole points out in the linked story, cloud native applications are only 15 percent of the total. The number is likely to be higher in New Zealand, but all the same, the cloud is still smaller than we sometimes think.

 

Xero Ipad

Xero has moved one step closer to becoming New Zealand’s first global technology giant.

Last week TCV, a Silicon Valley investment firm, bought 1.4 million Xero shares from Matrix Capital Management. The deal was worth NZ$28.5 million. That’s a little over one percent of the company.

Few people in New Zealand will have heard of TCV. Most New Zealanders will have heard of the company’s other investments. TCV owns equity in, among others, Airbnb, Facebook and Netflix.

Xero a name in Silicon Valley

Technology Crossover Ventures is based in Palo Alto, California, the epicentre of Silicon Valley.

Matrix reduced its holding in Xero from almost 10 percent of the company to around 8.5 percent.

The share transfer may not be a big deal in Silicon Vally terms or even in TCV terms. The business has close to US$10 billion invested in technology companies. The investment is from a TCV fund that focuses on mature firms that already have an impressive track record.

Yet it is significant for Xero, although not in financial terms. It’s an important vote of confidence marking Xero’s arrival in the technology premier league. That’s something no New Zealand company has managed before now.

Disruptor

The cloud accounting software company has disrupted global markets. Xero made the world sit up and look at New Zealand technology.

While Xero’s share price has fallen back from the mid-2014 high point, it has performed well so far in 2017. The price is up almost 15 percent since Christmas. In mid-December it traded at NZ$17.50, today, at the time of writing, it is NZ20.50. That’s the highest point for the company’s shares since November 2015.

Like many fast growing technology companies the business has yet to turn a profit. Although that day is now getting closer. At a recent company update founder Rod Drury said the business will soon be cashflow positive.

It continues to show strong growth in revenue. What’s more subscriber numbers continue to climb. This is a vital metric for a software-as-a-service business. At the end of March it hit the milestone of one million subscribers.