web analytics

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 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 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.

Vodafone rebrandsVodafone has a new version of its speech-mark logo and a new slogan: ‘The Future is Exciting. Ready?’

The bright red colour stays. Although there will be less of it. From today the white on red will become red on white.

The changes are all part of a global brand make-over. According to the company the new look shows that Vodafone is confident digital technologies and services are “going to make our lives better”.

New Vodafone logo
New Vodafone logo
Old Vodafone logo
Old Vodafone logo

Change of brand, change of emphasis

There’s a clear change of emphasis. Vodafone has positioned itself away from being a mobile phone network with add-ons, to being a more general technology service provider. In New Zealand this includes television.

This move was first noticeable earlier this year at the Vodafone NZ Gigabit Summit. The company held an Auckland event in August where there was little talk of phone networks and far more about how we’re going to live in the future.

At the Summit product director Sally Fuller outlined a world where drones make deliveries, we work from home and make occasional forays in driverless vehicles. There were smart devices and artificial intelligence, but barely any discussion of networks. All that becomes background.

Vodafone New Zealand Consumer Director Matt Williams says “We think the future of technology is very exciting. Our focus now is to ensure our customers are ready to make the most of it.”

Phone, network MIA at Vodafone

Actually Williams said a lot more words in the official press statement. Yet, once again, the words phone and network are conspicuous by their absence.

Vodafone’s brand strategy is global. Vodafone says it heralds the biggest advertising campaign in the company’s history. New Zealanders will be able to see this in a new TV commercial which will show from today. Australia doesn’t get the new advertising until later this month.

As part of the marketing activity Vodafone asked people in 14 countries about their views on the future. It says New Zealanders are more optimistic than Australians or the British, but all three come in behind India.

Also on:

At the New Zealand Herald, Holly Ryan writes Vodafone axes email services – NZ Herald

Customers with a Vodafone email address will have to switch at the end of November, when the telco plans to axe its email services after 20 years.

Email addresses affected include its Clear and Paradise services.

Vodafone had about 200,000 to 250,000 active email users but many operate dual email accounts, a Vodafone spokesperson said.

The accounts would be switched off on November 30, however, Vodafone has promised customers it will automatically forward emails from the closed accounts to a new email of the customer’s choice, for as long as they are a Vodafone customer.

While 250,000 sounds like a lot, many accounts are unused. Other accounts are rarely used.

To grasp the scale of the problem, ask yourself how long it is since a mail message arrived from any of the Vodafone account domains listed at the bottom of Ryan’s story.

Few Vodafone customers will find it hard to move to another mail provider. Many already have Gmail or Outlook.com mail accounts. For them the change means nothing more than forwarding messages if they haven’t done that already. That won’t challenge most users.

There will be stragglers who depend on a Vodafone account. They have been through a lot. Vodafone says it is killing its mail service because of problems with spam and delays. Spark went through something similar with Yahoo mail.

Users won’t miss that pain.

Vodafone should offer support for those customers who struggle with the moving process. The problem here is that customer support is not a Vodafone strength.

The problem with ISP mail

Vodafone’s move is a timely reminder of why you shouldn’t use ISP mail services. The move is also one of the reasons. ISP mail users are at the mercy of an organisation that isn’t focused on providing a first class mail service. It’s better to find a specialist who wants to excel at mail.

At the same time, an ISP mail account ties your hands. Moving from Vodafone or any other service provider is difficult if everyone you’re in touch with reaches you via a vodafone.co.nz mail address. There are often good reasons to switch ISP, so the fewer chains binding you to one, the better.

Modern ISP-provided mail services often include a webmail option, it isn’t always easy to use these across all your devices. With a Gmail or Outlook account you can sync everything across your phone, computer and other devices. You can also read your email from someone else’s computer.

Another reason to use something other than an ISP mail address is that it signals a lack of computer savvy. It tells criminals and others that you may not be as on top of technology as those people with their own custom mail addresses. In this competence hierarchy, a Gmail or Outlook address ranks higher than an ISP address.

You can find better options than Gmail and Outlook. But that’s a subject for another post.

If Vodafone dropping mail worries you, you’re doing online wrong was first posted at billbennett.co.nz

Norton Wi-Fi PrivacyLast year Symantec released an iOS version of Norton Wi-Fi Privacy. It’s a solid app that shields an iPhone or iPad against everyday risks with public Wi-Fi hotspots1.

This year Norton has expanded the product in two ways. First, it now comes in PCs and Macs versions as well as iOS and Android. Second, you can now buy multiple licences to cover five devices. The earlier version covered just one.

A third change is with the price. Norton asks for a lot more than before. Last year a single licence purchased through the app store was NZ$45. This year it is double that amount: NZ$90.

App store price Norton Wi-Fi Privacy
This is the price Norton charged a year ago.

 

Norton Wi-Fi Privacy pricing
This month’s price for a single licence.

A three licence pack is NZ$120 and protecting five devices costs $140.

Better value when buying in bulk

While the multiple packs are better value, NZ$90 for a single device is pushing it. Norton Wi-Fi Privacy is expensive. It’s about twice the price of alternative VPN services.

You can buy arguably better VPN protection for far less money. However, most alternatives require a level of knowledge that many users will find daunting. Norton packages it up, makes it easy to install, use and pay for. You pay more for the convenience.

I tested the software on two iPads, an iPhone and a MacBook. The apps are similar in each case.

An icon show on the MacOS menu bar when it is working. The MacOS app user interface is tiny. That makes it hard to see. It is on a par with what you might see on an iPhone screen. It works fine as a full screen on an iPhone, but it huge and chunky on an iPad. At this price you might expect Norton to do a better job tailoring the user interface.

Most of last year’s comments still apply:

Easy:

Norton’s Wi-Fi Privacy software is easy to install and use. Most of the time it stays out of the way. There are few settings to worry about. Most of the time, you don’t need to do anything after you have installed the software.

Settings:

The setting that may interest you is choosing the end point of your VPN. You can choose from 28 overseas destinations to set as your virtual location. This is more than most alternative VPNs offer. New Zealand is not an option.

If you set the software to auto-select it chooses Australia. I’ve used the VPN to make it look as if my device is in the UK and the US in order to buy services in those countries which are geo-locked for New Zealand. I also use the VPN to force some websites to show a specific country version when the one served up for New Zealanders isn’t my first choice.

Ad-blocking:

Norton says the app also blocks the ad-trackers used by online advertising companies to spy on your web activity. Apart from the report, see below, there’s no way of checking if this works. We’ll have to take Norton’s word on this.

Performance hit:

There’s a noticeable line speed overhead. Running the software on a Mac, connecting to VDSL over a a home Wi-Fi connection the speed drops by at least 10Mbps. That’s a lot when the overall line speed is in the range of 50 to 60Mbps. Line speed drops on iOS are similar. The software is awful when it comes to latency, ping times can take almost twice as long, this may be in part because of the roundabout route.

In practice the performance hit is far worse. I run a cloud back-up app, when Norton Wi-Fi privacy is switched off, the back-up chugs along at around 20Mbps. With the VPN switched on, the back-up speed drops to around 4Mbps.

Reason not to buy:

Norton Wi-Fi Privacy comes with a potential deal-breaker. It doesn’t work with BitTorrent. Either Norton assumes you’d only use BitTorrent and nanny-like takes this option away or it can’t cope with the protocol. Whatever the reason, the software switches off when you start a BitTorrent client.

Another negative:

BitTorrent aside, in practice the VPN sometimes disconnects for no apparent reason. This happens mainly on iOS, I only saw it happen once on MacOS.

There is a clear indication that the software is or isn’t working on the Mac – the menu bar icon shows a green tick. While the iOS version also has a small menu bar icon at the top of the screen, it is more ambiguous. When the VPN is not active, no icon shows. That’s not as helpful as a VPN-is-off indicator.

Useful for some, imperfect VPN

Norton has done a good job making it easy for non-technical users to get VPN protection. At the same time, it gives big brand-name confidence for those who need it. Many alternative VPNs are from companies you’ve never heard of.

Yet the high price, performance overhead and BitTorrent restriction make it hard to recommend Norton Wi-Fi Privacy to anyone tech-savvy enough to find a better alternative. If you’re confident with security and privacy you’ll do better looking elsewhere.


  1. At the time a number of readers pointed out that public Wi-Fi hotspots are not as risky as Norton would have us think. ↩︎

Norton Wi-Fi Privacy — Easy, flawed VPN was first posted at billbennett.co.nz

Kiwibank software

At Reseller News, Rob O’Neill writes:

Kiwibank has booked a $90 million impairment in its software assets and flagged a major change in its SAP core banking roilout.

“Although the strategic review has not yet concluded, a potential change to how we build the core ‘back end’ IT system (CoreMod) to match the demands of the ‘future front end’ has prompted a re-assessment of the value of the work in progress since successfully migrating our batch payments to SAP,” the bank said today.

Source: Kiwibank books a $90 million impairment on software – Reseller News

You have to wonder why boards tolerate large-scale SAP projects when the failure rate  is so high.

I’ve been told, off-the-record, by a number of high-ranking technology executives that dumb decisions are imposed from the top down with CIOs left to carry the can and pick up the pieces.

One recurring theme is that most of the cost and time overruns are due to extensive integration and customisation.

Make that unnecessary integration and customisation.

It is as if every bank or large business has unique, arcane and esoteric processes that can only be covered by expensive and risky software rewrites.

We know that simply isn’t true.

To think there is something magic tied up in those processes is madness. And expensive.

A smarter strategy for a bank, or any large-scale enterprise, would be to purchase off-the-shelf technology and redesign internal business processes to fit the software. Packaged software usually comes with flexible enough options and settings to cope with essential exceptions.

That’s how it works for small businesses buying accounting software from firms like Xero. Speaking of Xero…

Rural VDSL2

Cynics were quick to label the government’s generous broadband funding announcement as pork barrel politics. There’s something in that. New Zealand is, after all, in the run up to what looks like a tightly fought election.

Yet anyone looking closely at the existing fibre network and the second phase of the Rural Broadband Initiative could have figured out that government needs to spend more to fill the remaining broadband gaps.

It was only a matter of time.

English, Bridges plug holes

In the event, Prime Minister Bill English and Communications Minister Simon Bridges managed to find the extra money needed to plug the holes. Sure, it is smart politics. It is also a smart communications strategy.

By the time the money is spent, New Zealand will have world-class broadband infrastructure. The cities were always going to get that. Now the regions will too. On paper New Zealand will have the world’s best rural broadband.

What’s more, we get that world-class network sooner. Five years from now the earth movers, fibre-laying gear, hard hats and high visibility jackets will be packed away. Just about everyone in New Zealand will be able to watch high-definition streaming video or quickly upload vast amounts of data to a cloud.

Fibre, copper, wireless

Before this week the government committed about $2 billion to building a fibre network that would reach around 80 to 85 percent of the population. Another 10 percent or thereabouts would have either VDSL from fibre-fed cabinets or a fixed wireless connection of some description1.

This week’s spending brings the total spend up to around $2.5 billion. Between them the network builders2 will invest about twice as much again. That’s all private money. No-one uses the term in telecommunications; New Zealand’s new broadband network is a classic public-private partnership.

The cost to taxpayers is minimal. The $1.5 billion or thereabouts put aside for the first wave of Ultrafast Broadband was a soft loan. By 2025 the treasury will get that all back.

Old money

Much of the remaining billion dollars from government is either the same money recycled, or funds raised from levies imposed on telecommunications companies.

While taxpayers will ultimately cough up for this through higher service prices, it’s still clever accounting. And the cost per user is minimal. My back of an envelope calculation3 puts it about 50 cents per month.

Compare this with the tens of billions Australia is spending on NBN. Many figures have been used over the years, around A$50 billion is the most common current estimate.

Australian’s will tell you it’s a bigger, more ambitious job reaching more people and spreading further. It’s true. Even so, it looks like the New Zealand people are getting a far better deal. Most of us also get better services than Australians too.

99 percent

At its peak, the old copper telephone network reached around 99 percent of the population give or take. You can assume the last one percent is beyond reach in practical terms.

Connecting the 75 percent of the population living in cities and towns isn’t that hard. Laying fibre to the door for these people isn’t prohibitive.

The next ten percent of the population is harder to reach, the cost per connection might be one and half to two times the cost of connecting the first 75 percent of the population. It’s harder, takes longer and is more expensive. But it’s still doable.

Problems start with the remaining 15 percent. In many cases it is cheaper to reach them with wireless services. Some of the last 15 percent will be in communities which already have fibre connected to a local school. In others, there may be enough people in one spot to make fibre-fed cabinets and VDSL over copper a viable proposition.

Where fibre gives way to wireless

In round numbers the cost per connection rises with each percentage point as you move from the 85 percent mark to 99 percent. At some point along this line the economics of fibre and copper give way, first to cellular fixed wireless and then to the more tailored, local approach used by wisps.

Fibre is the best way to get a broadband connection. Fibre-fed cabinets and VDSL over copper is second best so long as you are near enough to the cabinet. Today’s wireless technologies can often perform almost as well.

This plan leaves almost no-one behind and anyway, govenment will plug the few remaining gaps over time. New satellite technologies promise to perform almost as well as fixed wireless.

There’s a clear political slant to this week’s announcement. While the timing is deliberate, the decisions are money well spent. This is a sound infrastructure investment.


  1. Fixed wireless services from wireless internet service providers or wisps are not quite the same as the RBI fixed wireless broadband services delivered from cellphone towers. ↩︎
  2. Chorus, Northpower, Enable Networks, UFF, Spark, Vodafone, 2degrees and the wisps. ↩︎
  3. Total levy is $50 million a year. Divide that by the number of mobile, landline, fixed wireless and broadband accounts and then by 12. At a guess I’d say there are eight to ten million telecommunications accounts. ↩︎

Government broadband investment fills the gaps was first posted at billbennett.co.nz.