Mozy, backup-and-forget. Or, Forget-to-backup? (updated)

When it comes to my personal computer, I’m like Robin Harris — I believe in making as many copies of my data as I can, as often as I can.

Why? I’m 29 now. I have files on my hard drive that include BASIC software I wrote when I was 13, short stories I wrote when I was in high school, and projects I worked on in college. I’ve got an iTunes library that took 10 years to build, and gigs upon gigs of photographs of me and my wife. If my house were to burn down today, my biggest loss would be my hard drive, because it is literally irreplaceable.

And so while I started using Apple’s Time Machine recently to keep local backups, I was looking for a second way to do it — preferably one that is off-site and automatic, so I don’t need to worry about it. Essentially, something like Mozy.

Mozy is an online service which provides backups for your home computer. There are plenty of reviews (both good and bad, as well as indifferent) which describe Mozy’s pros and cons, so I won’t go into super detail on that. Basically, there is a little program that runs in the background and backs up your files every now and then to their servers. If you need to restore a file, you can do it through their web site or else through the program you download.

This is a great service for me, because I can count on Apple Time Machine to provide most of my backup needs (like, “oops, accidentally deleted a file”), while Mozy provides a second layer of protection (like “oops, my baby nephew tried to make all my USB drives bounce on the floor”).

The cost also makes a lot of sense for me. For $60/year, I get unlimited backups. Since I am looking to back up around 500 GB of stuff, this is cheaper than purchasing a new hard drive, like I need to do for Time Machine.

So, about 2 weeks ago, after giving all this thought to signing up for Mozy, I decided to go for it. And quickly ran into my first problem. After paying them through their web site, I found out that the Mac client isn’t available! The weird thing is that it was still listed on their site as a download … which just went to an error 404 page. After contacting tech support, I was told that “this is a known issue, and it should be available again shortly.” There was no message of any kind on their web site. Nevertheless, I tried again the next day, and was able to download the client.

At this point, I was a bit on edge. Not because they took the Mac client offline, but because they made no attempt to notify their clients! Backup companies should have a full-disclosure policy. If I am counting on them to keep my files safe, I need to know if there is a problem. What happens if they simply don’t mention that they lost my latest backup, and I decide to wipe my computer and restore it from them at that time? This is obviously unacceptable.

However, if that were the only issue I ran into, it would have been OK. After all, the Mac client was marked as “beta,” and I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that this was a one-time oversight.

So, I used the downloaded client to start creating a backup. I should note that creating a 500 GB backup takes quite some time, even over Verizon FIOS. Mozy seems to limit their incoming bandwidth to around 100 KB/s, at least for my client. I know from other things that my connection is capable of at least 10 times that.

About 40 GB into the backup (about two days), the Mozy client gave me an error. It said “ServerError11.” Not very descriptive, so I looked at the log file, which said “Server Error. Disconnecting.” Also not very descriptive. Despite multiple reboots and retries at this point, I could no longer get the Mozy client to continue its backup.

I contacted tech support again, and told them the problem. They said that there was probably a “lock” on my account, and they would have it cleared within 24 hours. They didn’t tell me what a “lock meant.” 24 hours later, it still wasn’t working. This was on a Thursday. I gave them the weekend, and contacted them again on Tuesday. Again, I was told the same thing, and that they must escalate the issue to a developer, and it would be cleared within 24 hours. OK. Again, 24 hours go by, and the issue hadn’t gone away. I contacted tech support a fourth time. When I mentioned that I had been told twice that it would be fixed within 24 hours, the guy told me “there are other people with the same problem, and they haven’t been helped yet.” Ouch.

So, what’s the conclusion here? It has now been more than a week since I haven’t been able to back up. In fact, since signing on to Mozy I have not been able to complete a single complete backup. The staff seems unable to resolve any problems in a timely fashion. What’s much more important than even those issues, however, is that Mozy seems unable or unwilling to freely communicate with its customers.

Mozy, I understand that you may be going through some growing pains with all the press coverage you’ve gotten lately. That’s OK. But, as a backup company, your name and reputation DEPEND on being reliable. Reliable doesn’t mean you don’t ever have operating issues. What it does mean is that you disclose those issues when you do, so that people who rely on you can adjust their plans and expectations accordingly.

Until the issue of communication with customers is resolved, I would need to recommend for people that they steer clear of Mozy. You wouldn’t want to rely on a backup company which may or may not be functioning as advertised, and which you can’t trust to even tell you which is the case.

If someone from Mozy wants to contact me, and address this issue, I would be happy to update this blog post. Given their track history so far (when I was chasing them for info), I’m not holding my breath.

* Update *
Within hours, I was contacted by David Dreyer, Support Operations Manager at Mozy. David is working to resolve my issue, and says that there is a general Mozy software update coming this weekend which should resolve similar issues for other users. David was very aggressive in addressing this problem, and that of notification I mentioned above. Sometimes it’s nice to be proven wrong :) I’ll have another update once my problems have been resolved.

Read on for the 45-day update.