Ask LH: How Can I Back Up Online When My Connection Sucks?

Ask LH: How Can I Back Up Online When My Connection Sucks?

Hey Lifehacker, I live in Adelaide and don’t have access to ADSL in my area, but I want to back up my data online. What’s the best way to upload 50 or 60GB of data to Google Drive or Dropbox? Thanks, Backing Away

Hard drive picture from Shutterstock

Dear BA,

This is a tough one. The big advantage of a service like Dropbox is that it continually backs up without you having to think about it. If you have a slow connection such as dial-up, that process can be painful or non-functional. As we’ve noted before, using mobile broadband is generally too expensive to be practical for large amounts of data, though once the initial upload is complete it might be feasible. Nonetheless, backing up is important, and even if you can only occasionally back up online, that’s better than nothing.

Corporate backup services for businesses sometimes offer the option of sending in a hard drive or USB drive to have data uploaded, but that isn’t available with Google Drive or Dropbox. Thinking a little laterally, here are a few suggestions.

  • Check local computer stores to see if one is willing to do the uploading for you. This will cost money, and might take a while — uploading 60GB is a slow process even with a decent ADSL2 connection — but it would get the job done.
  • You could advertise on Airtasker or Gumtree to see if someone elsewhere in Adelaide is willing to help you upload those files. Obviously this is easier if you have a laptop, and your helper would also need a plan that’s generous enough to cope with that large upload. You’ll also need to trust them — a variant would be to ask a friend or relative.
  • With a laptop, you could try utilising free Wi-Fi (there’s plenty on offer in the Adelaide CBD). Realistically, though, the slower speeds and data limits are likely to make this impractical.
  • In the absence of online backup, set up automated backup at home to a separate computer. While online backup is great, on-site backup still has a place — especially in this context.

If Lifehacker readers have other ideas, we’d love to hear them in the comments.


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  • Forget backing up online – its no use if your connection speed is slow anyway.
    Just get yourself a 64GB USB thumb drive.

    • Or two (or three….) and rotate them in and out on a REGULAR basis…. Keep one at work and rotate it out weekly and one on your person (I put a portable HDD in my work bag so it goes virtually everywhere I go).

      Honestly – too much backing up is never enough…. Once you lose irreplaceable things like photos of your child’s first steps, backing up takes on a lot more importance…

  • Spend $90 on a 1TB hard drive and store it off site at work, a relatives, friends, or neighbours place.
    You could also copy to a machine at one of these locations and do a differential copy each new visit.
    Your neighbours house is not the best location due to fire, theft or flood.
    Or once the main 60GB of data is uploaded via a high speed connection. Any new updates eg photos or documents could be kept in sync using a limited volume mobile data connection.

  • I currently use Crashplan for off-site backups (I also have dropbox but don’t use it for backups). Crashplan offer a backup seed option for their home plan –

    If this type of backup is not what you are looking for, you could at least use their service to get your data in to an online storage, once it is in the “cloud” you could use a cloud-based virtual machine (Azure or Amazon for example) to move the data from Crashplan to another service such as dropbox.
    I recently moved all my dropbox data to my own hosted OwnCloud server, but the initial upload was too slow. Since all the data was already in cloud storage, I used a Windows VM hosted on Azure to move the data between the two cloud stores at up to 20 Mb/s instead of my paltry < 200 Kb/s.

    • Sounds great in theory but the seeded backup only offers a 1Tb drive and it’s a one-off thing, you can’t use multiple seed drives (and it would cost a fortune anyway).

      When you have ~14Tb to back up and an upload calculator estimates just under 3 years for the upload to Crashplan to complete, it’s not much of an option…

  • We bought two 1TB external drives and a NAS. So we plug in one of the externals onto the NAS and have it backup all “important” data to the external drive automatically.

    Once a month, we swap the external drives and take the now unplugged and up-to-date drive to my parents for off site storage.

    a bit of a pain but it seems reliable and safe

    Oh, and the NAS has FTP access so I can get the files from anywhere too. Well, anywhere that will allow an FTP connection at any rate.

    • Bring back 9600 baud. Those were the days. Waiting 30 seconds for a picture to download, hopefully. Back then it was exciting and we had antici-Pation. 🙂

  • Most decent ISP’s don’t charge for upload.. (*ie pretty much anyone who’s not a full service telco)
    Find someone who is going away on holiday and ask to borrow their connection to do your initial upload while they’re away.

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