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Backup made easy

Our Advisor finally gets serious about spiffing up his office, and in the process, finds a gem.

You know the old saying that the cobbler’s children go unshod? Well, although I limit my shoemaking activities to threading new laces when the old ones break, that old saw holds true in the Crash-Reboot offices. While I’m recommending RAID, NAS, and Snap backup solutions to nonprofit organizations, my own shoestring office has been operating on a stack of CD-Rs updated on average once in every 2.7 blue moons.

It was only when I was pressed by a client to ‘fess up what I used for my office that I finally broke down and decided to get serious about my own place, if only to cut down on the amount of embarrassed mumbling on the job. The solution I settled on turned out to be an unexpected delight–not a feeling that technology often engenders in me. It’s called the Mirra M-80 Personal Server ($399 MSRP) box that was fully operational in about an hour, most of which I spent polishing shoes while it did its stuff.

Mirra, Mirra

The Mirra Personal Server looks like a pint-sized mini-tower computer, but it needs only two cables: One for power, and the other to go into a spare port on your home network’s router. When you plug them both in, it whirs a bit, and then settles into a steady green-light mode that tells you all is well.

You then install the Mirra software onto any Windows computer on your network, and it runs constantly in the background from that point on, quietly looking at any folder you’ve designated a “must-back-up” zone, and saving anything that goes there. You really don’t need to think about it again. It just chugs away, occasionally making a bit too much noise, but basically doing everything for you without your intervention.

Assuming that your entire hard disk goes south at some point (which is, after all the point of backing up in the first place), it’s preposterously easy to restore your files. You just install Mirra software on the new computer, and navigate to the Backup/Restore section, and pick your files from the list.

Share and share alike

Mirra’s not just about backing up, though. You can share files between systems with it, too. Mirra’s favorite example of this are home-friendly music and digital photography files, but it’s equally good (and probably more productive) for keeping others abreast of your latest work. You can’t directly edit a file on the server (which is just as well in an informal environment), but there is a share-and-synchronize option that facilitates a basic work flow.

My favorite feature, however, is the ability to access one’s files remotely. I tend to work in several different places–home office, work office, and on the road–and I almost never have the current versions of my files on my “satellite” systems. By going through Mirra’s Web site portal, you can open a secure connection to your Mirra server and retrieve files you need. It works a bit like the file access feature in GoToMyPC, except that you’re dealing with files on a backup server–and you don’t have to pay a monthly fee for the service. You can give Web access to your folders to other people too, on a case-by-case basis.

Bad reflection

Of course, nothing’s perfect, and Mirra Personal Server is no exception. If you fill up its 80GB hard disk, you need to rush out and buy a whole new server. It’s not expandable, though it does come in 120GB and 250GB versions. I’m sticking with the 80GB drive for my four-PC workgroup, and I’m nowhere near filling the beast up yet, despite my digital music and photography jones. But if you rip or master your own DVDs, you may want to consider a larger model.

It saves everything you change as you change it, which means that it’s good for retrieving old versions of files you’ve accidentally deleted. (Your only hope without Mirra is Norton Utilities’ Undelete or Winternals’ FileRestore, which I reviewed a few years ago and still recommend.)

If I descend into quibbling, I’d have to admit that the Web-based sharing feature can be slow, but I’m not surprised by that. When I signed up for my DSL Internet access, I paid scant attention to the upstream speeds because I don’t typically upload files en masse through e-mail or FTP. Now that I’m essentially operating a secure Web file server, I’m beginning to see the error of my ways.

Well, at least I’m covered for backup now, and I can hold my head high if someone presses me for information on how I maintain my backups. Of course, if they start to ask about my Internet access provider, the embarrassed mumbling may start again.

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