Mozy review: the restore horror story

Mozy is an online backup service with an attractive pricing model. It competes with the likes or carbonite and offers a range of plans to suit any budget (even no budget). I have been using the MozyHome plan for the past year and today got to test what Mozy is like in disaster recovery mode.

Two days ago I restarted Windows to apply some updates, and when I returned, the computer was stuck at the boot screen complaining about a missing system file. The following evening, when I returned from work, things were worse, the drive would no spin up, and was making metallic noises. As an aside, I must say they don't make hard drives like they used to. I have not had a single hard drive fail on me prior to year 2000, but in the past few years, I have had at least several fail.

No matter, I figured this would be just an inconvenience -- after all, I thought ahead and I am paying for a backup service. A new hard drive and an OS install later, I was up and running and downloading the MozyHome client.

The first bit of bad news came when I launched Mozy and it had none of my backup settings. Apparently these died with the drive, and Mozy was offering to start backing up my now empty documents folder. This gave me the first feeling of unease -- I feared Mozy would kick off backup and lose track of all the past data. I am still not sure whether this suspicion was well-founded, but the experience is certainly not the one you want to have when you are already feeling a tad on edge about the safety of your data.

Next, I figured I would just do a full restore of C: drive. Mozy offered to either overwrite all existing files with those backed up, to rename the restored files, or cancel. No option to skip existing and only restore the missing files. Odd, seems like that would be an obvious feature. Still, I figured I had nothing to lose on the newly set up drive, and told Mozy to overwrite. And then the wait began.

Mozy uses an extremely inefficient process to restore files. It does so one file at a time, first "Finding file on server...", a lengthy process that seems to take an amount of time proportional to the size of the file -- several seconds per file for tiny files, up to an hour for a large file. What it actually does during that time is not clear, but there are several problems with the approach:

  • large numbers of small files take inordinate, ridiculous amount of time to restore. Imagine a directory with a thousand small files. Each file takes 10 seconds to be "found" on the server, that's 3 hours to restore what should take a minute to download.
  • there is no prefetch while files are downloaded. Mozy, in its infinite wisdom saved and was restoring an Outlook .ost file -- a nearly pointless exercise. While this multi-gigabyte file was being restored, it could have prefetched the rest of the backup, but it didn't.

So, after wasting half-a-day on a restore that was nowhere near done, I figured I would just pick the files I wanted and restore them that way. Apparently that's not something you can do with the MozyHome client, only via the web interface. So I fired up the browser and went browsing my saved files, which is when I got the real shock. Of all the AppData files and folders, Mozy *ONLY* saved Outlook, Mozilla (FilreFox), and Thunderbird data. That's ALL!! Countless other data and configuration files, painstakingly organized and tagged photo albums, ALL GONE!

You might argue this is not Mozy's fault, after all I could have reviewed and modified its default selections, but I say this is bull. Mozy preselected my AppData folder, it made it look like it was saving important configuration data, but what it did in fact was plain stupid -- of all the things it could backup by default, the least useful is an outlook .ost file -- a simple cache that would get regenerated anyway when I reconfigure Outlook with my Exchange account info.

And now I am really really pissed and very disappointed. Mozy's "intelligent" defaults are anything but, the restore process is horrendously frustrating, and I am left far short of the data I thought I had safely backed up.