Nauticus Deep Data Storage

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, February 2006
Published by: Tugboat Enterprises
Requires: Internet connection and Windows 95 through Vista, and Windows 2000 & 2003 Server
MSRP: US$9.95/1st 500MB, $0.01/each additional MB, US$4.95/month licensing fee

Nauticus is an online backup up system which lets you perform manual, scheduled, full or incremental file backups from your computer and network to a secure, remote, encrypted data server. The key words are "remote" and "encrypted" because the whole concept only works if your personal or business files are securely stored in a way that is so difficult to hack that the effort just isn't worthwhile. Remote data storage is here to stay. It's simple enough to set up and use, and above all else, security and encryption technologies exist which are robust enough to make remotely located data storage a viable daily option. High speed broadband Internet connections don't hurt either.

For home-office and small business, data backup is probably one of the most important supporting factors in the creation, maintenance and growth of a solid company. As a matter of fact, if you compare the current data backup needs of home-office and small business with the needs of ten years ago, the importance of secure, reliable, consistent and regular data backup has grown by a factor that is almost immeasurably large. The reason? Compared to ten years ago, a much larger percentage of almost every set of business needs (no matter what business you're in) demands the use and manipulation of computer data files. Even for typical or traditional craftwork businesses, a huge percentage of designs, customer information files and so on are now maintained in digital formats. Ergo, you need to back up all of that data securely, reliably, consistently and regularly.

Those of you who read my Big City Byte columns or who have read my consumer advocacy rants over the past 18 years, know how I harp and bluster about the need for backups. Despite that, I didn't tackle this review with any kind of preconceived notions about how wonderful yet another backup solution was going to be. Far from it actually, I have been ardently skeptical about online backup solutions because I just haven't seen enough of them work well enough (logon, configuration and user interface problems) or reliably enough (a few data storage companies actually went out of business in the 2000-2002 period). But with the publication of ever more stories in the news about needless data losses due to the complete absence of backups and with the advent of otherwise rock-solid companies getting into the online data storage and backup business, Nauticus Deep Data Storage seemed to have come along at the right time.

In a nod to the latest encryption overkill, Nauticus employs several flavors of seriously secure data protection within the client program and on the data storage servers. Choose from DES, Triple-DES and 448-Bit Blowfish (currently the most complex encryption key available for Blowfish). Your data is encrypted before it's transferred to the data storage facility. In subsequent backups, the FastBit binary patching method is used to figure out changes (which files are new and which have been updated, moved, copied or deleted). The resulting file set is then compressed and securely encrypted before being sent to the storage server. Binary patching is the same method used by Microsoft and many other major software vendors to construct product updates and patches. For the purposes of determining which files to update for a backup, the FastBit binary patching method seems to have been flawless throughout all of our usage during the review period.

Let me break any suspense you may be feeling. Nauticus works well. If you've been looking for a robust, no-brainer backup solution and you're prepared to spend about $15 a month, go to the Tugboat Enterprises web site and set up an account. You can set up a new account, install the little client program, set up a data backup schedule and have your first backup done in less than half an hour (longer if you've got some really large backup needs). Nauticus monthly pricing is based on a core account of $10/month for 500MB of storage ($0.02 per MB). Additional storage space costs an additional $0.01/MB per month. In other words, an additional 500MB will only cost you another $5 per month. Two GB will cost a total of $25/month (which includes the monthly licensing fee). Three GB will cost you $35/month, and so on. Much larger data storage needs can be accommodated, and you can contact Tugboat for pricing.

From my perspective (and maybe also from the perspective of people who are doing their taxes as this review is published—February 2006—with the related need to calculate the cost burdens of data backups and the value of backup equipment depreciation), not having to mess around with backup hardware, backup media, or worry about off-site backup CD or DVD storage, or whether or not tape backups are actually secure or even usable is easily worth ten, twenty, thirty or a hundred dollars a month or even more. Pick your poison. As long as backups are a necessary evil but a huge benefit when there's server or workstation trouble at your place, and as long as Nauticus is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from your office or anywhere else in the world that has an Internet connection, no sane reason exists to avoid doing data backups. The last data loss that I know of among the business clients I deal with took place just before Christmas 2005, at a company which was paralyzed for an entire day as a result and which needed three additional days to get fully back on track. Losses were eventually calculated at around $60,000. Not funny. The company's tape backups were largely useless because nobody had added new tape cartridges in over a year, resulting in worn out, useless media. Only two of six tapes were usable. Color me scared.

Tugboat Enterprises had in mind the goal of making Nauticus Deep Data Storage into an easy to use backup solution for businesses of all sizes. Of course Nauticus can be used for personal data as well—any data at all actually. But for home-office and small business users in particular, this is a backup solution worth investigating. Setting up automatic backup schedules and data sets for any computer or server on your network is quite easy. A Windows Explorer-like client program (albeit with a few user interface confusions) is used to provide access to all of the backup tools. It's up to you what you want to back up and how often you want it done thereafter. We're talking data files here, not entire boot drives. Retrieval and restoration of data is as easy as logging on to the client program and picking & choosing individual files, individual folders, entire directories or entire backup sets to copy back to your PC.

Cons: It's not the most intuitive duck in the pond. The client program reminds me just a wee bit of Retrospect Backup (another great product which has suffered a bit over the years because of an unintuitive user interface—note that Retrospect does not have any sort of online or remote data storage application). Choosing a backup set to which you want to add some new folders is a matter of clicking a drop list located at the top of the explorer pane above the drive & folder tree, a location traditionally used for nothing more than a title bar and an explorer close gadget for the pane. We prefer traditional locations for drop lists (tool bar). Because the backup set creation workflow is initially slightly confusing, I think the client program will benefit from a few UI changes to create an easier first use experience. This is not a backup solution for your 250GB collection of iTunes music files or your current (and growing) 120GB collection of digital photos—the storage cost might be prohibitive. Backup your music, video and photo files to DVD instead.

Pros: Perfectly intuitive or not, the Nauticus Deep Data Storage system works well. Tugboat enterprises has managed to find a solid, well established data storage partner, Argeis Technology Group, and their Central Data Vault services. Because Central Data Vault is located in Canada, its U.S., Canadian and other international customers can take advantage of the relatively strict security and privacy measures up north. The fact that Nauticus is also 'off-shore' as far as all non-Canadian governments are concerned means that you've got an extra layer of protection for your data. I've been using Nauticus at all hours of the day and night and have yet to run into a slow connection or any other glitch at the remote storage site. Some sort of file shadowing is used to back up data files still in use. We tried the client on an aging Windows 98 machine, just for the heck of it, and encountered no problems. If you and the rest of your company are regularly generating all kinds of data files, you need a backup solution. This is an easy to use, reasonably priced option. Highly recommended.





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