BACKBLAZEAutomatic backups are nice if your stuff is saved online, where fire, accident and disorganization can’t reach it. For us, it’s a lifesaver. If our file isn’t backed up online, we might never find it again.

We’ve been testing the new It swings into action to backup everything on your own drives. There’s a free trial for Windows and Mac users and a mobile app that does the magic thing for iPhone/iPad users. It’s $5 a month for unlimited data storage. Pretty good deal.

Alternatively, Microsoft’s Skydrive gives you seven gigabytes for free, or charges you $25 for 50 gigabytes of storage. But with Skydrive, backup isn’t automatic. You have to remember to save files there. Dropbox is similar, and prices go up quickly as you use more space.

Backblaze sells petabytes. If you use 85 petabytes—which represents the contents of about 500 miles of books — it would cost three-hundredths of a penny per gigabyte per month – 17 times less than Amazon. (Facebook, by the way, stores the equivalent of about 3,860 miles of books.)

Backup with Backblaze is continuous, and their model is becoming standard for heavy users. They shared, or as they say “open-sourced” their storage pod design to show how it’s possible to hold 180 terabytes for less than $3000. Now, Backblaze-type storage facilities are being used by NASA and Netflix. According to a Backblaze blog post, the NSA (National Security Administration) may be using its storage pod design for surveillance data.

So what is a petabyte, anyway? Well, let’s go back to basics: A byte is eight bits (the zeroes and ones the machine understands). One byte defines a single letter or number. A thousand bytes is a kilobyte; a thousand kilobytes is a megabyte; a thousand megabytes is a gigabyte; a thousand gigabytes is a terabyte, and – phew! – a thousand terabytes is a petabyte. Is there anything past a petabyte? Yes, it goes up by what mathematicians call orders of magnitude: next would be exabyte, zettabyte and yottabyte, Stay tuned for really, really big data.

If you were to store 30 gigabytes of text – you would have enough content to read a book a day for 80 years. If you stored a petabyte worth of books, it would take a little over 33,000 years.

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