In the back of our minds, we all know we should back up our data, but it always seems like something we’ll take care of tomorrow. Readers of PCMech may know that I had my own recent experience with data loss, and although in that particular case no irreplaceable data was lost, the whole experience made me extremely glad that I do backup my important data. In addition to my own data loss, I recently helped a friend who was trying to get some data off an external harddrive that had gone bad. In the course of suggesting things to try, I found out that the data on the drive was the only copy of her raw PhD research data, and that if we couldn’t get it back it would mean another 3 years in grad school! I sent her to a professional drive recovery service and for a mere $2500 and a week of lost sleep, she got her data back. Don’t put yourself in this situation! Back up your data.

In this article, I’ll compare and contrast three popular online backup providers:  Crashplan, Carbonite, and Backblaze.  Read on to find out more.

Crashplan

CrashPlan Logo

My favorite online backup provider, and what I use myself, is Crashplan. Their main feature of unlimited backup capacity is now industry standard, and their $60/year pricing is competitive with any other service.  If you have more than one computer you’d like to backup, Crashplan offers a family plan that lets your back up unlimited data on up to 10 computers for $150 per year. When Crashplan says unlimited, that is exactly what you get. There is simply no throttling and no limits to how much data you can back up.

What really sets Crashplan apart, and what initially drew me to them, is just how much they give you for free. Their software is free to use for as long as you like. Without paying a cent you can have both local and offsite automated backup by utilizing the software installed on a friend or relative’s computer with their unique peer to peer backup system. I used this system for a few years myself before taking the plunge and getting a paid subscription. While they do hold back a few features from the free version of the software, it’s a great way to get yourself started backing up painlessly. Check out the full run-down of the differences between the free and subscription plans here.

In addition to basic backup functionality and their unparalleled peer to peer backup system, Crashplan has positively oodles of great features. Looking for a past version of a document before you ruined it with some poor choice in editing? They will retain old versions of your files indefinitely. They also retain deleted files. Worried about prying eyes peering into your files once they’re in the cloud? Crashplan offers several tiers of file security and encryption, with the top tier using 448 Blowfish encryption and a key that only you have. This means no one, not even Crashplan themselves, can decode your data without your key. Crashplan will back up your external drives at no extra charge, and also let you back up to multiple destinations, including a local external drive. Crasphlan touts this as Triple Destination backup: one local backup, one via their peer to peer system, and one to their cloud infrastructure.

Though cloud backup works great for ongoing backups and restoring files, getting your first backup finished can sometimes just be too much for many home internet connections. If this is a problem for you, Crashplan offers a seeded backup option, where you can mail them an external drive with your data to get the backup started off on the right foot. Likewise, in the event that your entire computer goes belly up, downloading a TB or more of data isn’t always an option, both because of time constraints an ISP bandwidth limits. To solve this, Crashplan also offers a Restore-to-Door service where they will ship you a drive with all your data on it. These options aren’t free, but can be a lifesaver. The cost for the seeded backup option is a one-time charge of $125, and the Restore-to-Door service is a one-time charge of $165.

Installing and using Crashplan is very simple and friendly. You simply tell it which data you want to backup, and it takes care of the rest. There are plenty of detailed options you can set, but the defaults work extremely well.

backups

Restores using Crashplan are extremely simple. You simply select which files you want to restore and from which time period, and it will either restore the files directly in place with the option to rename existing files, or to a folder of your choosing.

restores

There are really only two complaints I have about Crashplan:  One is that they seem to have removed multi-year subscriptions from their options. In the past you could get a fairly hefty discount for signing up for up to 4 years at a time, but now the pricing is just a straight $59.99 per year, or $5.99 per month if you don’t want to commit to a full year. My other complaint is that Crashplan runs on Java under the covers. I’m sure many of you have encountered either performance or compatibility problems with Java apps in the past – I know I have! But honestly, I’ve never noticed any issues with it running Crashplan for a couple years now.

Carbonite

CARBONITE Logo

Carbonite was an early leader in the online cloud backup market, and for good reason. They were the first to offer unlimited online backup for your files. At one time Carbonite throttled your backup speed once you had more than 200 GB of data backed up, but they removed that policy in response to user feedback. Their standard pricing is $59.99 per year for the Basic option, and $99.99 per year for their Plus tier, which adds the ability to backup external hard drives, and a feature Carbonite calls Mirror Image backup, which creates a local image of your entire drive, including the operating system. For $149.99 per year, you get Carbonite’s Prime tier, which adds their “Courier recovery service” that will ship you your restore data on a hard drive to save you the time of downloading all your data in the event of a complete disaster. Carbonite is a fine option to backup your files, they just don’t offer much to differentiate themselves from other services.

Backblaze

Backblaze Logo

Backblaze is another strong contender. They have the standard unlimited data, and at one of the lowest prices around. Month to month the cost is $5 per month, but sign up for a year and it’s only $50, or only $95 for two years. Backblaze includes external drives at no extra cost. They also include the option to ship you your restore data on a drive for a fee, but no option for a seeded backup. One thing that differentiates Backblaze from other providers is their Lost Computer feature. This will let you locate a computer you have lost. Backblaze also includes an option to set your own personal encryption key, ensuring that no one but you can access your data.

Though Backblaze has all the basic features you would want at a great price, there are a couple drawbacks. Unlike Crashplan, which lets you restore files right from the app, with the option to restore them in place or any other folder you choose, the Backblaze restoration process is a bit convoluted. You cannot perform a restore from the app. You must login to your account on the Backblaze website, select the files you want, and then wait for an email notifying you that your files are ready. Once your files are ready you’ll then be able to download a zipped file which contains the entire folder path down to the files you want, which you will then need to manually place where you would like. This can be quite tedious, especially compared to Crashplan that does all of this work for you.

Another point where Backblaze is a little lacking is on flexibility in specifying which files you want backed up. The default option is simply to backup all your files, which Backblaze advertises as a feature over other providers. While this is great for many users, if you want to get a bit more granular you’re in for a disappointment. The only way to tweak which files are backed up is to add exclusions. Retention of old file versions is also a bit lacking. Backblaze retains old versions for only 4 weeks, compared to Crashplan which keeps them indefinitely with no limit. Lastly, Backblaze will only backup your data to their cloud infrastructure, with no options for a local or peer to peer backup.

Final Thoughts

Any of these providers will do a great job of keeping your data safe. While do-it-yourself solutions exist, such as periodically copying your important files to an external drive, the ease and convenience you get out of real backup software are well worth it, and the piece of mind you get knowing that your data is safely stored offsite is something you just can’t get any other way.

Have you tried any of these online backup providers or others?  If so, what did you think of them?  Feel free to share your thoughts below or start a new discussion in our community forum.