Cloud backups are expensive
Late last year, after reading on Lifehacker about how to use Amazon Glacier to back up a computer, I got excited to try it out on my home computer and several terabytes of media stored on an external hard drive. Glacier is designed to be a cheap cloud-based system that’s used for backups, and Arq is a Mac app that uses Glacier as a backend.
As I got started and looked into pricing, however, I soon realized that Glacier wasn’t the right solution for me: Arq alone costs $40, and at $.01/GB per month for backup to Amazon Glacier, I’d be looking at a total of $400 for the first year.
At prices like that, I’d be better off just hacking something together myself with Bit Torrent Sync by buying a couple of large external hard drives, giving them to friends in other cities, and syncing my computer’s home directory and media drive to those friends’ drives over the internet. But that’s a hassle and requires coordination and reliance on friends of questionable tech savvy to keep the system running.
Enter Crashplan and Backblaze
Both of these services have a similar idea: you run a program on your computer and it backs up whatever you want – presumably everything – to their servers over the internet for a monthly fee. The main appeal to me of both was that they’d offer unlimited data for a few dollars a month. Because Lifehacker liked Crashplan the best, I decided to install it and start using it to see how it went.
Here’s how it went: slowly. Really slowly. Really, really slowly, in fact. After a couple months of letting Crashplan run on my computer all the time, I still had an estimated eight to ten months remaining in my initial backup (of my computer’s home directory and media drive, a few terabytes of total data), which fluctuated as low as five or six months and as high as longer than a year. Finally I removed my media drive from the backup to let Crashplan focus on just uploading my computer’s home directory, and even then it took a few weeks to complete. But I was left without my media drive backed up, which was critical because that data lived in only one place.
So I tried Backblaze and, to my surprise, it went a lot faster than Crashplan: backing up just my computer was done in less than a week. As a result, I decided to stick with Backblaze. But I didn’t use it for a couple of weeks while I was setting up my home NAS…
After Drobo5N came into my life and I spent some time getting it set up and configured, and re-set up and reconfigured, I signed into Backblaze to add my Drobo share that housed all the media I’d copied over from the external hard drive that I had been using to store it. But Backblaze wouldn’t let me locate my Drobo, no matter how many times I hit the refresh button or restarted the Drobo or the computer. I just couldn’t get it to work. Eventually I realized why it wouldn’t work: Backblaze doesn’t support NAS.
Unfortunately, that made me unable to use Backblaze, leaving me back where I started.
Crashplan costs $60 per year and Backblaze costs $50 per year (with a coupon code). It doesn’t seem like an accident that the prices are so close. I’d gladly pay a bit more than that for a superior product, but not an order of magnitude higher.
Backblaze goes about as fast as I’d expect, but Crashplan was exceedingly slow.
Do you love the look and feel and general UX of Windows, and wish that more desktop apps were written in Java so you could replicate that Windows experience from work on your Mac at home? If so, you’ll get a kick out of using Crashplan. But if you like the Mac way of doing things, you’ll love the very Mac-like Backblaze, which actually operates as a preference pane in System Preferences – exactly how it should be.
I fortunately haven’t yet had to restore from either Crashplan or Backblaze. Since I also back up by Time Machine to a share on my Drobo, I’d only need to use a Crashplan/Backblaze restore in the event of a catastrophe. They both have an option to ship me a drive with my backed up data for less than $200, so that’s what I’d probably do.
The fine print
Here’s why Backblaze says they won’t back up my Drobo:
Backblaze can technically backup a network drive, but for business reasons do not allow it. Backing up mounted or network drives can easily be abused. A user could mount the 10 or 20 computers in their home or small business and back them all up to one account for $5/month. At this time, we do not have any available service to back up network storage devices.
I agree that this has the potential for abuse, but I’m not sure what they gain by banning it outright (what they lose, however, is clear: my business). I think they should let users back up a home NAS and just isolate the few who choose to abuse the service, and ask those people to pay more. Alternatively, I think they should continue charging $5 per month and let people pay an additional $1 or $2 per month to back up a NAS. A small additional charge strikes me as perfectly fair.
Crashplan offers a seeded backup service in which, for an extra fee, they’ll ship you an external hard drive and you can copy your data to it and ship it back to them, and they’ll use that as the basis for your backup to their server. It’s an interesting idea, but at $125 it’s also priced exorbitantly. It also still takes plenty of time – from placing the order to getting your data in their hands and included in your online backup could be two weeks. They also only let you do it once with a single 1 TB drive. And, let’s face it, this is actually just an admission that their real service is really, really slow. So no.
Backblaze seems a lot more cavalier than Crashplan about getting rid of your old data. It’s hard to quantify this, but just from browsing around their sites a lot, I keep getting the impression that Crashplan is committing to keeping all the data my entire backup stored for as long as I’m a Crashplan customer, while Backblaze doesn’t want to keep any versions of any files longer than absolutely necessary, and if for any reason I stop backup up with Backblaze for a few weeks, I risk losing everything.
Besides Amazon Glacier via Arq, I did look into a few other options:
- Carbonite: charges $60 per year for their basic plan, which allows unlimited data but doesn’t even support an external hard drive (!!). Their other plans are only available on Windows, not on Mac! They strike me as not a serious company and I can’t imagine giving them my business.
- Mozy: at $6 per month for 50 GB or $10 per month for 125 GB, they are not even in the league of the kind of data that I’m thinking about backing up.
- Dropbox: could work, and I love using it for other things, but again, pricing. 500 GB costs $500 per year. Their business pricing is a little more appealing: $15 per month for unlimited storage – but only for a minimum of five users – so actually $75 per month.
- Cycling my own physical drives and storing them in a secure location: it’s true that I could get a safe deposit box at a bank in a convenient location and two external hard drives, keeping one in the safe deposit box, being safe, and one at home, being up to date, switching them every week. But logistically this plan sucks and the biggest easily available hard drives are around 4 TB, but I need to think bigger than that.
There isn’t one, I’m afraid.
I am back to using Crashplan, for the time being, and I’ve followed their advice in Speeding Up Your Backup, though I can’t say that it’s been very helpful.
I also found this interesting blog post claiming that your specific Crashplan server location might be slowing you down. In his case, switching to their Atlanta server was a great benefit, since he’s in Atlanta. In my case, I happened already to be on their Atlanta server, so I’ve trashed and restarted everything, only to end up back on their Atlanta server, so there’s no benefit to me.
A bunch of people on the web have argued that tinkering with Crashplan’s de-duping settings will get Crashplan to go much faster (1, 2, 3). I’m trying this out as well, but these posts are old so I doubt what they say is still valid.