Evaluating Remote Backup Solutions

cloudAfter a recent computer upgrade (hardware and Windows 7), I decided to reevaluate what I was using for a remote backup solution. I’ve looked at a handful of solutions, and think I’ve found one that fits my needs quite nicely.

My Previous Solution
Before getting into what system I ended up with, I’ll got into a little detail on how I was backing things up before. First, what I back up is probably pretty common. I keep recent copies of my music, photos, and documents, as well as my e-mail in-boxes up in the cloud. I do this with a great little app called Alway Sync and Amazon S3. I set up three profiles in Alway Sync, one for documents, one for music and photos, and a third for email. I should probably clarify that my music collection is currently living on a separate machine serving music to all the computers in the house. That small piece was a bit of a sticking point for some solutions that I’ll outline below. Alway Sync watches certain directories (or mapped drives) for changes and then uploads those changes to my S3 account on a weekly basis. This solution has been working well for the past two or so years, and would probably have continued to work minus one small thing… price. Turns out I added too much stuff, and S3 charges by storage and transfer. Constantly adding to my music library, and taking photos (many times very large images saved in RAW format) has bumped up the storage I need to a level where it’s cheaper to go with another provider. Amazon S3 works great, but after getting my invoice for S3 last month, I decided to see if there was anything out there that was a little less expensive and provided the same level of backup and storage. Fortunately, I was able to find something, that worked just as well, and maybe even a little better than my previous solution.

Crashplan (my choice)
Crashplan is the service I ultimately decided to use. Feature wise, it was very close to  many of the other services I evaluated, but had a few things that put it over the top. Crashplan has a nice multi-platform application that doesn’t seem to be a resource hog. It also seems to give me a bit more control of the directories that I want to upload. It backs up your home directory by default, and lets you pick any other directories you want to add to that. The one thing that Crashplan doesn’t allow (outside of a somewhat messy hack) is the ability to select a mapped drive for backup. Initially I thought this would be a deal-killer, and ultimately ended up being the one piece missing from from all the other solutions I tried. It turns out I just wasn’t looking in the right place. Crashplan offers two types of backup plans. Once is individual – one computer, the other is a family plan that provides backup for several computers. With the family option, I didn’t need to figure out a way to back up the mapped drive from my primary machine, I could just set up an instance of Crashplan on the media server itself, as well as any other computer in the house. Storage-wise, Crashplan provides unlimited space, and doesn’t charge for throughput like S3 does. And pricing for Chashplan isn’t really any higher than any of the other solutions I looked at, and more importantly, it costs less per month than what I was paying for all my data on Amazon S3. Another nice feature in Crashplan in addition to backing up data to their servers, is the ability to backup to another computer somewhere else. So if you’re running the Crashplan app, and I’m running the Chrasplan app, we can select and approve each other’s machines as backup locations for the other (I’m not taking advantage of that feature, but it’s nice to have as an option). All those things put together made the choice easy.

Carbonite Backup is actually one of the first backup solutions I tried. They advertise on TWiT regularly, so I figured I’d give them a try. Features and price are just about the same as the other solutions I tried. They charge a little under $5/month, and have unlimited storage space. Where Carbonite fell a little short for my needs was in their software. The backup application seemed a little clunky, and as I mentioned above, didn’t give me the option to backup a mapped drive. They also don’t offer the family plan that Crashplan offers. Also, I felt their the software was a bit intrusive. It really gets it tentacles into your OS. It adds a little colored dot to folder icons in Windows showing the status of the update. Some people may thing this is a feature, but to me it took over a little bit too much of the OS. I guess I want the backup program to do it’s thing, and get out of the way. Carbonite looks to be a good solution, and seems to get good reviews around the ‘net, but it just didn’t quite work out for my needs.

BackBlaze is very similar to Carbonite in terms of features and price. The service is $5/month for unlimited storage. It also does not back up mapped drives or network storage. They do at least provide an option for multiple computers, but they charge an additional $5/month for each computer. The other thing about BackBlaze (similar to Carbonite) that isn’t quite right for my purposes is the software. The software by default determines what it’s going to backup, and you have to go through and deselect the things you want removed. Again, this could be seen as a feature, it’s quick and easy right out of the box, but I didn’t want to deal with digging through the default directories. I think BackBlaze looks to be a good solution, just not for me. I’ve actually recommended BackBlaze to a couple people already.

Mozy is the last solution on my list, and probably my least favorite. Mozy offers the same song and dance on price and features, $4.95/month for unlimited storage. Their software is OK, really not any better or worse than the others I tested. They are also lacking a multiple computer solution, or an option for network storage. Mozy was looking promising until I started reading some reviews. Apparently several people have had issues with restoring data from Mozy. One would think the restore (heaven forbid you need it) is the most important part of backing up your data. After reading these review, I gave up on exploring Mozy as a backup solution.


gravatar Mark

Couple of questions if you don’t mind, about how much data total are you backing up? When you were using S3, were you doing new full backups all the time or incrementals? and was the monthly S3 cost in the less than $10, less than $25 or less than $50 per month range?

gravatar Scott

Total data in my S3 account as of the last statement was ~74GB. For the bulk of my data, AlwaySync would only backup new/changed files. I did keep a few things in multiple increments though (compressed website backups) but most of the data was new. The transfer cost was usually the low part of my S3 invoice (less than a dollar of the total monthly fee). The S3 cost has been averaging between $10 and $20 per month. It’s really not bad considering the amount of space, but with Crashplan it’s a locked monthly fee, and won’t go up as I add more data, and more computers.

gravatar Kieran

Great timing on this article. I am just now getting serious (that’s sirius to you) about locking into a service as well and your article (and previous advice) has been a great help. Thanks!

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