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Summary:

Online backup companies know that once you pay for the painstaking initial data dump, you’ll likely stay a customer long-term, because of convenience. But could unique features and attractive pricing convince you to switch? Today we turn to Backblaze and CrashPlan to find out.

crashplan-v-backblaze

In round 1, we started looking at the bitter war for your online backup dollar. These companies know that once you pay for an initial backup, you’ll likely stay a customer long-term, because of convenience.  But could unique features and attractive pricing convince you to switch? Today we turn to Backblaze and CrashPlan to find out.

Backblaze

Instead of configuring what BackBlaze backs up, you tell it what NOT to back up. It automatically excludes certain system files and won’t back up individual files larger than 4GB, but otherwise it’ll grab everything else on all your connected drives by default. Too often in my line of work, I see online backup systems miss files because they were put in the wrong folder. Backblaze’s exclusionary configuration greatly reduces the chances of that happening.

Another unique feature of Backblaze is its ability to overnight you a hard drive (currently $189) in case of failure. Carbonite doesn’t currently offer this option, and Mozy will ship your data via DVD for $29.95 plus 50 cents per GB. Anyone who’s suffered a catastrophic hard drive failure knows waiting days and weeks for an online service restoration only adds insult to injury.

Tech support with Backblaze was also much better than my experience with other providers. While they missed their 24 hour response window, the advice they gave was helpful and accurate and I didn’t suffer the off-shore language barrier I experienced with Carbonite and Mozy. After my trial was over, I signed up my main Mac with Backblaze, knowing that I had quality support when I had questions.

I also liked the fact I could create a supplemental security password and encryption key that can’t be reset. I tried many times to convince them to reset the password and they simply wouldn’t, which is good practice from a security standpoint, just make sure that you won’t forget that password or you’ll be up the creek without a paddle.

From a technical perspective, Backblaze’s software is simply outstanding. They were one of the first on the scene with a 64-bit version for Snow Leopard, beating out both Carbonite and Mozy. The software runs as a System Preference pane, but doesn’t require admin access to configure or disable. Unlike Mozy or Carbonite, Backblaze allows a full throttle upload capability using all available upload bandwidth. When it’s set to high it really flies!



My only major complaint with Backblaze is the fact that while backups can be scheduled to start, they can’t be set to stop at a certain time. This is part of their philosophy that backups should be constant. With set time windows, backups could be missed and data lost. Still, I’d personally like the option to set an end time.

Pricing is $5.00 a month, or $50 a year, for unlimited backup. For most users, when compared to Mozy or Carbonite, Backblaze is simply a superior choice. That is, until you check out CrashPlan.

CrashPlan

I first used CrashPlan many years ago, way before Mozy and Carbonite were household names. At the time, their focus was on local and peer-to-peer backups. CrashPlan has grown up considerably since then. The basic software is free for home users. Consumers can download the software and backup to a local hard drive or to another person running the software who gives them permission. For $59.99, CrashPlan+ adds features such as hourly backups, customer support and no ads.

CrashPlan Central is an option within the general CrashPlan software (regular or plus). Central provides online backups with unlimited storage, with tiered pricing for single and multiple-computer licenses. Similar to Backblaze, you can allow your backup to use the maximum upload bandwidth to allow for quick initial backups.

The software is an application that runs in the background, but not as a System Preference or with a menu bar icon. CrashPlan uses inclusionary, rather than exclusionary, backups. Changing the configuration does not require the Administrator password, but CrashPlan can optionally request one of its own. I really liked this option because I feel a regular user should not be able to change or configure the backup.

However, this isn’t just an application that runs on your Mac. Because CrashPlan talks to Central to do backups, the developers realized the conversation could be two-way. With the CrashPlan account password, you can go to their website and directly modify the preferences for your own Mac anywhere in the world. For example, I was able to turn down the throttle on the initial backup when my ISP requested I do so.

Other unique settings CrashPlan offers is the ability to tweet or email you when backups are completed. Plus, you can specify how many versions of files CrashPlan should keep, and it can modify its actions based on user activity and percent of CPU being used. If you can imagine it, you can configure it with CrashPlan.

In my opinion, the killer feature of CrashPlan is the ability to “seed” your backup. The initial backup with online services can take many weeks for large hard drives. Crashplan allows you to create a local encrypted backup to your hard drive that you can ship to them and they’ll add that data to your CrashPlan account.

That initial upload can then take a few days instead of a few weeks with no impact to your system or bandwidth. This service runs the opposite way as well: They can ship you a hard drive with all your data to do a full restore. The service isn’t cheap at $150, but it’s well worth it for those who need it.

CrashPlan Central’s pricing is extremely competitive. For one user, Central is $54 a year, and goes down if you agree to a multi-year deal. They also have an extremely generous family plan. For $100 a year, you can back up as many computers as you own. That could include the machines of anyone in your family, no matter their location. The only catch is the account owner can see all the files (either a blessing or curse depending on your perspective).

One more thing: CrashPlan’s tech support was one of the best I’ve seen for any software vendor. My emails were answered quickly and professionally, but I asked for a number to call with questions. I called the number and a gentleman from Minnesota answered within two minutes. I gave him my “test scenario” that I gave to all the online backup vendors. He wasn’t really sure the answer and said he’d have to research it. Within an hour, he called, having tested the solution on his own computer and provided an extremely detailed guide to the solution worthy of inclusion in Apple’s own tech manuals.

Verdict

So after researching four backup services, which do I use? Personally I’ve been extremely happy with Backblaze. The high-speed uploading combined with the peace of mind that I can quickly get a drive of my data convinced me this was the backup service of choice for my main computer. I’m committed to them after spending all that time uploading the data and while CrashPlan is attractive, I’m happy with my service from Backblaze.

However, should Backblaze ever stop being awesome (and recent blog posts about buyouts and extended downtown indicate cause for concern), I’ll happily send my data over to CrashPlan and have started recommending it more and more to my clients. I also use CrashPlan for some of my other, secondary systems.

So who wins? It’s CrashPlan on all accounts. The ability to seed the backup, combined with amazing tech support and family-friendly pricing makes it an irresistible choice for most users. However, Backblaze is a very strong second and beats Carbonite or Mozy hands down.

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  1. Nice review. I like Backblaze better because it integrates better with the Mac: the menu bar icon that always tells you the status of your backups, system preference, 64-bit, etc. Backblaze was built from the ground up for Macs, whereas Crashplan treats Mac users like an afterthought. I talk about Backblaze in my blog posting here: http://scottworldblog.wordpress.com/2009/12/10/apple-backups-in-the-cloud/

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    1. I wouldn’t say it was an afterthought, but yes, Backblaze seems more integrated with the Mac.

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  2. Nice review Dave. I will point out a ‘feature’ you may have missed. I have hard drives with home video and photos, and they are not always on and connected, only when I need them. With BackBlaze and other services, if the hard drive is not mounted when a scan occurs, the data is marked for deletion. Most services give 30 days grace before being deleted.

    Crashplan does not mark for deletion, ever. Anything you upload is stored no matter how long your hard drive has been offline. This of course is perfect for archives and other uses as well. I do not have to worry if its been 30 days since I last did any video editing requiring my video hard drive be mounted. Old archive hard drives can be stashed away for emergency purposes (you do have 3 copies of everything, including online storage, right?).

    To me this is a killer feature, and not one to be overlooked.

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    1. I am pretty Sure crashplan has the same 30 day grace period. Pls point to doc showing no del ever…

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      1. The default setting to remove deleted files from your archive is never.

        http://bit.ly/bCpyjd

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    2. You say most services. Can you confirm this fact on BackBlaze’s website? Not something I tested and honestly I can’t think of someone who would want an external hard drive backed up AND not mount it within 30 days

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      1. Oh, I could easily see cases where an external hard drive might not be mounted for 30 days. I have a laptop, and try not to have external drives mounted unless I need them to retrieve a file, as opposed to having one mounted constantly. I also have a drive that is more for archiving, that I would want backed up offsite, but I don’t get to it on a regular basis.

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  3. I think you missed a large feature of CrashPlan — The ability to backup to computers running crashplan (either friends or other computers I control) for free. This way I have the security of off site backups without the expense. And the recovery time is much quicker because I can go down the street and grab the hard drive from my buddy’s house and bring the drive home to do a full restore.

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    1. Actually I did:

      ” Consumers can download the software and backup to a local hard drive or to another person running the software who gives them permission.”

      When I first used Crashplan years ago, I’d back up my home computer to work and then the work computer was backed up by corporate.

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  4. Thanks for taking the time to review these products and share your thoughts! It’s always extremely helpful to see another real user’s take on things. I started using CrashPlan myself a few months ago. The killer feature for me was being able to backup via the cloud to a friend’s computer (and at no cost!). This let me backup to a drive locally, take it over to my friend’s house and connect it to his computer, then continue incremental backups to it using CrashPlan. Voila — instant offsite backup. And if/when I need the data for recovery there’s no wait and expense to be sent a drive — I just go pick up my backup drive from his house the same day.

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    1. See response above :-)

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  5. I’ve used Backblaze from when they were a beta-access service. You missed that they recently upped their maximum file size from 4gb to 9gb.

    The one other point that I find VERY important and unanswered here is how well do the services handle metadata and HFS+ file attributes? Backblaze does a decent job at it, though it is not perfect. I’ve no idea about CrashPlan though.

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    1. Here is a list of support metadata for CrashPlan:

      http://bit.ly/9z70v1

      Also there is no limit to file size. If your OS can see it, CP will back it up.

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      1. We support all the meta data that’s critical today.. there were a few things we weren’t doing. Happy to say that in our forthcoming release – we do everything, even the more esoteric stuff.

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    2. Here is a list of supported metadata for CrashPlan:

      http://bit.ly/9z70v1

      Also there is no limit to file size. If your OS can see it, CP will back it up.

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    3. I *did* miss that. Mine as you can see was set for the max at the time of 4gb. After reading your comment I changed my settings up to 9gb. I’m kinda annoyed as a paying customer I wasn’t informed of that fact.

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  6. Peter Binderup Friday, October 8, 2010

    About 6 months ago I tested both, and found them to be extremely slow when backing up from Europe (this apply to more or less all US based backup services). I have a 60/60 mbit/sec fiber connection, and at best I could get 3-4 mbit/sec for any US backup services. To be fair this is not likely Crashplan or Backblazes problem, but more the trans atlantic data connections

    These backup companies need to pay a little more attention to the world outside the US and place data centers around the world.

    In the end I gave up using the US backup services and found keepit.com – it’s a Danish company with servers around the world (so they claim), and I can easily get the 60mbit/sec upload to their Copenhagen servers. The interface for that program is not as nice as it could be, but it gets the job done.

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    1. We have data centers all over the world. We can handle you in our .eu dc if you’d like. write support@crashplan.com and request to be moved/set up there.

      ~Matthew

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      1. Matthew,

        I wrote Crashplan support last night as you recommended, and rec’d the following response:

        “Michael W., Feb-03 03:35 pm (CST):
        Hello Tim,

        We have users backing up to us from all over the world and there are no restrictions on which countries can use the service. We do have data centers in other countries, but currently they are used only by our large enterprise customers; non-enterprise users (ie CrashPlan+ users) are currently served by data centers in the US. We have plans to open some of our additional data centers to our consumer customers but these additional data centers are not yet available.

        ~Michael”

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  7. Both services are pretty good, you should consider a free account on both if you want to get a feel of the service, before subscribing.

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  8. Thank you for the useful review. I use Crashplan myself. Quite recently, we tested a nice feature of Crashplan that allows you to use their software to backup your data to a computer of your choice, rather than their datacenter. This is a rather unique, very useful, and oven overlooked feature. We took some snapshots and I posted a short guide about it, you can read it here:
    http://www.ewebbackup.com/backup-software-review/backup-software-review-backup-to-a-friend-part-one

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  9. Adrian Chapman Sunday, January 23, 2011

    I have been trying to decide between Crashplan and Backblaze and the only thing that has stopped me opting for Crashplan is that they will NOT send a restore hard drive to the UK, whereas Backblaze will and at no extra charge.

    OK, a hard drive restore is a last resort as I have a good multi-layered backup regime here so it would require a major disaster to lose all my important files, but major disasters do happen.

    Come on Crashplan, if Backblaze can do it,why can’t you.

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  10. It seems that Backblaze will backup your external drives online (which is a must-have feature for me). I can’t seem to figure out if CrashPlan will do the same… they’ll backup external drives to other computers, but what about online? Any thoughts?

    (thanks for great comparison, by the way…)

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