First Look: Carbonite Online Backup for the Mac

90 Comments

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Get ready for yet another cloud-based backup offering for the Mac. The folks at Carbonite are now shipping a beta version for us Mac folks. Should we be excited? Well, let’s see…

After trying out their software, I can’t say that it does anything more useful than my current solution, Backblaze. In fact, I can say it is less useful. Read on for details on the positives and negatives.

Installation & Main UI

Installing Carbonite is pretty straightforward. You download the package from the Carbonite site and follow the standard install process. Once installed, Carbonite adds a menu item and System Preference Pane.

Main UICarbonite Primary UI

Within this screen, you can define if the Backup is Enabled, Disabled, or Paused. There is also a checkbox for using low-priority mode to conserve bandwidth. Honestly, I can’t tell if this is useful or not, as it took the app over 10 minutes just to calculate 100GB of data. Let’s say that from what I can tell, Carbonite is not speedy.

If you choose to disable Carbonite, this screen changes by adding an Uninstall button for quick and easy removal of the software.

Backup UI

What’s interesting here is that Carbonite works similarly to Mozy in terms of backing up specific data rather than just backing up all of your data like Backblaze or Time Machine. On the flip side, you can completely customize what you want to backup. However, you cannot specify applications or system folders.

Backup UICarbonite Backup UI

Restore UI

Carbonite can restore your files via this simple UI. Just select the files you want to restore and then specify the drive for restoration.

Restore UICarbonite Restore UI

It also has a restore wizard. So, if your drive fails and you need to restore to another Mac, you can simply walk through this wizard and wait patiently for your files to download.

Restore WizardCarbonite Restore Wizard

Summary

Carbonite has done a reasonable job providing a simple Mac client for users who want offsite backup. The product is easy to set up and is competitively priced. However…

If given the choice between Backblaze, Carbonite, or Mozy, the answer appears to be simple: Backblaze. For the money (each service is approximately $50/year), you get more coverage with Backblaze and more recovery options as well. Mozy is a great alternative if you want some free storage (2GB) and then decide to add more.

In the end, what Carbonite is offering for the Mac is decent. You get roughly a two-week trial, so if it fits your needs, then please give it a shot. If you’re a small office and have been running Carbonite on your Windows PCs, then to maintain consistency it makes sense to use Carbonite with your Macs.

However if you are looking at all of the options available to Mac users for online backup, I would recommend looking elsewhere.

90 Comments

Mark Licata

I just had the same experience as @David Clark above with the carbonite beta. First 14GB backed up over 5-6 days as expected. The next 50MB took 2 days. I opened a chat session and they told me to reset my modem or router. Since I’m in charge of IT at our small company I went a head and reset our enterprise grade Cisco router (we have dual T1 lines). My speed tests report good upload speeds. I think the problem is elsewhere, but I’m not holding my breath.

ChrisG

Thanks for the info about Crashplan Matthew.
Sounds good.
I’ll give it a look.

Matthew Dornquast

Couple of comments related to issues raised above in the context of our service offering:

CrashPlan was available on the Mac before Mozy, Carbonite, BackBlaze or JungleDisk. As such, we’re a faster more mature product offering. A few examples below:

– We support cloud storage in addition to your own storage. This means you can back up your laptop to your desktop AND to our service offering. Since our client is free, you can set up your own backup cloud for personal use for absolutely no cost.

– We have better compression, and lower cost of ownership as a result. You’ll find we use less bandwidth and disk storage.
– We don’t crash on folders with a large number of files, and we don’t have file size limits. Other offerings have both maximum file size limits and problems with 10,000+ files in a single folder.
– Multiple destinations – Backup on-site, off-site, and online with our product. Why put all your data eggs in one basket?
– We fully support advanced meta data like “Don’t back this folder up” as tagged – other products do not. Great example of why you want this: iTunes movie rentals.
– You can back up attached drives in addition to internal drives – no limits on what y
– We’re continuous: we’ll back up within a minute of a change. Not 15 minutes later, not 1 hour later like other offerings
– Better retention policies: Delete a file by accident – how long will the service hold it? After 30 days, Mozy removes it. We’ll hold it for as long as you ask us to.
– Have a lot of data to back up? We’ll shorten the time it takes by shipping you an external drive to back up to and send back to us
– Lost your computer and need all your data back asap? We’ll overnight your data back to you on a drive.
– File Vault – none of the offerings above support file vault.

There are many other advantages to CrashPlan. I encourage you to check it out if you’re in the market for off-site backup.

ChrisG

The big value of this article has been reading the feedback about all the competing services in addition to Carbonite.

I have now tried all the different services named in the comments.
In my experience they all have problems/limitations.
International users will be specially frustrated as all these services appear to be US based. Moving you data in & out is slow & ‘iffy’ with all if you are not in US.

I have given up on ‘cloud’ storage for now.

sebmat

Hi guys, what about crashplan?
did you test it?
Thanks for your inputs,
Seb

David Clark

I’ve been using Carbonite for Mac since January, when I switched from Amazon S3 + Jungle Disk.
I didn’t feel S3 was working properly based upon charges to new data ratio.

I DO NOT recommend Carbonite.
The initial backup has yet to be completed. It still shows 1.X GB of data left in the initial upload. This is well after the other 70+GB of data were uploaded. In fact, it is about twice as long trying to get the final 1+GB as it did the rest of the data.

The customer service interface needs help.
I contacted the customer service through the interface of the software. No response.
I called, and had someone working on the case, though they clearly did not understand my problem, and I had to work very hard to get them to understand. They asked me to submit via the interface to get my logs for review. I did that.
I was promised a resolution within 48 hours. Nothing, so contacted again. They claimed not to have received my logs, so I resubmitted and asked via email for a confirmation. Several days later, still nothing.

I am not sure what tool I will be using, but I CAN NOT recommend Carbonite for a Mac.
I am running OSX latest release

ChrisG

Oh it forgot to mention Microsoft (gag vomit) ‘Live Mesh’
At present slow weirdo web based interface only.
Only allows you to back up one file at a time..

Oh my god M$! give it up will you!

ChrisG

Some others that I have tried :

Syncplicity
——–
PITA, once you define what folder you want, changing it seems impossible. YMMV. Behaves too much like a dumbed down ‘Time Machine’. Little or no say in what it does. Seemed a little slow on initial backup.

Drop Box
——-
Instead of a disk to back up to it creates a ‘Drop Box’ folder. Very very slow upload backups. They seem to have a severe bandwidth problem. Nice design but very very beta’ish software. Beware!

Sugarsync
——–
Nice design. Configurable. Has a nice iPhone client (Yay!) Decent but not astounding upload speeds.

If your backup needs are just images & video you could give a thought to Photobucket. Its not intended as such but they have good bandwidth & very clever server based photo manipulation thrown in.
Im going to give Jungle disk a try next if they have a trial account.

The Eck

@#21 Zero: You mentioned Jungle disk but didn’t say what your objections are to it – what’s its downside?

I agree with you about Carbonite’s plusses and minus.

The trouble with messing with these things is that once you’ve plunked down $$ for more bandwidth, you’re stuck with that service. What I like about JD is that it’s month by month billing by Amazon.

Actually I found that Carbonite was much more a bandwidth hog than Jungle Disk. Whenever I try out Carbonite, my daughter comes running in complaining that one of those online games suddenly slowed to an unacceptable level. She never makes a peep when JD is backing up either my or my wife’s Macs (each 4x a day at different hours).

But the strange thing (for me, anyway) about Carbonite is when I tried to “restore” a folder of some text files (maybe 80MB) it took for-ever, and that’s supposed to be the fast direction! JD downloaded the same folder in half the time. No other network activity going on during either test. YMMV of course.

For now, JD is my choice.

zero

I’ve tried JungleDisk, Mozy, Backblaze, and now Carbonite … and for me the winner, by a nose, is Carbonite. (But it’s only been a day.)
The Mozy interface is buggy and a PITA.
The Backblaze throttling is a PITA. It takes minutes to respond to changes in settings. And adding folders to exclude is a royal PITA. (To my query, they responded, “why would you want to exclude anything?” Because I like to control my bandwidth usage, thank you.)
Carbonite is responsive and easy to configure. What it’s missing is the ability to select/deselect invisible files and folders for backup. Macs have some huge invisible folders (Cache, Logs, etc) that it’s pointless to backup.
One nice thing about Mozy is that it tells me what bandwidth it’s actually using.

(The external drive thing is not an issue for me right now, as I’m on a laptop … but I can see how it could easily be a dealbreaker.)

Matthew Bookspan

@David Friend & @Gleb Budman – thank you both for responding to this article. It’s nice to see the CEO’s of both companies (Carbonite & BackBlaze) participate in the conversation.

@David – I think there is one other piece here that isn’t mentioned – the overall user experience. Backblaze trumps everyone because it behaves like Time Machine: set it and forget it. Neither Carbonite nor Mozy compare with this simplicity.

Mac users want easy-to-use products that just work. Again, this is where Backblaze trumps the competition.

Lastly, I am not a shill. I have used all of the cloud-based backup services on the Mac and the PC (for many years). I can clearly say that I prefer tools that just work. I also have faith in companies that provide excellent services. Thankfully, Backblaze provides a fantastic software client and back-end service. The bonus is their customer service – which exceeds expectations.

Gleb Budman

Hi David,
Thanks for the comment. I just want to clear up a few things:
* Backblaze gives you 3 options to restore: (1) Free download over the Internet, (2) Order a DVD, (3) Order a USB drive. Users with large data sets love the ability to not have to wait for a restore to download. And DVDs and USB drives are shipped overnight the day a restore is requested.
* Backblaze backs up very efficiently by default and offers the user control if they choose over their throttle settings.
* Backblaze also uses RAID6 in our datacenter and does continuous integrity checking and self-healing between your Mac and the stored data.
* And… We’re well financed and growing quickly, thank you.

In addition:
* Backblaze backs up external drives.
* Backblaze backs up all your data by default (not just what might be stored in your Users directory.)
* Backblaze backs up your videos (rather than forcing you to pick each one.)
* Backblaze offers a monthly plan for just $5 per month.

Fundamentally, considering 94% of people do nothing for backup… We just hope that people will use something to keep their data safe!

Thanks,
Gleb Budman
Backblaze, Inc.

David Friend

Appreciate your taking a look at Carbonite’s new Mac release. I was interested to see that you preferred Backblaze, so I took a closer look at the product and would like to point out some differences that you didn’t mention, particularly with respect to the restore experience. It’s not uncommon for reviewers to ignore the restore process, but it’s actually the most important part of the product. If the restore process is crappy, then the backup isn’t worth much. It’s like insurance — you can have the friendliest insurance agent in the world, but if they fail to pay up when your house burns down, what good is the policy? Almost 15% of our users have to restore their entire PCs each year, and 46% do at least a partial restore.

I took a look at Backblaze’s restore process. If your Mac crashes and you’re a Backblaze customer, your only options appear to be: 1) they ship you a DVD for $99 (4.2GB max), or 2) they ship you an external hard drive for $189. It doesn’t say how long it will take me to get these in the mail, but at least a several days, I would assume. Since I have 9GB of data, I’d be looking at $189 — almost 4x the price of the subscription. Even restoring individual files seems awkward with Backblaze. Instead of the file just coming back to your PC, you get a zip file that you have to unpack. With Carbonite, your restored files goes right back into the directories where they were originally stored. There’s no messing around with zip files.

If you’re doing a full restore, why would you want to pay $189 for an external hard drive? With Carbonite, everything is restored over the Internet. At the 10mbps speed of my Cable Internet, I could restore all 9GB in about 2 hours.

The other thing I noticed about Backblaze is there is no automatic control of bandwidth utilization. They have a manual slider, and what I found is that during the initial backup, if I set the slider to the point where I didn’t notice the speed degradation, the backup was crawling along at a very slow speed. Carbonite automatically adjusts its resource utilization so that it works fast when there is no other activity on the PC and slows down when you’re doing other things.

Then there are invisible issues for which I do not have answers: How is BackBlaze’s data stored? Carbonite uses RAID6 redundant arrays that are statistically 36 million times more reliable than an un-raided disk. Is there regular integrity checking between the Mac and stored data? Carbonite does a checksum comparison at least once every 90 days to make sure there are no bit errors in the backup.

Finally, there is the issue of whether the company is going to be around in a couple of years when you need to get your files back. I know nothing about BackBlaze’s finances, but several small online backup vendors have gone bust in the last few months, and more will.

David Friend, CEO

Carbonite, Inc.

Allan Marcus

wow, 9gb! That would be my mail folder. What about the 150GB of photos? For that internet restore might be a bit slow.

Digital Monkey

It’s obvious that you are defending your own product against the competitor. Us “users” are not typically incompetent about what we are looking for. That said, one comment I have for you is. What if your company gone bust in the next few months? You should put a guarantee on your website that your company will be there forever or else…what will the company do for its customers.

The Eck

It’s great to have (finally!) some choices in remote backup solutions. Matthew mentioned

1. Carbonite (this review)
2. Backblaze
3. Mozy

Others mentioned
4. Syncplicity
5. Jungledisk

There’s something here for nearly everyone, I think.

-Tod

The Eck

@ #15 Matthew: One word: Whew! You’ve got the situation well in hand!

@ #9 Josh (and #15 Bob): I’ve been a *user* of various SQL databases that were created as parts of application installations. One of them is something a programmer wrote for me to do the CMS edits on my website, and it resided on my remote host. Just because I’m as anal as #15, I always worried about losing my life’s creation should something catastrophic occur at the remote host, so I found somebody who taught me how to set up PMA and MAMP and do an “export” of the remote database (created a gzip file) and simply copied it to my Mac where I could then “import” it into the MAMP folder and I had a working mirror of my off-site database. the bonus of this was I can work locally, which is much faster, and whenever I want, I can upload the newer database to the remote host. Behind the scenes here is the fact that Jungledisk (and presumably Backblaze) can copy to the cloud, and I can put it on my hard disk backups.

Matthew, you’ve written a great article and reading the feedback from others here has been most instructive for me. Thanks to all!

-Tod

Bob

“If they’d allow me to back that sort of data up, I’d sign up in a heartbeat.”

Uh, just do sql dumps to a folder in your home folder and select that. easy peasy.

Matthew Bookspan

@Eck – I use many methods for backup. Backblaze is just one other component in my anal-retentive multi-redundant backups:

Onsite:

* Time Capsule (two machines in the house)
* All media (iTunes/iMovie/etc.) stored on a RAID 1 Device (in case one drive fails)
* WD Passport drive for taking files with me (when needed)

Cloud:

* Backblaze for local disk and RAID (again, in case of drive failure)
* MobileMe + Personal Backup X5 for specific critical files (just in case)

As you can see, I have the local storage as well. The value in Backblaze is being able to restore my RAID device data in case both drives fail. Call me paranoid, but I just can’t afford to lose that data. Backblaze sends your drive via FedEx next-day service. Granted, you pay for it, although it is your data…

@Josh – you are right – this is a problem and I hope Backblaze addresses it in a future release.

Bob

I tried Mozy, and for 3 months they used me as a guinea pig for alpha/dev releases. I never did get the product working. It always claimed that it backed up files, but the backups were actually failing (Fortunately, I TEST my backups!) Then Mozy’s technical support was completely worthless. I kept getting replies back (when they did bother to reply) that were mostly canned answers about the Windows version. I still have the email support threads archived.

Also, Mozy takes a VERY LONG TIME to back stuff up. You are rate limited on uploads. This was NOT mentioned when I signed up, but it’s a little more obvious in the newer version. I ended up canceling and demanding a full refund.

ChrisG

Here’s aother take on the whole back up thing.

If you can beg borrow or steal a fast uplink, do an initial back up over the net to Synplicity. (http://syncplicity.com/)
Use time machine to do constant back ups in the back ground to an external disk (or if you own a PowerMac, a second internal drive) and Syncplicity to do constant back ups in the back ground to their internet storage area.

Syncplicity lets you specify what folders to back up & then keeps them in sync.

Worth a look for anyone interested in this conumdrum.

Yoshi

I’m using Carbonite for Mac at the moment, used to use Mozy since 2007 but hated the UI. A few of my colleagues also had some of their restores actually not work. So I moved. The big downside with Carbonite, like “Brandon” stated, is not being able to back up data stored on external drives. I haven’t really found an official “carbonite for mac” forum on the net where we could start a thread on this issue

Josh Pigford

My sole reason for not using Backblaze is the inability to backup what they call “system” files. With doing a lot of PHP and Rails development, I’ve got things like all my MySQL databases stored in /usr/local…which Backblaze won’t backup.

If they’d allow me to back that sort of data up, I’d sign up in a heartbeat.

Allan Marcus

Just use hard links and link those files to your home folder (or a subfolder in your home folder).

The Eck

@ #7 Matthew: I understand the limitation (you call it a problem) of restoration – in your case the whole 400GB. I don’t know what the fee is for your getting a drive with everything on it, but it certainly must be more than simply following my advice to @spaceflightorange above. Perhaps your needs are more critical than the every 7 or 14 days I suggest above. Maybe you do it every two or three days. Doing incrementals on a tight schedule isn’t that time-consuming.

I had a single catastrophic drive failure and I immediately restored everything to a new drive using one of my on-site backups. I’ve occasionally lost files by accidentally trashing or overwriting, and it’s a snap to retrieve them from my mounted Jungledisk.

My basic thought about cloud backups is that they’re meant for the occasional misstep rather than being a total solution such as you’re looking for.

I’ve tried Mozy and it’s reasonably acceptable. I haven’t tried BB and Carbonite doesn’t sound like an improvement over my current backup strategies.

One other thought about your BB scenario: How fast will BB be able to make a copy and get it delivered to your door? How fast do you need all that data? I’d bet that keeping a bare drive with all your stuff over at a friend’s house or in the bank is a lot cheaper and accessible faster than waiting for BB to process your order and get it delivered. Please note that even FedEx et al don’t deliver on Sundays but chances are your chosen friend will be home.

Matthew Bookspan

@The Eck – it took about two weeks to upload 400GB of data to Backblaze. I have a decent connection via Comcast (16 down/2 up).

the problem I have with Mozy, Carbonite, JD is the restore options. With Backblaze, I can request a drive with all of my data (for a fee) so that I am not waiting forever to restore the data, even with fast download speeds. This alone is worth it to me.

Claire Pang

Matthew,
I accidentally deleted my Carbonite Preference Pane in System Preferences. Is there any way I can get it back? In the icon bar, when I click “Open Carbonite Preferences” nothing happens. I’ve looked for help online but can’t find anything.

Help, please?

Thanks,
Claire Pang

The Eck

Strange … the list of backup items shown in the image captioned “Carbonite Backup UI” above strongly resmbles the UI of JungleDisk. JD wasn’t mentioned though I feel it’s a decent alternative to all the above. JD is basically a front end for backing stuff up to an amazon S3 account. We have two Macs that we need to have backups for and the Jungledisk Workgroup lets both Macs use the same S3 “bucket” for offsite storage. I haven’t tried backing up an external volume so I can’t address that issue. JD also mounts a disk icon on the desktop so you can access files at any time. JD offers versioned backups as well, letting the user define how deep you want them (1 backup, five backups, whatever) and it will delete backups based on the time that they’ve been in the bucket. JD is also very flexible in letting the user control what they want to back up, much more that you describe either Backblaze or Carbonite. The cost of JD is less than $10/month for both Macs and is based on the amount of storage space used and a bit on the bandwidth used. I suggest checking it out and writing a “shootout” review of Carbonite, Backblaze, Mozy and Jungledisk.

@spaceflightorange: With so much to back up, cloud backups will be a royal PITA for you as it will take months to upload the initial backup unless you’ve got a T-3 line! :-) You might consider this: Get a hard drive docking station from NewerTech (sold at OWC). Get a couple of 500GB or 1TB SATA drives (bare drives). 500GB laptop drives are now available and affordable. Back up to one of those drives and take it to your bank and stick it in your safe deposit box (or give it to a trusted friend – the idea is to store it off site). A week or two later, repeat the above and retrieve the original backup. Keep repeating and you’ll always have a fairly current backup away from your office/home.

SpaceFlightOrange

@Brandon

Wow! this is a complete deal breaker for me, I have over 200gb of Raw Images on an external drive that i want to back up, and nothing else

Huuuze

I recommend Mozy wholeheartedly. It’s $5 per month and has all of the features you mentioned above.

Brandon

Another thing to note about carbonite is that you are not able to backup any external hard drives. This can be a major bummer for those of us who don’t like to overfill out boot disk.

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