Backblaze vs. CrashPlan: Mac Backup Smackdown, Round 2

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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