serverfarm

Macs make automated backup childishly easy: simply plug in an external hard drive and OS X will ask whether you want to use it as a Time Machine disk. Say yes, and you’ll then get fully-automatic, hourly, versioned backups without doing anything further.

Unplug it to take your MacBook out & about, and it will catch up as soon as you return and plug it back in. Even easier, get a Time Capsule, and those backups take place over wifi, so you don’t even have to connect a drive.

But I’m a belt-and-braces chap. I like multiple backups, and I like one of those backups to be off-site. That way, if the house burns down, or a burglar takes both my Macs and my backup drives, I still have access to my data. Which is where online backup services come into play. Think of them as your backup of last resort.

iCloud, covered in my cloud storage roundup last week, already backs up quite a lot of your data – but nothing like all of it. The services covered here are ones that backup either your entire Mac, or a large proportion of it …

working

So, how do online backup services work? You download an app to your Mac that creates a backup of your machine (caveat in a moment) on a remote server. That initial backup will take quite some time: days or weeks. The reason is that while you may have a lightning-fast broadband connection, the speed quoted is for downloads. Upload speeds are typically 10-20 times slower.

But once the backup finally completes, the backup app sits quietly in the background keeping it updated. Every time you create, change or delete a file, the change is mirrored on the backup server. Since it’s online, it does this anytime you have an Internet connection, which means it works as well when you’re in a hotel on the far side of the world as it does when you’re at home.

all

I mentioned a caveat: most services do not backup your entire drive, only the data files. So you’ll get back your photos, music and documents, but usually not your apps, preferences, settings and so on. There are a few services that give you the option to backup everything, and I’ll mention those as we get to them. Note too that many services don’t support multiple drives: if you have more than one drive in your Mac, only the main one gets backed-up. You can see below the exceptions.

As with cloud storage, there are a huge number of competing services, and my view is that you are safest with the major players. Small startups come and go all the time; not such a problem if you bought a $10 accessory from them a year ago, rather a bigger problem if your backup disappears along with the company. I’m thus again focusing on the best-known companies: Backblaze, Bitcasa, Carbonite, CrashPlan and Mozy.

backblaze-logo-horiz

Backblaze is one of the best-known services out there. It focuses purely on backing-up a single machine: there are no file-sync features, and no public sharing of files. It backups your entire Mac, the software is easy to use and upload speed is decent. If the worst does happen, and you need to restore a trashed, lost or stolen Mac, there is the (paid) option of having your backup sent to you on an external drive rather than having to wait for everything to download.

Cost: $50/year
Capacity: Unlimited
Supports multiple drives: Yes

Bitcasa_Logo

Some readers wondered why I didn’t include Bitcasa in my cloud storage roundup. The reason is because although it primarily presents itself as a cloud storage service, it offers a mirroring option that makes it ideal for backup, hence including it here instead. Just right-click on the top-level folder you want to backup and select the mirror to Bitcasa option.

Bitcasa is one of the most secure service available, offering AES-256 bit encryption. It is also probably the most trustworthy when it says you can store unlimited data. ‘Unlimited’ is generally shorthand for ‘see small-print for details’, but what Bitcasa does is rather clever.  The company estimates that most people have no more than 25GB of unique content on their computers, the rest – music, movies, etc – being content held in common with other people. For that data, Bitcasa stores only one copy of the file, with the rest of our backups containing a pointer to it. That means faster initial uploads. Neat.

Cost: $99/year
Capacity: Unlimited
Supports multiple drives: Yes

12f40__carbonite_logo

I’m including Carbonite because it’s one of the best-known services, but it’s unfortunately not one I would recommend. It’s predominantly a Windows service, with limited options for Mac users (no option for multiple drives even at extra cost, for example). Last time I used it – admittedly a couple of years ago – the Mac app also started eating CPU cycles for breakfast.

Although the service claims to offer unlimited capacity, it throttles upload bandwidth after the first 35GB, so if you have a lot of data, that initial upload takes a very long time. On the plus side, there is a $229 option for 250GB across unlimited computers that may be a good deal for some families and small businesses.

Cost: $60/year
Capacity: Unlimited (but see above)
Supports multiple drives: No

crashplan

I’ve been using CrashPlan myself for a couple of years. One of the key reasons for choosing it is that it genuinely allows you to backup your entire machine, system files and applications included. Ok, you’ll probably never want to recover apps that way, but I can be confident all my settings and preferences are available in my cloud backup as well as my local ones.

I also serve as a good test of that ‘unlimited’ claim: with two 1TB drives in my Mac, totalling around 1.4TB of data, the initial backup took a few weeks, but it all got there and with no visible throttling. Like most services, it doesn’t upload everything as standard, but unlike most you can tick boxes to make it do so. A menubar mini-app lets you track backup status, while you open up the main app to take a more detailed look or change settings. CrashPlan uses CPU cycles intelligently, using more of them when your Mac is idle and fewer when it’s in use. You can also pause upload if you want to maximise your upload bandwidth for something else.

Cost: $60/year
Capacity: Unlimited
Supports multiple drives: Yes

mozy-logo-600x151

Mozy was one of the earliest online backup services, but has now fallen somewhat behind the curve, no longer offering unlimited capacity and with no support for multiple drives. Instead, you have to choose between 50GB on one computer for $66/year ($5.99/month with one month free for annual payment) or 125GB on up to three computers for $110/year. The website looks a bit 2005 too!

However, it can be a good deal if you want to protect more than one Mac and don’t have more than 125GB of data in total. There are also options for adding additional capacity and extra computers. Mozy also supports file-syncing between computers through its public beta of Mozy Stash (a free upgrade for any paid account), so it’s worth looking at for multiple Mac owners.

Cost: $66/year
Capacity: 50GB (or 125GB for $110)
Supports multiple drives: No

darthmac

There are of course many more services out there. Of the big ones covered here, Backblaze offers the best deal, at $50/year for unlimited capacity and with support for multiple drives. At $60/year, CrashPlan costs a little more, but has served me well. Bitcasa will probably give you the quickest initial upload and highest security, if you’re willing to pay a little more for it ($99).

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52 Responses to “Online backup services: why, how & which?”

  1. Vishal Bagga says:

    Great article!

    Any particular reason why you did not cover Arq Backup (http://www.haystacksoftware.com/arq/)?

    It works pretty well, is very fast and does not cost a bomb (a single computer license is $39.99) but needs an Amazon Web Services account. It has the big advantage of using a proven cloud storage technology (Amazon S3/Amazon Glacier) and stores the files in an open format so that even if Arq shuts down, you still have access to your data. I do not know if any of the services you have mentioned has this kind of transparent de-coupling between the cloud storage provider and the service itself.

    Like

  2. I tried to say this in your last post, but Bitcasa can be used for so much more than just a ‘back-up’. It can literally replace your HD on your computer. The Bitcasa drive gets mounted to your desktop, just like an external. I’ve moved all my music, movies, and photos to my infinite drive with no loss of speed in iTunes and iPhoto. It’s a wonderful service.

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    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      It can be done, for sure, but it would be a pretty slow hard drive …

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      • It actually isn’t, which is why I included that comment about speed in my original post. You can set the cache of the drive, so your most used files are always on there. Besides uploading very large files to the server (like 4gb movies) I have experienced no slowdown at all.

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      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        If I understand you correctly, you have only one copy of your data, online, and no backup?

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      • I also use Bitcasa but I don’t use the Backup feature. All I do is copy my data to the drive and I get both a backup and an Infinite Drive. It works flawless and in the case I accidentally delete a file in the drive, I still have the file online due to the versioning system. I have already 7TB and still rising :)

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    • I signed up for a free account to try Bitcasa and the only folder that it will allow me to backup or mirror is my user folder. Nothing else. I’m not sure how one replaces their HD with so much info missing in a backup. Do you get access to the entire HD for backup if you have a paid plan or still just your user folder?

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  3. verizon2828 says:

    I had Carbonite for my MacBook Pro 15 (early 2011) and can attest that it does eat up CPU cycles for breakfast. At idle, my fans would be running full bore. The throttling sucks for me because I’m a photographer and have about 350GB backed up in the cloud. When I want to upload a few hundred photos from a shoot, it would take forever. And as the article says, Carbonite wouldn’t back up my 2nd internal SSD. Switched to Carbonite about 18 months ago and love it. Not one problem, fast uploads, and a nice interface.

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    • maxleopold says:

      If you had been annoyed by Carbonite – you likely switched to someone else, didn’t you?!

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    • Jeff Hester says:

      Switched from Carbonite to Carbonite “about 18 months ago and love it.” ??

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      • verizon2828 says:

        Sorry about that, guys!! Switched to CrashPlan and love it!!! I’ve had no issues with them at all. It’s nice to hear the other great comments about CrashPlan here too. Feeling even better about my choice to go with them. When I switched, my main concern was that I would not be throttled and I haven’t experienced any of that.

        Like

  4. maxleopold says:

    Another early Backup Solution Provider geared towards neat Time Machine Integration was / is:

    http://www.dollydrive.com/

    They get featured every now and then on MAC Websites…

    Like

  5. Ben,
    Also wanted to mention, in regards to backblaze, not EVERYTHING is copied over to the “cloud”. I had a particular issue arise and needed to replace a folder from an old backup. Problem was the folder was inside the System folder, and backblaze does not backup the System or Library folders. Soooooo, assed out. :(
    CrashPlan Pro is now the default best option. Plus I have it on good word from a “source” that there is a certain company that you tend to write about on this site often that uses CrashPlan exclusively. If its good for them then I’m all in.

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    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      BackBlaze does claim it can do everything, so I’m guessing there’s an option you didn’t have selected. With CrashPlan, you have to explicitly choose system files.

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      • johnikuest is correct. BackBlaze does not backup Applications folder either. This is all stated on their website and can be obtained by selecting the “what is being backed up” option in the preference pane.

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  6. kabriolett says:

    iCloud is great, but I can not live without a standard filesystem like cloud storage.

    My Favorite is Copy.com.. You get 15GB free, and it works on all platforms.

    https://copy.com

    Klaus

    Like

  7. Nice write-up — I have recently switched from Mozy to CrashPlan, so I was glad to hear someone else to vouch for my new service of choice. I think the iOS app they make for accessing your files on-the-go is slightly nicer than Mozy’s as well.

    There’s a small typo you may want to correct; in the second paragraph of the CrashPlan section, it says 1.4GB when it should say 1.4TB.

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  8. What you didn’t mention that makes CrashPlan stand even further ahead of the pack, in my opinion, is that they have a Family plan at $150/year with unlimited storage for up to 10 computers. If you have more than one computer, this makes CrashPlan way better than the other services.

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  9. TimeMachine, IMHO, sucks — even if you have a TimeCapsule, it doesn’t work over the internet, even if you set up a VPN server. They need to find a way to make TimeMachine work with TimeCapsules over the internet. Also — powernap is supposed to enable my Mac to automatically backup to the time capsule when I bring it in range of my Wifi LAN — even if the mac is asleep and never wakes up…well, this doesn’t actually work either, for me anyway. Anyone else have any thoughts or similar experiences?

    Like

    • I think time machine works, and works very well, but you are right, it wasn’t designed to work over the internet. But like it is mentioned in the article, once you get back to your local network (home), it will backup where it left off. Also I’ve found the time capsule to be very very fast at restores and backups on my local network. I use it for primary backups, and just like the author of the article, use something else for much much slower off-site backups. (I use Arq via Amazon S3 and Glacier).

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      • Here’s my issue though — when I bring my mac laptop home, powernap is supposed to kick off time machine without me even having to “open the lid” of my rMBP to my time capsule — this does *not* work, and nothing I’ve tried to get this to work has been successful. I wouldn’t hate on TM as much as I do if powernap actually worked how it was supposed to. It’s possible I’m totally misunderstanding the functionality and powernap actually isn’t capable of doing what I think it can do though — any thoughts? I’ve heard some people say that powernap TM backups only work with local drives and not time capsules / os x server running TM server…is this really the case?

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      • EDIT: I see why it doesn’t work now (side note: wish I could edit my other comment, 9t5Mac get a better comment system :D) TM backups with powernap only work when the notebook is plugged in to an AC power adapter – it won’t work on battery alone. Even though if it’s NOT sleeping, TM works just fine on battery alone. This makes no sense. I don’t see why they just can’t allow it unless you’re at like 30% battery…

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  10. Well, if everything else fails and you think that all your data has gone for good, you should try to give the worlds biggest backup service provider a short call. There’s a good chance that they still have your files safely stored somewhere. And the best thing: It’s completely free of charge. Thank you NSA ;-)

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  11. We’re on Crash Plan’s Family plan. Each of our three computers plus iDevices are back-up to CrashPlan on one account for $150/year — or as low as $429 for 4 years (under $9/month!) – and that’s for all your computers – unlimited storage. Check out pricing here: http://www.crashplan.com/consumer/compare.html

    Very happy with Crashplan!

    Like

  12. Bitcasa has gives “highest security” – surely, you’re joking! With no client-side encryption, your data is basically stored in the open. With Backblaze and Arq (I haven’t tried other services, so I can’t comment on them) you have the option to encrypt data as it’s leaving your computer.

    Like

    • Adam Clark says:

      umm Bitcasa does client-side encryption. so you are wrong.

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      • jackobli says:

        If it does client-side encryption, how do they dedupe (as mentioned in the article)? The same file encrypted with my private key shouldn’t look the same when encrypted with another peoples private key?

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      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        I don’t know the mechanism, but bear in mind that Bitcasa works on the basis that most files are publicly available. So: store an unencrypted version of music, movies, etc, on Bitcasa and compare that with your local files. When a match is found, flag the file. All other files are encrypted and uploaded.

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  13. Crashplan is a great product. They have had a 10% off promo on their faq site forever to entice mozy customers to switch over. You don’t actually have to prove you had mozy to use it: http://www.crashplan.com/mozyonover

    Like

  14. I ve been using http://www.elidentity.com which backs up my data all in the swiss mountains in bunkers with full encryption. It’s a bit pricy but I value my that my data remains mine.

    Like

  15. David Meyers says:

    One more very cool thing about CrashPlan is that if you have two sites, or a friend elsewhere, for no extra cost (and in fact it works with their 100% free plan) you can have backups go offsite that way rather than to their cloud servers. I have a repository drive attached to my computer at my office and another one at my house, and backups go in both directions (as well as from laptops). Way way easier to seed a backup that way, too – copy to hard drive, bring to other location, plug into computer, keep backing up.

    Like

  16. Have you actually tried Bitcasa? Half the time the upload doesn’t work. This is a program with a lot of potential, but not very good at the moment.

    Like

  17. jak24 says:

    Thanks for the article! I didn’t know such services existed.
    thinking about trying crashplan:
    do I have access to the complete file structure in the online backup? can external drives also be transferred to the online backup?

    Like

      • You are saying yes to the question about complete file structure but I just got off an online chat with their support personnel (Chris H) who stated clearly that the Applications folder “and other system files” are excluded from being backed up. Their site states that you can manually select these for backing up but that this can result in instability of the remaining files and even make other files inaccessible. It’s all in their FAQ, makes no sense to me but it’s there and their support folks reiterated this. It seems like an incredible nuisance to have basically a portion of your data backed up and then having to manually backup the rest of it elsewhere. Why not just do a clone of an HD like a desktop app such as SuperDuper does?

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      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        I have 100% of my drives backed up and have experienced no issues with it

        Like

      • Have you actually restored a full drive or just see that it tells you it’s backing that info up? I ask because both their tech person and their FAQ indicate that backing up the entire drive can cause problems when you go to restore or just the integrity of the main files intended be backed up (user specific stuff). Not sure why this would be the case, but wanted to ask. I have experienced before where things like a backup software seem to be doing great when they backup… but then fail miserably on restore which is what you actually bought it for in the first place. So, mostly curious about that aspect of this software. Thanks for any clarification.

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      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        I’ve thankfully never needed to. I’m very paranoid when it comes to backups, so have two Time Machine backups (one Time Capsule, one external USB drive) plus clones of both drives, so online backup is my last resort. I have, however, logged-in to randomly check that files are present in the backup, and everything has checked out.

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      • Sorry posted too soon… am I missing something here about what you are indicating regarding crash plan service?

        Like

  18. Dom Murphy says:

    FYI Bitcasa have changed their pricing structure. Infinite is now $999 a year.

    Like

  19. Thank you for the article and all the comments, extremely helpful. I have used carbonite since 2011 and simply can’t deal with the CPU usage and the Mac file problems. Mac is a sidebar with them sadly since a good service but I presume much better on a PC. Now Maverick problems with new pages files etc. Finally decided enough and will go to Crashplan for a year and see how that works out. Like you I have multiple back ups at all times. Anyone who doesn’t is either foolish or simply has nothing significant on their machine. Myself I have valuable records and photos dating back almost 2 decades now. Not having good and multiple backups is not an option.

    George in NY

    Like

  20. Bitcasa turns out not to work so well. It only works from an administrative account and even if you have the admin account running, the “Drive” does not show up for your other accounts. I won’t be renewing.

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