Backup Month: A Look at Cloud Backup Services

Generic CLoud Backup iconThis April, the Rocket Yard is providing you with tips and hints on backing up all of your data — not only the information that’s on your desktop or laptop machine, but your iPhone and iPad as well. In the first Backup Month post, readers were introduced to the helpful 3-2-1 Rule. The second special post focused on three of the most popular applications for backing up your Mac. Our last Backup Month post covered cloud storage, and today we’re looking at cloud backup services.

Part of the 3-2-1 Rule of backups states that you need to have at least one of your backups offsite. Why? Well, having all of your backup drives and data in one location is definitely putting all of your eggs in one basket. Should your house or office be destroyed in a fire, tornado, hurricane or flood — or any one of a thousand other potential disasters — you can sleep better knowing that your data is stored in a different location.

Cloud backup services are somewhat different from cloud storage. With cloud storage, you’re simply mirroring important information that’s on your computer(s) to another location “in the cloud”. Cloud backups are meant to take every single file on your device and store it on a remote server, although some people prefer to just store a subset of files on their Macs. One common issue for these services is that the speed of the initial backup of your data is highly dependent on just how fast your internet connection is. Even if it’s quite fast, it can take weeks or months for the first backup to complete! Fortunately, some of these services will let you send an external hard drive to them with a first backup that they then copy to their servers, speeding up the process.

While your computer is being used or even just idling, the cloud backup provider’s app will send revised or new files to the cloud either on a scheduled basis (once every hour, for instance) or continuously. You can check the progress through most of the apps or by logging into the website front-end provided by the backup service.

So what happens if your data is destroyed by a disaster? As soon as you have access to another connected device, you can log into your cloud backup account and download critical files (insurance information, for example). A total restore of a system is once again limited by the download speed of your internet provider, although that’s usually much faster than the upload speed. To speed the process again, most of the services will copy your backup onto an external drive and overnight it to you for a fee.

I personally find cloud backup services to be cheap insurance. Back in the late 1990s I used one of the early cloud backup services to keep a copy of all of my important files on a PC I was using. The hard drive failed on that PC, and a data recovery service wanted over $2,500 to scan and recover data from the drive. Fortunately, I was spending about $250 annually for the online backup, and I was able to restore my important information quickly once I installed a new hard drive in the PC.

Here is a list of some of the more popular cloud backup providers:

Backblaze logo

Backblaze pioneered the concept of unlimited cloud backup plans by inventing low-cost storage arrays called Backblaze Storage Pods. These pods are now available for sale to anyone, but the company has a huge number of them online at its data centers. That unlimited backup costs just $5 per month or $50 per year if you pay in advance for one year. $95 gets you two years of backup service.

Backblaze provides versioning that protects deleted files for 30 days. For instance, let’s say that you delete a file out on Backblaze thinking that you no longer need it. Later, you find out that was your only copy of an important document! No problem, they hold those deleted files for 30 days before permanently letting them go. By default, Backblaze backs up all of your files. All other services back up a subset by default, although you can choose to back up everything.

The Backblaze service also backs up your backups! Any external drives that are connected to your primary computer are backed up if you like, whether they contain backups or just more data. Backblaze encrypts all data before it is sent from your computer to the data center, and it’s stored as encrypted data. For extra security, you can choose to use a personal security key in addition to a password. Finally, the Backblaze apps for Mac and PC are native applications, unlike those for some of the other providers that use Java-based applications susceptible to security attacks.

And one more thing… Backblaze can locate a lost or stolen computer and will assist the owner in getting that device returned. No other backup service provides a locater service like this.

CrashPlan Logo

CrashPlan offers a service that is essentially our 3-2-1 Rule, all in one app. In addition to storing unlimited data online, the CrashPlan apps for Mac, PC and Linux can also create local backups on external disk drives and can be used to send data to be stored on computers of friends or family. An individual plan can be as low as $3.96 per month, and family plans that back up all computers in a household are available for as little as $8.96 per month.

CrashPlan’s service can bring back deleted files… forever. If you happen to throw out a file and then need to dig it out of your virtual trash years later, no problem. They still have your deleted files. As with Backblaze, all of your data is also available from mobile apps.

If you have over 300 GB of data to back up, CrashPlan offers a “seeding” service where they’ll send you a hard disk drive that you load with your data and then ship to one of their data centers. That’s much faster and more efficient than waiting for an initial upload to complete.

My only personal concern with CrashPlan is their use of a Java-based application. While that makes updates fast and easy and the company can develop once for multiple platforms, Java is also responsible for about 91% of all security attacks…

Carbonite Logo

Carbonite is another trusted cloud backup provider, offering both business and personal plans. Like Backblaze, Carbonite uses only native apps for backup and access of your data, leaving Java out of the mix. The service is $59.99 per year for one computer (Mac or PC), and other plans running $99.99 and $149.99 per year are available to Windows users only and add the ability to make a second backup to an external drive, back up your entire computer, or even have a courier service deliver your data on a hard drive in case you need to restore it. Files can be viewed and shared with mobile apps, similar to the other services listed here.

If you have any single file that is more than 4 GB in size — a video, for example — it has to be backed up manually on Carbonite rather than automatically.

Mozy Logo

Mozy is a bit of an anachronism in the cloud backup service market, with data limits of 50 GB for $5.99 per month or 125 GB of backups for $9.99 per month. If you go over those limits, additional data is charged at $2 per month per 20 GB. The company is backed by enterprise information storage and management giant EMC, which is a plus, but not having an unlimited data plan at a decently low cost is a real minus.

IDrive Logo

Our last cloud backup service described in this post is IDrive. Priced at a reasonable $44.62 per year for 1 TB of backup space, IDrive has some unique features. First, the company provides backup software for your iOS or Android device that backs up your mobile data to the service. Next, the company also sells a hardware device called IDrive Wi-Fi that can be used as a wireless drive for doing local backups. A 1 TB IDrive Wi-Fi costs $99.99, while a 2 TB model is available for $149.99.

If you need some additional backup space, IDrive has a 10 TB plan available at extra cost — $374.62 per year. For those with large online backup needs, it’s best to consider a service like Backblaze, CrashPlan or Carbonite that offers unlimited storage at a fixed price. It should also be noted that IDrive cannot back up individual files greater than 10 GB in size.


There are other cloud backup services that are on the market, but these five providers have been around for a while and are well respected. If we missed your favorite provider, please let others know about it by leaving a comment below. We’ll be back in a few days with our final Backup Month post, talking about how to make sure your iOS devices are backed up!