March 31 may have been World Backup Day, but here at The Rocket Yard we put a lot of emphasis on the importance of backups throughout the month of April. Today we’re going to take a look at online backup services, which can be a valuable piece of the backup puzzle.
Now, why would you want to store a copy of all of your data offsite when you have a big drive or RAID array backing it all up in your home or office? Physical security is the answer. What if a fire or other disaster destroyed your computer and the backup drive? Wouldn’t it be comforting to know that your data still resides somewhere and can be recovered?
Online backup services consist of two pieces: software that runs on your Mac and a data center (or multiple locations) where your data is stored. In most cases, the software encrypts your data before sending it off to the data center. That’s important, as you don’t want anyone to be able to have a look at your personal or business data while it’s in transit to the data center or while it’s stored in some massive data warehouse.
The software usually takes a while to upload an initial copy of your Mac’s data to the data center, as you don’t want it to overwhelm your limited internet bandwidth. With a lot of data on your Mac, that can take a long time — sometimes weeks or even months. Some services provide a way to “pre-load” your data by sending them a drive with a recent backup on it. They are able to connect that drive to a local machine, then send the data into their storage system at a much faster rate than over the ‘net. Once a full backup is stored online, the software keeps an eye on changes that are made on the Mac and then sends the changes to the online copy.
What happens if you need a quick restore of your data after a disaster? It depends on what data and how fast you need it. For example, most of the services allow you to “pick and choose” the data that’s most critical for you so that it can be downloaded to your replacement computer immediately, then “trickle down” the remainder of the backup as needed. If you really need all of your data as soon as possible, most online backup services provide overnight shipping of a disk drive with everything on it. You restore your data, and then in most cases the drive is yours to keep as a new backup drive. Needless to say, you get to pay for a drive of adequate capacity as well as overnight shipping.
Having an online backup is just one more piece of a complete backup plan. Now let’s take a look at some of the better-known online personal backup services, neatly lined up in alphabetical order:
Acronis True Image Cloud: Acronis True Image Cloud offers not only a cloud backup of everything on your Mac (including the operating system and all settings), but if you have a disk drive attached it will also image that data locally. One app to do it all, and the company charges $69.99 annually for one Mac (World Backup Day special pricing, usually $99.99 per year) and three mobile devices. A free trial is available.
Back blaze: If you want a “set it and forget it” online backup solution, you probably can’t do better than to use Backblaze. I’ve used this service for years and like how most of the time I don’t even know that my big iMac is being backed up… but with a quick click in the menu bar I can see my backup status. It’s $5 per month (or $50 per year) per computer. Restores of up to 4TB of data are sent via FedEx for $189, and you can return the drive to Backblaze for a refund. Have external drives with data on them? Backblaze backs them up as well. Finally, if your computer is stolen or lost, Backblaze has a built-in location service that can help you figure out where it is.
Carbonite: A well-known name — probably because Han Solo was frozen in carbonite — Carbonite offers unlimited cloud backup storage for $5 a month. For those who have huge single files like videos that they need to have backed up, then Carbonite may not work for you as there’s a 4GB individual file size limit. Any files larger than that must be backed up manually.
Crash plan: Crashplan has an interesting setup; you can use their app for free to back up your device to a local drive or a trusted local computer. When you add cloud backups to that, the price goes up to $5 a month. One item that might be of concern about Crashplan when compared to all of the other online backup services is that it uses a Java-based client…and Java is unfortunately involved in a lot of security-related issues. All of the other services here use native OS X apps that are much more resistant to Java hacks.
iDrive: Although it sounds like an Apple product, it isn’t. iDrive runs $50 a year, but unlike most of the other services listed here it has some limitations: 1TB of storage in total, and a 10GB individual file size limit. The company’s personal backup plan lets any of your devices back up to an account as long as you don’t exceed that storage limit. The service is currently the least expensive out there — $44.62 for the first year.
Cozy: Mozy was about the first service that provided cross-platform (Windows and Mac) backup service, so it was useful in the past for those companies or families that had both PCs and Macs. However, the company’s pricing structure seems to be stuck in the past as well; Mozy offers only 50GB of online storage for $5.99 per month, or 125GB at $9.99 per month. Many Mac users have much more data to back up…
SOS Online Backup: SOS Online Backup prides itself on its speed, which is “52% faster than Carbonite and 78% faster than Mozy”. The company offers unlimited data backups at $79.99 per year, and provides true versioning — think of it as being much like Time Machine, but in the cloud. It keeps every version of a file that you’ve been working on, so that inadvertent mistakes can be “erased” by grabbing the most recent version. The company that runs SOS Online Backup has 11 independent data centers around the world, so there’s a data center nearby wherever you or your company may be. There are no file size limits and perhaps the most honest pricing model I’ve seen, with no add-ons.
Spider Oak ONE: The last online backup service we’re looking at is Spider Oak ONE, which offers 1TB of storage for $12 per month. Spider Oak prides itself on the fact that you “hold the keys” — that is, you alone have the personal encrypt key. However, that’s true of many of the other services here, including Backblaze, Crashplan, and iDrive. Personal encrypt keys are rather important, as it ensures that your data is encrypted before being transferred across the internet and that it’s stored without the company having any knowledge of what is in that blob of encrypted data.
Have a favorite solution for cloud backups that we don’t list here? Let us know about it in the comments.