• Online Backups: Comparing Carbonite, Backblaze, JungleDisk and more

    If there's one thing you must learn on your computer, it is how to create and maintain backups of your data. I have learned this rule of thumb: any data on my computer doesn't exist unless it exists in at least 2 places. Any important data on my computer (home movies, irreplaceable photos of my kids) doesn't exist unless it exists in THREE places. I highly recommend online backups as a way to keep your data safe.

    Below are the services I have used and my experiences with them. It's taken me more than a year to settle on a service, comparing Jungledisk vs Carbonite vs Backblaze vs Mozy vs MobileMe/iDisk vs Dropbox. The short answer is that I now use and wholly recommend Backblaze. But first, let's examine why you need an online backup solution in the first place.

    Why online backups?

    I have a relatively new computer. Even so, hard drives fail ALL THE TIME. Which is why backing up is so important. Recordable DVDs just don't cut it anymore, especially if you have a lot of photos or home movies to back up. Plus, recordable DVDs cannot be trusted to last more than a few years before they start to deteriorate.

    Some people use external USB hard drives for backup - you can pick up a large external drive for about $100. I have a LOT of data, so 1 hard drive doesn't do it for me anymore. I bought a Drobo, which combines several hard drives and now has several terabytes of storage on it.

    But even an external hard drive is NOT safe enough. Why? Because these drives fail all the time. I was backing up religiously to a $100 external USB drive last year. One day, I plugged it in just to check it and none of the data could be read - the drive had a catastrophic failure. Luckily, I hadn't waited until my main hard drive crashed before I checked it. Furthermore, this drive was only about 60 days old when it crashed!

    Check out the reviews of hard drives on websites like Amazon or Newegg. Over and over, you will see a surprising number of 1 star reviews and stories of hard drives crashing just weeks after being bought. Hard drives at the storage capacities we need simply aren't as reliable as we need them to be for long-term backup.

    The other reason is that data should be kept in two separate physical locations. Even if I religiously backup to an external drive, and that drive is rock-solid and guaranteed to never fail, the fact that it is also in my home is a problem. A fire or flood can take out my home, my computer, my backup hard drives and DVDs, and I would lose every photo I ever took of my kids. Simply not acceptable.

    Using an online backup service copies your data to a secure server in a different city. It runs continuously in the background so you don't have to remember to backup your files. And best of all, no single event, like a hard drive crash, or a flood, or a fire, can delete your precious memories or documents. Best of all, they are inexpensive.

    Jungledisk and Amazon S3

    Jungledisk is a wonderful little utility that you can purchase. It acts as a front end to Amazon's powerful S3 cloud service. Basically, Amazon allows people and companies to use its vast array of hard drive storage through its S3 service. Many companies store all of their web site data with Amazon S3 - it is robust but complicated to use.

    Jungledisk is an easy to use program for Windows, Mac or Linux that allows you to store your data on Amazon S3. You can create your own security key, so that all of your data is encrypted before it ever leaves your computer. Even if someone hacked into your Amazon S3 account, they would not be able to decrypt your files.

    You pay a monthly fee for the Jungledisk program, but then you need to pay Amazon a monthly fee based on the amount of data you are storing with them.

    I have been using the Jungledisk/Amazon S3 combination for over a year. My experience is that it is reliable, if a bit slow. Uploading data takes a long time and is slower than some of the other services I've tried. Also, as your data needs grow, the price grows with it. I have found that I pay a LOT more for this service than I do for any of the others.

    Pro: Secure, reliable, has the Amazon brand behind it. Works with Windows, Mac AND Linux.
    Con: Expensive if you are storing more than 20GB. Slow. Relatively hard to use.
    Website: Amazon S3, Jungledisk

    Carbonite

    Frankly, I tried and bought Carbonite because of a commercial. They are frequent sponsors of TWIT and MacBreak Weekly, two podcasts I listen to every week. For $5 a month, they will back up the data on your hard drive. But there are restrictions...

    First of all, Carbonite will ONLY backup your hard drive. If you have external drives, the data on them will not be backed up, no matter how hard you try. There are also restrictions on the types of files. People have reported that Carbonite will not back up large movie files. Others have reported that as they reached a certain number of GB, Carbonite's backup speed slowed dramatically.

    My experience basically confirms these reports. I pre-paid for a year of Carbonite, but now I wish I hadn't. After a few weeks of backing up my data (over 50GB of the 100GB I had planned to back up), Carbonite inexplicably stopped backing up. No notifications - it just decided to stop backing up my data, so I'm lucky I checked. I had to re-install their client software in order to kickstart the backup. It has started up again, but that brings me to the 2nd problem.

    The speed of the backup noticeably and dramatically slows down after you reach some hidden threshold. The new files I create aren't backed up nearly as fast as the ones during my trial period, and now months after I installed the client, all of my data STILL hasn't been backed up. In comparison, Backblaze has backed up more than twice the amount of data in half the time of Carbonite.

    Pros: Inexpensive. Windows and Mac versions. Secure and encrypted.
    Cons: Unreliable. Slow.
    Website: Carbonite

    Backblaze

    I started using Backblaze when Carbonite failed on me. I found that others that grew disenchanted with Carbonite had made the switch and been happy, so I followed suit. Backblaze is also $5/month.

    Backblaze is a breath of fresh air. The client installs easily and it backups up your entire hard drive except for some system files. It also backs up ANY external USB drives you hook up to your computer. This alone makes it infinitely more valuable than Carbonite. The reason we get external drives is to back up more data - it's foolish not to backup your external drives as well (especially given the failure rates we discussed earlier).

    I also have been extremely impressed with the speed of Backblaze. Where Jungledisk was uploading at about 60KB/s, and Carbonite varied from 50KB/s to 200KB/s, Backblaze uses the full power of my Internet connection, often uploading at better than 500KB/s. A feature that I have found very handy is that you can throttle back the speed of the uploads. While I'm working on my computer, I dial back the Backblaze speed (or just pause it) so that I can use the Internet faster. But at night, I crank it up so it's an uploading dynamo while I sleep.

    The one thing with Backblaze that I don't like as much as the others is that you cannot use the Backblaze client to restore your files. But even this has its pros and cons. With Carbonite or Jungledisk, you can restore your files back to your computer very easily, but the downloads are very slow. This would make restoring a drive painfully slow.

    With Backblaze, you log on to their website and choose some files to restore. Then they compress the files into a single ZIP file, which you then download from the website. It adds an extra step to restoring, but the positive is that the downloads are blazing fast. For me, the extra step is well worth the speed that Backblaze provides.

    Pro: Fast! Secure and encrypted. Backs up external drives. Windows and Mac versions.
    Con: Restore files via website.
    Website: Backblaze

    Apple MobileMe / iDisk

    Apple sold me a MobileMe subscription for $99/year when I bought my iPhone. I have a Mac, so I was game to try the service, since it came with a 10GB iDisk. If you're a Windows user, you can access your iDisk from Windows as well.
    We're going to keep this short, because my experiences with iDisk led me to use it sparingly.

    First, it's expensive. $99/year is much more than the $60 I'd pay for Carbonite or Backblaze. Secondly, the space is limited. 10GB just doesn't cut it for me - I have 80GB backed up with Carbonite, 50GB with Amazon/Jungledisk, and more than 200GB (and planning for more) with Backblaze.

    The next problem is reliability. iDisk has been inaccessible or "down" so many times that I simply don't even look at it anymore. There are many happy iDisk users out there, but for the life of me I can't figure out why they use it. If they are looking for backup, there are better services. And if they are looking for a place to store files and access them seamlessly from anywhere, they should look to Dropbox, our next contender.

    Pro: Accessible anywhere, even from the iPhone.
    Con: Expensive. Slow. Unreliable. Small data storage size.
    Website: Apple MobileMe

    Dropbox

    Dropbox is a cool service. First of all, you can get a free account that gives you 2GB. If you have a small amount of data to backup, Dropbox is a great way to go. That said, Dropbox isn't really a backup service.

    Dropbox is a great tool if you are frequently sharing files with someone, or between computers. You can setup the Dropbox utility on each machine (Windows or Mac) and instantly access the files in your Dropbox folder. Anything you drop into the Dropbox folder is instantly synchronized up to their servers, and then accessible from any machine where you installed the client.

    I use Dropbox for just that purpose - simple sharing between the computers in my house and work. It eliminates the need to carry around a USB thumbdrive, since you can just copy your files to Dropbox anytime you might need them at home.

    I don't recommend Dropbox as a backup tool, however (and to be fair, that's not the market they're after). It doesn't backup your files unless you specifically put them in the Dropbox. The storage space is also limited - you can upgrade from your free 2GB account, but it will cost you significantly more than the other services.

    However, I think Dropbox should be on your computer anyway - that free 2GB account comes in very handy sometimes!

    Pro: Free 2GB. Instant sync. Windows and Mac versions. Great iPhone client.
    Con: Not really for backup purposes.
    Website: Dropbox

    MozyHome

    Mozy is another backup service, similar to Carbonite and Backblaze. However, I didn't even bother to try them, even though they offer a free 2GB account, and their paid unlimited account is $5/month. The reason is that Mozy seems to be universally reviled.

    Whether fair or not, when I did my research into online backup services, everything I read about Mozy said how much they stink. Slow, unreliable, hard to restore backups, etc.

    If you have used Mozy and like it, let us know in our discussion forums (see link below). But I didn't try them so I have no first hand experience.

    Others I Haven't Tried

    If you have used another backup service and love it or hate it, let us know about it. There's Adrive, Idrive, and many more. Personally, I would LOVE to see Google get into this market.