We all know that we should ideally be backing up our computers regularly to an offsite location to prevent a disastrous data loss. But, admit it, knowing that and actually doing it are two different things…
Today is World Backup Day! Maybe it’s time to stop thinking about protecting your data, and start acting to protect your data, before something happens that makes you wish that you had. I’m glad I did, as you’ll hear in a moment.
I’ve known for a long time that I needed to get a better back-up system in place than just using Apple’s Time Machine, which is good but offers limited protection since it is a local back-up and was being done only intermittently when I plugged into my external drive. I needed something real-time and that was off-site. Crashplan had been recommended to me by another user of the service. But of course I procrastinated about actually doing anything about it, until Crashplan offered me the chance to try their service out for a review. I figured being offered a review of a service I had been planning to try anyway was the back-up gods telling me it was time, so I decided to give it a try. Here’s what I’ve learned.
What it is:
Crashplan is an online back-up service that allows users to install software on their computers that then runs automatic, real-time back-ups of their system to the Crashplan servers via an internet connection or another back-up location that the user specifies (such as to space on another computer on the same network). Offsite back-up provides superior disaster protection for data over running a local back-up since it protects data against damage that might destroy all data in a physical location, such as a lightning strike or building fire.
Crashplan set-up was amazing easily. All I had to do is download and install the software to my machine, and sign up at the website. Crashplan is available for Mac OS X, Windows (32 and 64 bit), Linux and Solaris. The download was quick and easy (it’s a small file) and then I only had to click through a few screens to install it and set up my account.
After installing the software, it’s time to choose a service level. The right choice will depend on how much of your computer you want to back up and to where. A free version of Crashplan lets users back up their machine to another location they own (like another drive on your network or another computer). For as low as $1.50/month (depending on the payment plan) users can back up 10GB to Crashplan’s servers. There’s also an unlimited plan for one computer for as low as $3.00/month or a family unlimited plan for up to 10 computers for as low as $6.00/month. One feature that is included with Crashplan but not most other cloud back-up services is that it will back up external hard drives that are attached to your computer as well as the machine’s main hard drive if you want.
I am using the Crashplan+ (unlimited data on a single computer) plan. For a year, pre-paid in advance, the price is $49.99. Compared to the consequences to my business and personal lives of a massive data loss, that’s a pretty cheap insurance policy.
After you complete your set-up, all your management of your back-ups can pretty much be run from the software dashboard on your computer.
The dashboard is very intuitive. The Back-up tab allows me to select exactly what folders are backed up and to where. The Restore tab allows me to restore data from its backup location in case of a data loss. The Settings tab provides very specific control of how and when Crashplan runs its backups to avoid conflicting with other processes on my machine or network, and the Destinations tab lets me see and change where my data is being backed up to.
The hurdle that scares many people away from signing up with a cloud back-up service is that for large amounts of data, doing an initial back-up via an internet connection can literally take months. That would definitely have been the case for me, with almost 400GB of data to back-up between my digital photo RAW files and my digital scrapbooking library.
But part of what sold me on Crashplan is that they offer an option I hadn’t seen offered at other services: seed drives. For $124.99, I was shipped an external hard drive that arrived in a few days. I hooked it up to my computer and followed the (simple) included instructions for backing up my Crashplan to the hard drive, and let it run overnight. Then I put it back in the box and dropped it off at a shipping store using the pre-paid shipping label that was included. A few days later, my files appeared on my online back-up and my computer was 100% backed up! While the service wasn’t inexpensive, it was well worth the cost for the immediate peace of mind about my critical and valuable files.
Remember when I said you should back up before something happens that will make you glad you backed up (or panicked that you didn’t)? About two months after I started using Crashplan, the external hard drive that contained all of my digital scrapbooking files decided its life was over. Fortunately, it was included in the back-up set that I was backing up to Crashplan.
One thing to be aware of that could freak you out using a service like this if you don’t know to expect it. When the hard drive failed it erased itself due to a failure to eject properly. I didn’t know it was “hosed” (geek technical term!) when I plugged it back in. Since Crashplan is real-time back-up, it detected the drive immediately – and its empty status, and synchronized its online archive to match by deleting the back-up files. After a momentary heart attack, I realized the files could be recovered from the back-up archives trash file (designed for just such a disaster) by checking the “display deleted files” box. I located the files that I wanted in only a few moments, clicked to indicate to download them to a new location, and in a few hours they were back safe and sound like they’d never been gone!
The one challenge that I have found with using Crashplan has been in migrating my backup to a new computer. I bought a new computer to replace my laptop (my primary machine) that has been dying. As part of transitioning to the new machine, of course, I wanted to start backing up that machine to Crashplan after moving my files to it. To do that without starting your back-up all over from scratch requires a complex process that I have so far been unable to manage correctly, even after communicating with Crashplan help once. I think my mistake was in installing Crashplan on the machine before I had read the instructions for the migration (which I was unable to locate by myself until directed to them by Crashplan help) which told me to disconnect the other machine before setting up the new one on Crashplan. Now, no matter what I do (including uninstalling Crashplan from the new machine) I can’t get Crashplan to see the new laptop as a newly added machine to let it go through the “new machine” process to “adopt” the previous computer’s file back-ups. Hopefully Crashplan’s support desk will be able to help me fix it when they respond back again to my help ticket.
Other than the migration issue, Crashplan has been easy to use and saved my data (and restored it fast) when I suffered a major loss. I highly recommend it to safeguard your data quickly and easily. Sure, you can do it cheaper…but I doubt you can do it better. And do you want to take chances with your data?
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