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Review | Crashplan Cloud Back-Up Service

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.

Set-Up:

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.

Seed Drives:

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.

Restore:

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!

Migrating:

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?

CrashPlan - Automatic Online Backup

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12 Responses to Review | Crashplan Cloud Back-Up Service

  1. Ronnie Crowley March 31, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    I use Carbonite and although it doesn’t have the seed drive deal when I migrated to a new machine it was so easy that I couldn’t believe it was actually done. I have been very happy with the service. Yes it took a while initially to back it all up but it saved me when the desktop crashed out of the blue. Whatever you service you choose just do it you won’t regret it.

  2. Dora March 31, 2012 at 7:25 pm #

    Great review! So thorough! Are they offering any seed drive discounts to your readers? Becuase it’s true I can’t deal with uploading 20+ gigs of digital photos and content. I had no idea there was another solution! We’ve got three laptops in the family and their status is always precarious, since there are also a few toddlers running around. They are “major losses” just waiting to happen!

  3. Beth Little Sutton April 1, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    I’m looking for a new backup plan since Mozy wants to charge almost $350/year for the amount of data I have. I also was not looking forward to backing up everything again (last time it took a couple of months!), so I’m glad to hear about this. I think that Steph mentioned this on the Daily Digi a while back, but I never heard any more about it. Thanks!

  4. Gab April 2, 2012 at 12:53 am #

    OK I really need to do this – thanks for the review Nancy

  5. Jason April 16, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    I stumbled upon your review, when I was googling for a Crashplan question I had. I have been using Crashplan for years, and I believe you overlooked one of their best features, my favorite, backing up to friends! In my case, it’s family. I currently back up my computers to my in-laws pc across town, and they back up to my pc. We both use external drives (mine is at their house, theirs is at mine) , we were able to seed them locally then drive them across town plug them in and any further changes would be sent across the internet. If we ever need to restore we can go pick up our drives connect them locally, and the process runs so much faster then across the internet. I must mention that the computers we are backing up to are desktops that are always on. I also back up my parents from 400 miles away(I’d call that offsite.)
    The process to back up to friends is completely free, and will run once per day, which is probably fine for most users. I personally felt guilty using all this functionality for free, so I now pay for CrashPlan+, which gets me 10Gb on Crashplan’s servers, and also allows my computer to back up regularly throughout the day.
    Wow, I guess I sound like a Crashplan employee! I’m not, I just believe they have a good tool/service.

  6. Alexander June 3, 2012 at 12:48 am #

    Just came across this after looking for an alternative to Crashplan! I’ve been using it for a year and it worked fine until I upgraded from a single computer to a family plan. Instead of the seed option I decided to leave my new computer running during the holidays. After 7 days and nights, half of my 500GB had copied. When I then went to connect my laptop which contained a far smaller number of files, it over-rode the 180 hours of backup! Tech support (which was very prompt and courteous) suggested I’d selected the adopt/ merge computer option which I definitely hadn’t. Now, reading your review, I’m wondering whether the issue was that I’d initially migrated data from one machine to the other? In either case the Crashplan server wasn’t able to distinguish between the two machines and I feel like it isn’t totally stable and I’ve wasted hours. They suggested I start copying all over again or pay for the seed back up but I’ll keep looking for another service

  7. Lindi October 10, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

    I have had the exact problem you had with trying to migrate my data to a new computer. Any luck with hearing back from CrashPlan? I called them and they said they’d call me back…when, I have no idea.

    • Nancy Nally October 10, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

      We did get it sorted out. Once I talked to someone at Crashplan, the fix was fairly easy, and the Crashplan back-up even saved a significant part of my data when the hard drive that I was using to migrate some things between the two machines kacked (that’s a technical term, right?) partway through a transfer and lost some data.

  8. HoyerHenrik Hoyer October 15, 2012 at 4:58 am #

    Their restore performance is bad. Their infrastructure is not geared towards fast restores. Don’t expect anything above 5Mbs download.

  9. Deirdre November 10, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    Nancy, could you share what the fix was? I’m having the same issue—I was able to restore all my files easily after having to replace my failed hard drive, but now I can’t find the “adopt” option because it is not recognizing my computer as “new”. I have an open ticket with their help desk but as you describe my exact issue, I’m hoping you might help! Thanks!

    • Scott November 17, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

      Deirdre, sorry, just realized I should perhaps have left the comment below as a reply. Anyway, hope this helps.

  10. Scott November 17, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    Deirdre, I had this issue and called CrashPlan support. They opened a support ticket and sent a link to their support site (where I had to log in to read it). This is what solved the problem for me, though:

    “…the “Adopt” dialogue, sometimes this goes away during the Restore process. To get it back double-click the CrashPlan icon in the upper right-hand corner of your CrashPlan client. In the command line that comes up:

    Type: guid new
    and then press enter

    This will cause the program to close and will require you to login to CrashPlan again. You will then see the “Adopt” dialogue reappear once CrashPlan logs in.”

    Hope that helps.

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