I have written often about the need for both on-site and off-site backups to protect your precious digital data, family photographs, tax records, and more. If a hard drive crashes, what happens to the genealogy information you have spent hours compiling? How about your children’s or grandchildren’s baby pictures? Then again, what about the photograph of your great-grandparents?
First of all, I strongly suggest that every computer owner purchase one of today’s inexpensive external hard drives, plug it into the USB connector on your computer, and copy everything of value to that external drive. You can manually copy files by “click and drag” or obtain any of the dozens of available backup programs to make periodic, automatic backups on Windows or Macintosh systems. (If you are a Mac user, simply turn on the free TimeMachine that is already in your system. It is the best local backup program I have seen, and it has been pre-installed on every Macintosh for years.)
Having a backup on a disk drive next to your computer is an excellent idea, but it is not a complete backup solution. What happens if your house gets robbed or burned down and you lose both your PC and your backup drive? That’s why it is a good idea to have backups both in your home and offsite–whether that means a service like Backblaze, a bank’s safe deposit box, or the home of a trusted friend or family member. You always need to have recent backups stored “off-site” as well as in your home.
You can find many online backup services available today, and most are either free for a limited amount of data or are reasonably priced. I like Backblaze for a number of reasons. First, it backs up ALL of your important files on any one computer for only $5 a month. You can also get a discount by buying a year for $50 (15% off) or two years for $95 (25% off). Yes, those fees include backing up UNLIMITED* data from one computer.
Notice that I placed an asterisk beside the word “unlimited.” You can store many gigabytes from one computer on Backblaze for only $5 a month. You can even back up movies or other multimedia files. There aren’t any annoying data size caps, pricing tiers, or penalties for uploading ridiculous amounts of data. However, unlimited data does not include backing up non-data files. That is, the default settings do not include backing up the operating system or any system-based file types, application programs, or TimeMachine backups. These are files that you probably will never want to restore anyway. Backblaze backs up all your DATA but not the system files.
Backblaze does let you manually skip any other locations or file types if you wish.
Another feature of Backblaze is that it is one of the few online backup services that allows you to back up external hard drives and flash drives at no extra charge. Most other cloud-based backup services will either charge extra for backing up external drives or else won’t back them up at all. With Backblaze, the external drive(s) must be connected and backed up at least once a month. If the drive is detached for more than 30 days, Backblaze software interprets this as data that has been permanently deleted and securely deletes the copy from the Backblaze data center. Therefore, you do need to remember to plug in each external drive at least once a month.
Backblaze will not back up network (NAS) drives, remotely mounted computers or volumes, or shared volumes. The same is true of most of Backblaze’s competitors. A few online backup services that charge by the amount of data being backed up, such as Amazon S3, will back up network drives, but I don’t know of any flat-fee services that will do so.
Security is top notch. Backblaze says that your data is encrypted on your machine with military-grade security (using AES-128 bit keys) BEFORE it is sent across the Internet to Backblaze’s servers over a secure SSL connection and on to disks in the company’s data centers. The only way to decrypt the data is with your email address and password.
If you want a little extra security, Backblaze also gives you the option of encrypting your data with a local key that only you know. The obvious upside to that option is security; the downside is that if you lose this key, you can kiss your backups goodbye. Keep in mind that not even the Backblaze employees can see your data; it is locked up and unavailable to anyone other than you or any person with whom you share your encryption key.
Backblaze isn’t the only service of its kind (CrashPlan, for example, offers a similar online backup service); but, it is one of the easiest to use. At US $5 a month for each PC (including free external hard drive backups), Backblaze also is also very reasonably priced. And the best part? Backblaze offers unlimited backup storage. Backblaze will preserve your data for as long as you keep paying the $5 monthly fee.
If you delete a file from your computer, that file will also be deleted from Backblaze 30 days later. That 30-day “window” provides protection in case you accidentally erase a file. You can retrieve it for up to 30 days.
One drawback is the time required to copy gigabytes of data to any backup service’s servers. The exact amount of time obviously depends upon the speed of your Internet connection and the amount of data to be backed up. One PC’s hard drive could take a couple of weeks to fully upload–even with a fast internet connection. My experience with a FIOS fiber optic connection has been faster than that, typically 5 or 6 days to back up 100 gigabytes or so. If you use a dial-up connection to the Internet, online backups are not a reasonable solution for you.
If you turn your computer off in mid-backup, Backblaze will resume where it left off once the system is rebooted and connected to the Internet. You won’t lose the data that has already been backed up.
Backing up certainly will slow down your Internet connection as it is busy transferring data to the servers. However, you can pause the backups at any time, use the computer for yourself for a while, then resume the backups when you are finished with your “hands on” chores. I’d suggest leaving the computer turned on and connected for a few days and running the backup when you are not actively using the computer.
After the first, full backup is completed, future backups will only require a few seconds to complete. There is no need to back up data that has already been backed up. Each new backup only sends the new or changed data, typically requiring only a few seconds.
Of course, making backups is a nice thing to do, but making restores is CRITICAL! If you lose part or all of your hard drive or external drive(s), you need to be able to retrieve that data as quickly as possible. Remember how long it took to back up everything? Can you wait that long to restore everything again online? Again, Backblaze offers options not available from all of its competitors.
You can perform a restore online via your Internet connection, and that should work well for smaller amounts of data. For instance, if you lost one file or one folder or perhaps an entire flash drive, you should be able to restore that data in a few minutes or perhaps a few hours if a significant amount of data was lost. However, restoring an entire hard drive’s contents might require days or weeks with any online service. After all, your Internet connection can only transfer a limited amount of data per hour.
If you do need to restore your data, Backblaze gives you several options. You can log in to the company’s website and download a ZIP file of selected backup files. A ZIP file is compressed, meaning that you can restore more bytes per hour than when restoring uncompressed files. Still, restoring an entire drive’s contents could require hours or perhaps a few days. That probably isn’t going to be very practical.
That’s where Backblaze restore drives come in. If you need 128 gigabytes of data or less, you can pay the company US $99 to send you a USB flash drive that contains your data. For larger amounts of data, you can pay $189 for a USB hard drive (including up to 3 TB of your backups). The drive will be shipped to you via overnight air freight (You pay the shipping charges.). You can plug the drive into your computer in the morning and retrieve everything within. The drives are then yours to keep and use however you wish. While the price for the restores via flash drive or a hard drive is high, you do get to keep and use the drive forever. You probably will want to eventually erase the newly-received drive and then use it for other purposes. The Backblaze prices for a restore via a 128-gigabyte flash drive or a 3-terabyte hard drive aren’t all that much higher than purchasing similar drives at a local computer store.
Five dollars per month for Backblaze strikes me as a reasonable price for insurance for your gigabytes and gigabytes of data. The company also offers a 15-day free trial. If you are interested in using Backblaze, I’d suggest you first try the free version. You can later upgrade to the paid version and keep all the data you already have backed up.
Backblaze is available now for both Windows and Macintosh OS X. The company also has a view-only utility for reading backed up files on an Apple iPhone or iPad.
Backblaze also offers a backup services for businesses at slightly higher prices. The Backblaze web site claims to offer “unlimited backup for the lowest flat fee in the industry.”
You can learn more about Backblaze or sign up for the service at http://www.eogn.com/backblaze.