Offsite backup with Crashplan

Posted on Tuesday 11 October 2011

Backup is one of the less glamorous aspects of aspects of computing, and alas one which often goes unconsidered. People keep so much important stuff on computers – photos, documents, videos, address books, accounts, the list goes on and yet many people haven’t figured out what they’ll do when that hard drive dies, or there’s a fire, or their laptop is stolen. At our house we have a number of PCs and laptops which contain a variety of data – some of it important, some less so – and I have some simple scripts which backup once a day to our central server. That means we have at least 2 copies of anything important, as long as it’s not more than a day old, and as long as we don’t lose the original machine and the server at the same time.

That all kind of came into focus a few weeks ago when we were getting ready to evacuate from Hurricane Irene. I realised that the hypothetical total loss was now a real (if remote) possibility – a flood or structural damage could take out the wedding photos, all of our vacation and family pictures, our entire music collection (all 2000 discs) and much more. My best effort at the time was this:

I pulled the backup drives out of the server, put them in waterproof bags, and didn’t let them out of my sight for 3 days. It worked, but not really a practical solution!

So since then I’ve been working on realizing a long time plan of having reliable, up-to-date offsite as well as onsite backup for everything I care about. I needed a solution that would at minimum take the data from the server and put it somewhere safe away from the house – and of course cost is always a concern. I was looking initially at Amazon S3, which is a service that provides essentially unlimited cloud storage and charges a pretty reasonable amount per GB. A number of commercial online backup providers use S3 behind the scenes so I figured it would be even cheaper going straight to the source. It was, but not by much – I was still looking at a bill of at least $100 a month for the amount of data I wanted to store.On top of that you need to pretty much roll your own software as S3 is just a big place to put stuff, not a full backup system.

I then came across a company called CrashPlan. They specialize in backup solutions for large enterprises but also offer a pretty neat solution for home users. You download and install their software on each machine in your house, and it backs up your data to any one of a number of locations. You can pay a subscription fee to backup to their data center, or (and this is the cool bit) you can backup to other computers for free. That ability extends beyond your home network – so you and a friend can get together to swap backup space. You backup to her machine and she backs up to yours, all in realtime over the internet. It’s a really nice solution, and what’s more they support Windows, Mac and Linux which, I found, was pretty unusual. All the backups are encrypted so there is minimal risk of anyone being able to access your data.

So far I’ve setup CrashPlan on 3 machines, and am backing up all the data to two locations – locally to our server like before, and remotely to CrashPlan HQ. The former is of course much faster and will provide quick access to any data lost, the latter is the emergency failsafe. As well as easy backup the software also lets you restore old versions of files, so if you accidentally mess something up you can go back to a version from yesterday, last week or even last year. As a final bonus I’ve been able to switch off my old homemade backup scripts, which saves me a lot of hassle!

As I mentioned the software is free, and you can optionally pay a subscription for access to their servers. I have the family plan which gets unlimited data storage from up to 10 machines for around $120 a year – which is a great price if you have more than 100GB or so to backup. If you have less than that then some of the other services like Carbonite may end up cheaper. Personally, I’m expecting to be using a couple of TB by the time I’m done, but obviously the upload time for all that is quite considerable!

So I’m not affiliated with CrashPlan in anyway, I didn’t get anything for writing this, I just thought it was a pretty neat solution and very reasonably priced – so as a customer I’m now interested in them doing well 🙂  If anyone I know is reading this and is interested in backing up to my machines just drop me a line!

    October 11, 2011 | 5:59 pm

    Hi Adam,

    I am interested in your offer if you still have room.


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