CrashPlan – A cloud based backup strategy  

Having a backup solution is critical these days. We rely so much on our computers, phones and tablets, that not having some type of backup would be devastating to many. That is where something like CrashPlan comes into play.

I started using CrashPlan back in November, 2013. I was curious about why, as a Mac user, I would want something like CrashPlan instead of the built-in Time Machine.

Time Machine vs CrashPlan

Time Machine has so many benefits, including integrated solution, set-it-and-forget-it setup, and it can literally recover a machine from a total failure, once your system is back up and running. I’ve found that there are gotchas to both solutions.

Time Machine – The Benefits vs Negatives
Time Machine is best setup in your home/office setting where you have a static network or USB drive that’s always plugged in. It’s great for a quick grab of data while in this setting and you don’t have to remember to do anything, it just works. It’s also great when it comes to migrating to a new machine. Apple has perfected system migrations to a point where its likely the most painless experience in the market.

The problem arises if you travel often, like I do. Cafe Free WiFi or a hotel is a common setting for me and here, Time Machine is difficult to put to use. Yes, I can still use a USB external drive, but you have to REMEMBER to plug it in. To often, I’m online for an an hour or more and it never happens.

I admit, this is a small complaint on the surface. However, the only backup that’s useful is the one that gets used! If you’re home often enough to connect to your WiFi network, don’t need the security of hourly backups while on the road; Time Machine is worth it. It’s a one time cost of getting an external drive($99), a Time Machine compatible Network Addressable Storage (NAS) ($199+) or Apples Time Capsule ($299+).

CrashPlan – The Good and Ugly

First, lets start with this. If you’re using a Mac, and can do a Time Machine Backup, I’d recommend that over a 3rd party backup every time. The integrated nature just makes it to good to ignore. That said, for the price of entry and the total solution offered, Crashplan is a great deal.

What CrashPlan offers:

  • Unlimited Storage for as little as $4/month (annual subscription)
  • Multiple backup locations (You can back up to local storage as well as cloud at same time)
  • Mobile App to get access to your data on the fly from your tablet or smartphone
  • 448 bit encryption and 24 hour support
  • Online restoration or next day courier delivered restore media (extra cost of $164 – ouch!)

For $4/month, Unlimited is some cheep online storage. Especially since you don’t have to worry about being metered on how much space you use!

My experience with CrashPlan thus far has been fairly smooth. I had some initial issues understanding that these backups would take time. I eventually, after some trial and error (chewing up my hotspot data), found a happy medium of what data should be backed up and what I would like backed up.

Like many cloud storage solutions, it’s strength is also its fatal flaw. Backing up on the ‘cloud’ sounds great. Low monthly costs up front, it backups up your documents, maybe even your Apps and profile if you’re on a Mac. There are some rather hefty drawbacks though that you need to keep in mind.

Do you have a lot of data?

Do you have a lot of data, like me? I’m the person who has 250+ Gigabytes of data, just for starters. I’ve been working more with Video and Photography lately and that’s no small chuck of data. In my case it took almost 2 weeks to upload my data to the CrashPlans servers. On the positive side I could also, at the same time, use CrashPlan backup to my external 1 TB (1024 GB) USB3 portable drive. The point was to get away from external backup media while traveling though, so keep in mind this is a big gotcha for data heavy systems.

MiFi/HotSpots not cloud backup friendly!

Another gotcha is if you use a WiFi hotspot on your smartphone, tablet or a MiFi. These almost always have a data cap limit of 2.5 – 5 GB. As you can see in my example above, that simply would kill my usage. Those with data share plans are even worse off if everyone in your family is using it and suddenly finds the kewl YouTube video’s were just backed up and killed your 8GB limit for the month.. in the first 3 days .. (AAARRG!) Every bit of data after-that is costing you even more greenbacks.

A smart way around this is to turn off CrashPlan while on a MiFi / Hotspot and let the full backup complete while on a land-line based internet or WiFi. In fact, CrashPlan has an option to pause backups in hourly increments or indefinitely until you’re ready. Once your first full backup is complete, all future backups are incremental and take much less data unless your like me.

The challenge, as I found out the hard way, is to remember to turn off CrashPlan while on a hotspot! I burned my December cap on the 4th day while out and about, after I transcoded some video. Opps! I totally forgot about CrashPlan and for a good 30 minutes didn’t understand why I was getting an out of data notice from T-Mobile.

I admit, most people are not like me. I download a lot, I carry a ton of music, I dabble in video and photography and constantly trying new applications. If you’re a primarily an email, social media, and documents person with occasional dabbling in family photos and some music, you likely wont run into the same issues as me.

Limited home broadband.

The last hurtle are those like my parents, who’s only option is a Verizon HomeFusion service for broadband. This is a hopped up MiFi service with a larger data cap, but still, something like CrashPlan would kill their 10 to 20 GB limit and cost them through the nose in overage’s.

Suggested Setup

My setup is simple. I use both Time Machine and CrashPlan. I use Time Machine for full system backups while at home to my NAS and CrashPlan for targeted backups of documents and settings only. I exclude most of my drive and Applications to avoid the massive backups that would happen over the wire. It’s a solution that works for me and helps to avoid the DOH moments with my absent-minded nature with my data plans. This maybe overkill for many and either solution would probably be enough.

Final thoughts

Finding a solid backup cloud solution is not an easy task. You not only need to find something affordable, but someone you’d trust with your data. I think CrashPlan is one of these that fits both. It’s encryption combined with its unlimited storage makes it a fairly worry free investment. Unless your like me and use a HotSpot a lot. 🙂 As long as you understand the limitations, you can have a solid experience with CrashPlan at an affordable price.

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