This is a how-to review of CrashPlan, an online backup service that we’ve used extensively for the past year. The following article is not only about online backup for PC and Mac users with moderate amounts of data, but also about jump-starting higher volume data backup for travelers, digital nomads and data-creation junkies.
Losing data sucks. And it’s costly – that is, if you can actually recover the data at all. Hard drives crash, they get stolen, they get lost. And there you are: empty-handed and all your work, all your memories gone. We’ve been there. It’s an awful feeling we’d never like to experience again.
Since we shared our data backup process last year (read it first if you don’t back up your data at all), we’ve integrated something new to our backup approach: CrashPlan online backup and its “seed drive” service.
Gone are the days of mailing stacks of backup DVDs to Audrey’s mom, wondering if they’d ever arrive. Now we have terabytes of photos, videos and notes from around the world backed up into the cloud as we continue our around-the-world adventures.
Here’s what CrashPlan offers, how we use it, and why CrashPlan’s seed drive service is a huge differentiator in the world of online backup for users with large amounts of data.
Choosing a CrashPlan Account
CrashPlan offers various types of accounts depending on your backup needs and budget.
We currently have a CrashPlan+ Family account which allows up to 10 computers to back up an unlimited amount of data. It runs $120/year or as inexpensive as $72/year if you book for 4 years. What’s nice about this plan is that our parents can also back up their computers to our account. If you are just one person with one computer, consider getting the CrashPlan+ Unlimited (unlimited data, $50/year or as inexpensive as $35/year for 4 years) CrashPlan+ (10GB of data, $25/year or as inexpensive as $17.50/year for 4 years).
A comparison of all CrashPlan accounts and associated costs can be found here.
Depending on your needs and the amount of data you have, choose your path through the remainder of this article:
2) Tell me about the seed drive. I have gobs of data (100GB+) and I want it backed up to the cloud quickly (continue reading below).
CrashPlan Seed Drive: Jump Start a Large Amount of Data into the Cloud
For years, everyone suggested that we use an online backup service. Fine, fine. But our challenge was always how to get the 2TB+ of existing data online so that we only had to concern ourselves with backing up new data.
We’d begin an online backup, watch it plod along given our internet speed, and realize it would take years to get our initial batch of data online. Like Sisyphus and the boulder up the hill, the process was demoralizing.
Then we learned about CrashPlan’s seed drive service. For $125, CrashPlan will ship you a 1TB drive that can fit up to 2TB of data compressed (think closer to 1TB if all your data are videos and images). You load your data on the seed drive, send it to CrashPlan and they upload it to their servers. Accelerated backup. Peace of mind.
We used one seed drive to back up Dan’s laptop plus two external drives, then another seed drive to back up Audrey’s laptop and an additional three external drives.
Simple seed drive process:
1) Order a seed drive from CrashPlan.
2) Download the CrashPlan software.
3) Select the files you want to backup (either the entire drive or select folders within it) – be sure to attach any external hard drives that you’d like backed up.
4) Let the CrashPlan software and seed drive do their work until all your data is backed up. Due to compression and deduplication, it will take longer than backing up to an ordinary external drive. If you should make a mistake (e.g., attaching the wrong external hard drive) during the seed drive backup, just delete the data on the seed drive and begin your backup afresh.
5) Mail the seed drive back to CrashPlan with the prepaid FedEx service.
You will receive notification from CrashPlan that the seed drive has arrived and then notification that all your data has been backed up to your account. (Cue the happy dance.)
Note: If you plan to use the seed service, use it to open or initiate the account. In other words, if you begin uploading to CrashPlan and later decide that you need a seed drive, you can do it, but the seed drive will “re-seed” the account and replace all existing data.
If you’re like us, you’re constantly generating new data. In 2011 alone we generated well over 400 GB of photos and videos. Now comes the challenge of how to back up all that new data.
Before you begin backing up your data online, be sure you have a second copy of it on an external hard drive somewhere. Don’t take any chances with your data until you know it all backed up securely online! Note also that CrashPlan wisely advertises itself as a backup service, not an archive service. In other words, maintain multiple copies:
Copy 1: PC/laptop
Copy 2: Backup of PC/laptop on external drive (e.g., for Mac users, Time Machine)
Copy 3: Offsite backup on CrashPlan
To use CrashPlan’s online backup services, it’s pretty straightforward. Connect to the internet and leave your laptop on. By default, Crashplan runs in the background even if the Crashplan application is not open. You can change this in the Crashplan settings. Depending upon your internet connectivity circumstances, you can:
1) Allow the back up to run all the time. The obvious advantage here is that your data gets backed up more quickly. The disadvantage is that if you are on a weak internet connection, this can slow you (and everyone else) down. You can set maximum upload speeds to manage your bandwidth usage.
2) Set the backup to run during certain times of day (e.g., overnight). If you’re sharing an internet connection with many people (e.g., at a guest house), this may offer a more polite approach than monopolizing bandwidth during peak hours. Just leave your laptop on overnight and let CrashPlan do its backup magic.
How quickly your data backs up to the CrashPlan servers (the cloud, if you like) depends upon how much data you have and the speed of your internet connection. You can monitor how your backup is going and how much more you have to go on the Backup tab of the CrashPlan user interface.
There is also an option to enable CrashPlan notifications by email, Twitter, etc. to keep you continually apprised of your backup progress.
Crashplan also offers an iPhone/Android app to restore select files and to monitor and obtain snapshots of your backup activity. We enjoyed using it. However, there’s now a disadvantage for us iOS 4 users: it’s only compatible with iOS 5.0.
CrashPlan Backup, Technical Tips
1. Speeding up your backup: When you’re not actively using your PC/Mac (e.g., while you are out or sleeping), be sure to set both active and inactive CPU usage settings to 100% under Settings > General. We noticed a significant improvement in backup speeds when we adopted this strategy suggested by CrashPlan support.
2. When in doubt, never deselect files:CrashPlan is not an archive service, it is a backup service. This means that it mirrors your current data. If you deselect files or directories in the CrashPlan user interface, those files will be deleted from your online backup archive.
3) Customer Service: CrashPlan has an online support ticketing service for any technical questions or problems that come up. We also recommend CrashPlan’s telephone customer service. Responses are quick and thorough and the technicians we spoke to all seemed very knowledgeable regarding even the littlest of details.
Fortunately, we have yet to require CrashPlan data recovery. If something were to happen, we would have two options – restore from the web, or for faster results, a “restore to your door” service ($124.99) that, much like the seed drive service, delivers your data to you on a 1TB drive.
Final Thoughts on CrashPlan
CrashPlan offers a great multi-platform online backup service. However, its seed drive service puts it over the top for digital nomads juggling lots of data on the go. While we’re still dependent on the speed of our internet connections for backing up new data, we breathe a little easier knowing that over five years of existing data are securely backed up already.
Disclosure: CrashPlan provided the seed drive service and a one-year CrashPlan+ Family plan to us for the purposes of this review. The article above is based solely on our own experience.
Photo credit for the image at the top of this post: Benjamin Arthur Photography