CrashPlan Backup: How to Quickly Get Terabytes of Data into the Cloud

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.
Digital Nomads

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).

CrashPlan Pricing

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:

1) I don’t have a lot of data. Tell me about Crashplan backup for mere mortals.

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.

(Note: If you’d like a rough estimate of how long it will take you to upload your data, measure your internet connection upload speed here and calculate the time to upload your files here.)

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.

CrashPlan Seed Drive Backup
Backing up our data to CrashPlan seed drives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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.

CrashPlan: Incremental Online Backup

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.

Data Recovery

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

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  1. says

    But how did you get the seed drives out to you in Kuala Lumpur? They say they only ship to the USA. This is my issue with getting started with CrashPlan, I can’t get seeded where I’m living, in the UK.

  2. says

    @Gary: Before CrashPlan I had signed up for another cloud backup service and in one year I didn’t even manage to get my laptop backed up, much less all the external hard drives of data. That’s where CrashPlan’s seed drives really come in handy. It still takes a while to back up incremental data since we produce so much, but it’s manageable.

    @Miguel: We worked out a special exception to get the seed drive out to us in Kuala Lumpur last year. We talked with the owner of CrashPlan today and he said that they have plans for rolling out seed drive service in Europe and Australia soon. I’ll keep you posted on when this happens.

  3. says

    We’re huge fans of CrashPlan. The online back-up took me like two months to complete because we started on the road and didn’t have solid internet connections, but now that we finished that part the incremental back-up is a breeze. It’s also a lot more affordable than other options we looked into.

  4. says

    @Sutapa: And, CrashPlan is very easy to use. Makes backup easy…and the price is also good.

    @John: Hope it works out for you to sign up!

    @Christy: Glad to hear you’ve also had a good experience using CrashPlan. We also find the interface and service really easy to use. And, the price is one of the best around.

  5. says

    Huh.I just had a lengthy meeting with a company about putting my entire media company into the cloud, which I think we need to do as soon as possible. But I hadn’t yet thought about it on a personal level. Will look into CrashPlan immediately!

  6. says

    @Abby: Getting both professional and personal data into the cloud is incredibly important. Provides such peace of mind. If you’ve got a lot of data to start with, check out CrashPlan’s seed drives. Otherwise, just sign up and start backing up – the interface is easy to use and it’s inexpensive for what CrashPlan provides.

  7. says

    I just want to add our vote of support for CrashPlan. They are FANTASTIC. We have loved using them. I can also fill you in on the Data Recovery bit because we’ve had to retrieve lost data on two different occasions when my computer crashed. (One time, I was afraid I had lost almost 10,000 words, but CrashPlan had thankfully saved it for me.)

    We save our data online as well as onto 2 TB hard drives because we’re often dealing with dodgy internet and we can’t always keep the online backup up to date. So, when we don’t have online backup running, we run the external hard drive backup. Both times that we had to restore data, we restored data from the external hard drive which was as simple as selecting the folder which was corrupted and hitting the Restore button. In both occasions, I lost that morning’s work but CrashPlan had saved everything up to that point because we normally run our backups in the evening. Recovery was fast and easy.

    Additionally, this is a great and very thorough review — I hope that the folks at CrashPlan liked it and that other people interested in the service will come over and read this post because we had a hard time finding reviews from real people who had used it when we signed up for it last year.

  8. says

    @Akila: Thanks! Glad you found the review thorough and useful, even as a CrashPlan user. When we wrote our backing up review last year, you were one of the people who recommended CrashPlan. We’re so glad we looked in to it.

    I am heartened to hear that your experience with data recovery has been good and uses a straightforward process. Like you, we also continue to use external hard drives as we’re always dealing with unstable internet and want to be sure everything has multiple backups.

  9. says

    Thanks for sharing this! I am planning a big lifestyle change for next year and will start traveling around the world with my family. This is a great solution to our backup our data so that we can work from anywhere with no worries about losing data. Thanks so much!

  10. Martelletto says

    Good evening,

    I switched from another cloud back-up service to Crashplan because the had a criminal business model and speed was very slow. (back-up laste for about a mont for my Mac plus photos). Now that I signed up to Crashplan I had to learn that only the photos will take more than a year, which is absolutely unacceptable. I believe this is due to my location (Hong Kong). Is there any work around?



  11. says

    @Martelletto: What we did for our large photo collection was back them up to a Crashplan Seed Drive (1 TB each). You’ll have to contact the company to find out whether they have extended this service internationally – it used to only be in North America.

    Another thing to check in your Crashplan desktop settings is whether you have a maximum upload speed set. If so, perhaps take that off so that you can use your entire bandwidth for backup. Also, when you go to sleep at night, change the settings for CPU usage to 100% so that your machine can focus solely on Crashplan backup at night.

    Hope this helps!


  1. […] If you’re like me though, you can shoot a couple GB worth of images in a day without a sweat.  Even with the pay plans (some are even “unlimited” in storage) you may run into the bigger problem of finding internet access fast and reliable enough to get it up there as fast as you’re shooting, though some are making a go of it. […]

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