Home Backup to the Cloud

Four years ago, long before Time Machine and the wide availability of cloud storage, I purchased a RAID/NAS for home backups. It’s done its job admirably, and has given us the confidence to back up the whole family without fear of drive failure. Even went as far as drilling holes in the floor and threading CAT-5 under the house so I could keep the Infrant in the closet, where it would make less noise.

It’s worked well, but the big problem it didn’t solve is the fire/flood/theft scenario. One good earthquake and all those images and videos of our child’s early years would be Gone Daddy Gone. Plus, my backup system was based on rsync. That worked fine, but was a bit too manual, and I had had occasional problems getting backups to complete to the non-Mac filesystem on the Infrant.

This problem had been hovering in the back of my mind for quite a while, when a dad at the local park mentioned that he had had  success with Backblaze. For $5/month, you get hands-off unlimited backup of your entire system to their data center. Drive space is dirt cheap these days, so it’s tempting to rely on purchased drives, but let’s do the math. Let’s say you spend $100 for a 500GB drive.  That’s the equivalent of  20 months of Backblaze service. If you go for the one-year commitment, you get the service for $4/month, so let’s say two years for the drive you just bought “cheap” to pay for itself. And you still haven’t got fire/flood/theft insurance. Seemed like a no-brainer to me, so I went for it.

My starter data set was 300 GBs – a healthy pile of bytes. Backblaze noted that the initial backup could take a couple of weeks, but in my case, the initial backup took more than three weeks, even over a fast broadband connection. After the initial backup  is complete, incrementals happen quickly, with no  interaction required.

Installation and backup management takes place through a preference pane on the Mac. It’s elegant, but I did have some problems along the way. At a certain point, halfway through the initial backup period, the pref pane informed me that the backup was complete, even though it wasn’t. It continued to report this for the next 10 days, even though I could see the bztransmit process chugging away in the background. The pref pane  provides a count of the number of files and their total size; to get this to update, I’d have to unmount and remount my external data drive, then wait 3-4 hours for the process to rescan volumes and report new information.

At this point,  I’ve made it through the initial backup and have added 150MBs of new data  to the external drive. The preference pane does not report any change to the totals, even though I have confirmed that the newly added files are available on Backblaze servers. I also had a number of instances where the bztransmit process would swell to consume very large (> 2GBs) amounts of memory. In some cases, the process memory would eventually come back down on its own. In others I had to manually kill all bz* processes and restart the backup process. It’s as if the backup process is running fine, but the preference pane is  unaware of what those processes are actually doing. Annoying, but not a deal-breaker.

I corresponded with Backblaze tech support during the process, and found them super-responsive, and not afraid to share detailed technical analysis of the process. They weren’t able to answer all of my questions about why the pref pane didn’t seem to know what the backup process was actually doing, but they were super detailed and quick, and I appreciate that.

Despite these glitches, my test restores have all gone well.

There is one little financial  hitch in my plan: That $4/month is only for one machine. I’ll have to spend more to be able to back up other computers in the house. I’m still mulling that one. In any case, it feels great to know that my backups are complete, even if disaster hits the home some day. And now that the glitches of the initial backup period have passed, it should be pretty smooth sailing ahead.

There are other cloud backup systems for the home out there, like CrashPlan and Amazon S3 with S3Hub. I haven’t tried them. If you have, what have your experiences been like?

9 Replies to “Home Backup to the Cloud”

  1. Funny. I actually did the same thing and changed my backup routine from my Infrant to Backblaze just a few months ago. I just use the Infrant mostly as a video server now.

  2. Amazing coincidence! Well, I know I’m in good company :)

    Did you experience similar issues with the initial backup?

  3. Wow, I started to write a reply and got most of the way into a blog post of my own instead. I’ll try to summarize instead.

    At work, we’re just beginning to implement Mozy Pro for select users – but that selection was based more on the management features. A central console to manage and monitor accounts/configurations was essential. Mozy Pro won that hands-down when we did our eval in late 2009.

    On a personal level I’m still waiting for the field to settle. The market has different pricing models right now – tiered, all-you-can-eat, and pass-through (pay for client, pass along S3 costs).

    Likewise, the products seem to be approaching from two different points-of-view: backup and storage. Backup is focused on single-device and tends to promote dedupe, encryption, and security – it’s a “let’s replace that offsite tape rotation with the cloud” approach. Storage seems to focus more on multi-device sync & casual access – “let’s replace that USB drive I used to carry everywhere”.

    The two models – backup vs storage – to merge a bit more. I love the ease-of-access for DropBox (storage model), but it lacks some of the features I want for it to address the backup model. Likewise, the backup model products seem terribly limiting thus far in terms of ease-of-restore and granular access.

  4. Jim, it looks like Mozy’s home backup prices are right inline with Backblaze. Any experience with their personal management UI? Any better than Backblaze’s? Or is this six of one, half dozen of the other?

  5. Thanks for the article. I have been doing the same with the free Mozy account and a network HD for secondary backup.

    Question – how did you decide between Mozy, Backblaze and the other ones? I attempted to compare and found it difficult to see the obvious choice.

    thanks !

  6. I actually didn’t hear about Mozy until after I was well into the Backblaze trial. The initial backup period is so long, it was like already being committed. It sounds like this could have gone either way and I’m not missing much.

  7. I started with Mozy last year (did the trial, then bought a year), but their client was unreliable. It would just stop performing backups – if I checked on it and manually started a backup, it would kick off, run for a day or so, then just stop. Not very good for something you are hopefully going to be able to assume it’s just always working in the background :p

    So I tried the, at thee time, BackBlaze beta. I liked the client and the performance (at that time Mozy was throttling upload speed too) and I like it so much that as soon as it came out of Beta I bought a year.

    Backblaze is on my Mac Pro which has all my data – I use ChronoSync to sync files between my laptop and Mac Pro so I’m always protected (and have the content I want with me on my MBP). Since I still had the paid Mozy sub a few months ago I loaded it up on my MacBook Pro and was pleased to see they no longer throttle uploads (probably due to competition from products like BackBlaze) and so far I haven’t had issues with the client randomly stopping automatic backups – every time I check it’s up to date and when I log in on-line newer files are there.

    So I would now call it a wash. Check pricing on restoring. Backblaze is pretty reasonable for the “massive disaster I need all my data back so ship me a hard drive” – except they only do 400 GB at a time on a drive. So if you have a terabyte or two up there (I do – @%^! RAW photos!) it can get pricy. I haven’t priced out if Mozy has such an option, but that could be the final tipping point since the clients, the upload process and other features seem to be very similar between the two now.

    Mozy is backed and owned by EMC while the BackBlaze guys are a new startup with custom hardware for their storage and software – personally I have had EMC arrays go south – nothing is 100% bullet proof so for me that’s not that big of a deal but having Mozy be backed by a company with a reputation in storage like EMC may help some sleep more at night.

    Speaking of reliability, after their big crash and finger pointing, I wouldn’t touch Carbonite with a 10 foot pole. Perhaps that’s unfair but the whole handling of it just seemed unprofessional.

  8. Oh yeah, Mozy and BackBlaze both support external hard drives (just plug them in at least once every 30 days so they maintain the files in the backup) and Carbonite doesn’t (or didn’t the last time I looked) so beware!

  9. Great mini-review and tips EricE – thanks for those notes.

    After the few hiccups during initial backups, Backblaze has been 100% reliable. Every now and then I check in to make sure recently added files are in there, and they always are. Which feels great.

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