Do you have a backup strategy for your computer, or, at least, for the files that really matter to you?
If I think for a moment about what it would mean to me to lose the papers I’ve written, the research I’ve accumulated, the photographs I’ve taken, the software I’ve bought and downloaded with no backup CD, and the personal or financial information I store on my computer … I can’t even imagine what it would be like to try and get that all back. And the worst thing about it would be the feeling of a whole lot of creative energy getting flushed down the drain, irreversible and unrecoverable.
Up until about two years ago, my backup strategy was to copy files that I cared about between my desktop and my laptop, using a software package called Laplink. I stopped using Laplink when Microsoft released SyncToy — a very decent (and cheap (as in FREE)) software utility that does a great job of synchronizing files between two drives, accurately recognizing changes on both drives and taking them into account.
This strategy worked well until I cranked up my photography hobby again, after buying my first DSLR. It didn’t take long before the pictures I was storing on my desktop were too big to synchronize to the laptop (which is about five years old and had a small hard drive to begin with). About eight months ago, I added a 500 gigabyte external drive to my desktop, planning to use it as a backup drive. As soon as I realized how fast the drive was, however, I decided to offload all the photos from the desktop’s hard drive (which was running low on space too) and work with them directly from the external drive. But that left me with no backup strategy for the photos, so I bought a second external drive of the same size, to use as a backup. I’ve been using SyncToy for about eighteen months to "mirror" all of my photographs, as well as my Word documents and other creations (along with MP3s and software I’ve purchased) to this second drive.
But of course this strategy has a big flaw: The backup drive is physically located right near the computer, so anything that damaged the computer might damage the drive also. At least when I was backing up to the laptop (over a wireless network), the two computers were located in different rooms in my house, mitigating, to some extent, the chance for physical damage affecting both machines. I have looked at online backup utilities off and on for several years, and tried and rejected all of them as dissatisfying to me for one reason or another.
And also read some of the additional coverage here:
Backblaze is a recent entry into the online storage market, offering unlimited online backup space for $5.00 a month. I set up an account this morning and, as I write this, the easily-installed backup software is running in the background. It automatically selected about 50 gigabytes of data to back up; I reduced that to about 30 gigabytes by excluding the second external drive (which is a backup anyway) using the software’s configuration screens. The software tells me it will take about 10 days to complete the first full backup … which seems like a long time, I know, but keep in mind that upload speeds for DSL or cable connections are only a fraction of download speeds. (If you didn’t know this and want to see what I mean, your ISP may display that information on a modem or network configuration screen, or Backblaze provides a speed test you can use here: Bandwidth Speed Test to Backblaze).
Tony didn’t like Backblaze for one main reason: you can only specify folders to exclude from the backup, not folders to include. The CEO of Backblaze — Gleb Budman — responded in the comments on Tony’s article that they found that users didn’t want the include option, because they didn’t know what to include. I’m not surprised by that; working in IT, I see how often people seem to lose files and folders — and by "lose" I mean they just can’t figure out where they put them, mainly because (in my opinion) the save options in most Windows programs are so inconsistent that it’s easy to save something to an unexpected location and not even realize it.
I would, however, like to see Backblaze allow me to exclude multiple folders at a time. That is, it would be nice to be presented a list where I can checkbox a slew of folders at once. As it stands right now, Backblaze is going to back up dozens of folders that I wouldn’t think twice of excluding from a backup, because I wouldn’t use them to restore and wouldn’t need them if I had to replace my computer. As a comparison, Backblaze has selected about 10 gigabytes more data to backup than I currently backup myself. The ability to easily exclude multiple folders from the backup would be a nice compromise between Tony’s view of the software and Gleb Budman’s. It’s certainly not preventing me from using the product, of course; it just means that Backblaze is taking about a third longer for my initial backup than I would consider necessary.
One thing about Backblaze that I really like is that it does backup the contents of connected USB drives (not all online backup companies offer this capability), which is important to me since my photographs are housed on external drives only and will no longer fit on either of my desktop’s hard drive partitions. Earlier I was wondering how Backblaze would handle the external drive, and if it would just run continuously for hours, but I learned — from a response I got to a technical support question I sent to Backblaze support earlier today (fast response for a Sunday afternoon!) — that the software makes a copy of each file on the C: drive, then transmits it, then deletes the copy — which would give the USB drive the frequent rest periods it probably needs.
Backblaze doesn’t function as a network drive to your computer, and doesn’t claim to — so if that’s what you need, you’ll have to look elsewhere. It’s also not a drive image, in that you couldn’t boot from a Backblaze restore. But we’re talking being able to recover your creative work here, not building computers.
If you need to restore something, there’s a web interface to your account that shows your files in the same folder arrangement they were in on your local drives, where you can select files to restore and create a zip file to download. You can also purchase a DVD or USB drive containing the files you need to restore, but — since the DVD is $99 and the USB drive is $189 (I’m guessing you get to keep the drive) — you wouldn’t use those options if all you wanted was a lost file or two. I tried the download-zip option, and it worked fine.
Overall, I like what I see so far, quite a lot. And I like that it was easy to install, didn’t require two hours of technical diddling to get it running, and is just doing it’s job without bothering me. (I think there might be a few user-interface tweaks in order, but I’ll hold on those observations until I’ve spent more time with the software and the web site.) I’m definitely impressed that it’s been running in the background all this time — while I’ve been writing this post, tabbing around the net with Firefox, checking e-mail, and playing a few tunes — and it has still managed to safely tuck away about 400 decent-sized files, in synch with the 4 gigabyte per day upload volume that the speed test utility predicted, and without interrupting me or slowing me down one bit. If you’ve been thinking about putting together your backup strategy, then Backblaze is definitely worth a look.
More later; I’m sure I’ll keep an eye on this and let you know how it goes. Maybe we’ll have a party when the initial backup finishes….
Thanks for reading!