My Search for a New Backup Solution

As you probably already know, my preferred backup solution, Crashplan for Home, is being discontinued. The service itself goes away October 22, 2018, although for individual users you have until 60 days after your current subscription expires to find a new backup solution. For me, that is September 26, 2018.

So I have a little over a year to find a new backup solution, right? Nope. I have much less time than that because of the amount of data I need to backup. It took about 4 months to upload my initial backup set of 750 GB to the Crashplan cloud over my slow Internet connection that tops out at about 800 Kbps upload speed. Since then my backed up data has grown to 1.9 TB. It doesn’t take a genius to realize I need a new solution in place in just a couple of months if I need to reupload all my data to a new service before Crashplan pulls the plug. So I’ve started my hunt for a new backup solution in earnest!

Examining the Alternatives

Code42, the makers of Crashplan, offer two migration paths:

  1. They can migrate your data to Crashplan for Small Business. It’s double the price and there are some limitations that prevent it from being a full replacement for my Crashplan for Home usage. In particular it does not support backups to another computer, and in a few years I bump into its 5 TB limit. But it has the advantage of preserving my existing data, so converting to it is quick.
  2. They are partnering with Carbonite to offer discounts to Crashplan customers to switch to Carbonite. A quick glance at Carbonite’s features show it to be lacking features from Crashplan for Home that I rely upon. Limited version support and no data deduplication are deal killers for me.

At first glance keeping my data with Crashplan for Small Business is the easy way out. No need to spend months reuploading my data. But there are some important considerations:

  • It does not support backups to another computer. Big problem for me. I would have to find another backup solution for local backups and for my girlfriend’s computer.
  • CrashPlan for Small Business does not limit the size of your backup, but if you have more than 5 TB in Crashplan for Home, you can’t migrate it to Small Business. Not a problem for me, but I know people with more than 5 TB who would have to reupload all their data.
  • Is Code42 in this business for the long haul? They just dropped out of a huge market where they were the leading solution. Will they do that again and narrow their focus even more? Or are they actually in trouble and will they be on life support in a few years? I’m leery of sticking with them.

Their partner offer with Carbonite doesn’t work for me.

  • Carbonite does not support data deduplication. That’s the feature where the backup software figures out what’s changed and only uploads the changes. For example, if you are working on a 3 GB Photoshop file and you make a change to one layer that changes only 100 KB, only that 100 KB is uploaded. Carbonite would upload the entire 3 GB again. Every. Time. You. Make. A. Change. That would totally destroy my already slow Internet connection, and could rapidly use up whatever storage limit they enforce. Deal killer.
  • Lack of data deduplication is such a deal killer for me I haven’t bothered to look closely at Carbonite’s other features or limitations.

PC Magazine and Wirecutter have nice writeups comparing cloud backup solutions. Both were updated this week to remove Crashplan, which had been the top choices in both reviews. Tidbits discusses the situation along with a flurry of comments from readers offering their perspectives on alternatives. If you’re looking for a Crashplan replacement, read these posts.

What are Your Requirements?

Since all the backup solutions have different strengths and limitations, and everyone’s needs are different. Don’t just blindly take the top recommendation from whichever review source you like. Don’t just blindly take the recommendation of one person like me. Crashplan excelled in so many areas it was almost always a good choice for everyone. Not so with the others.

Make a list of all the features that are important to you. Which ones are deal killers if they aren’t supported? Which features can you make compromises with and accept a lesser solution? Are they easy to setup or do they require computer skills beyond your ability? What is your budget for initial software purchase, new hardware purchase, and ongoing subscription charges?

With several years of experience using Crashplan, I have a better idea what features are important to me and which I could live with compromises. Here are my main requirements. Remember, yours may be different.

I need cloud backup in case of a disaster like fire or flood.

I need a local backup so I can backup and restore files more quickly than using the cloud. I want the local backup to be stored on a different computer than my main computer to isolate the backup from any malware intrusion that may occur on my main computer.

I prefer the cloud and local backup solutions to be the same. While they could be different, it would be easier if I didn’t have to have two solutions in place.

I need client-side data deduplication. My Internet connection is slow enough and I work with enough very large files that bandwidth minimization is crucial.

I need the data in the cloud to be encrypted. I prefer to be able to use a personal key that is not known by the cloud provider.

I need to be able to specify which files get backed up. I keep some large files around that I can easily redownload from the source if I need to, so backing them up would be a waste of space and bandwidth. My files are distributed across multiple drives, so I can’t use a solution that backs up only a single folder or a predetermined set of folders.

I need multiple versions of each file kept for an extended period of time. With continuous backup I could have dozens of versions of a file in a day, and I’ve had to recover older versions of a file more than once, sometimes going back several months.

I need to be able to restore files that were deleted. I’ve had to use this feature several times, and I’ve sometimes had to go back more than a month to find the file.

I need an inexpensive backup solution for my girlfriend’s computer. Today she uses Crashplan to backup to my computer for free. We need a proper local backup for her as well as an off-site backup, either to my backup server or to the cloud. She has very little data compared to me so her requirements are much less stringent.

I need a backup solution that can backup open files on Windows. In particular, the Lightroom catalog cannot be backed up by some programs while Lightroom is open. Crashplan and some others handle this fine, but solutions based on rsync don’t.

I need to backup files larger than 4 GB. Some solutions, especially rsync-based ones, may be limited to 2 GB or 4 GB files.

I need continuous backup of files. Or at least as often as hourly backups. My most recent need to restore a file was with a file that was less than three hours old when I accidentally destroyed it. A daily or twice-daily backup would never have even seen that file, but Crashplan had it and I lost no data.

I’m Still Searching for the Answer

At this point I am still researching possible solutions. Here are some of my initial thoughts with Crashplan’s traditional competitors.

  • Crashplan for Small Business drops a few features important to me and they have lost my trust.
  • Carbonite and IDrive are not contenders because neither support data deduplication.
  • Backblaze has only limited version support (4 weeks), and their so-called continuous backup apparently takes several hours to recognize changes.
  • Acronis True Image is limited to 20 file versions, no continuous backup but supports hourly scheduled backups.
  • SOS Online Backup is way too expensive.

Of these, Backblaze looks pretty good, as does Acronis True Image. So far I conclude I will probably have to implement a different solution for local backups than for cloud backups. If my local solution can keep unlimited file versions, then the file version limitations in the cloud are not so important. I may be willing to compromise on continuous backups for the cloud solution depending on what I can come up with for my local backups.

I’m also considering another kind of backup solution. Arq Backup and Cloudberry are backup software that back up to the cloud provider of your choice, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Amazon S3, Backblaze B2, etc. You buy the backup software for a one-time fee and pay the cloud provider for monthly storage costs. Storage pricing is complex with many confusing options, so this is not an easy choice unless you can fit within the typical 1 TB limits offered by the consumer-oriented storage providers like Dropbox and OneDrive.

I’m still researching Arq and Cloudberry and the cloud storage providers, so I have no conclusions yet. However, Arq might end up being a decent choice for local backup even if I go with Backblaze or Acronis for cloud. And I need to look into the other offerings by Acronis since they have been providing Windows image backups for years. Maybe they have the local backup solution I need.

Syncback is a Windows solution for local backups that also supports cloud storage. First glance at the feature list looks like the pro version might cover all the bases for local and cloud as long as I don’t have any non-Windows clients. Definitely worth more investigation.

I’m also checking out open source backup solutions for my local backup, such as bup, rsnapshot, rdiff-backup, and git. Most of these are based on rsync, which conceptually is very good, but in practice rsync has some limitations that might not be solvable. In particular, file size limits of 2 GB or 4 GB and the inability to backup open files on Windows. Git is a compelling solution, but people who use it report issues with scale and preserving file permissions. Bup is an attempt to fix the git issues.

Backing up was easy to do with Crashplan for Home. It had the right combination of features and price to make it a compelling solution for both local and cloud backups that could work for just about everyone. Without Crashplan, backing up is hard again. The correct answer is elusive. I hope to find it in the next few weeks.

Update: A previous version of this post said that Crashplan for Small Business limited the size of your backup to 5 TB. That’s incorrect. The 5 TB limit is only for migrating from Home to Small Business. If you have more than 5 TB in Home you cannot migrate and must start over. CrashPlan for Small Business does not limit the size of your backup.

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