Until recently, it was easy for travelers to choose a cloud backup service. Crashplan Home offered the best combination of features and price, and I’ve been using and recommending it to travelers for years.
Last week, however, the company dropped a bombshell. Effective immediately, it was switching focus to the more lucrative business market. Depending on how long was left on their subscription, Home customers had between two and fourteen months to find an alternative.
After that? Their data would be deleted off the company’s servers, and in October next year, the app will stop working entirely.
The company is offering a sweetener to entice customers to switch to a Small Business plan, knocking 75% off the price for a year after their current subscription runs out. After that, though, or for new users? It’s ten bucks a month, per device.
That’s expensive, especially since for most individual customers there’s nothing extra in the Small Business plan that benefits them. With competing products as little as half the cost, are the benefits of Crashplan worth the money? Is there a more affordable service out there that fits the needs of travelers just as well?
I did some digging, ultimately settling on three other contenders. I discounted other services that were too limited, too expensive, or offered fewer features for the money than the competition.
Comparing features is one thing, and I do that below, but I needed to properly test the services as well. To that end, I created a set of roughly 20,000 photos, videos, documents, and other files totaling around 10GB in size, and used each of the apps to upload them to its company’s servers.
In each case, I measured how long it took for the backup to complete as well as the system resources consumed in the process. I then selected a 1.7GB subset of approximately 1000 files from the backup and measured how long they took to restore.
While doing so, I also tracked how easy the software was to sign up for, download, install, and use, on both desktop (Windows 10) and mobile (an Android phone).
My internet connection was about what you’d expect to find in a decent hotel while traveling. At 13Mbps download / 4Mbps upload, the speeds were acceptable but not high. Similarly, my laptop is approaching three years old, so it runs fine but isn’t the latest and greatest. I wanted real-world rather than best-case tests, so these suited my needs perfectly.
So, here’s how they all compared. If you’re just after the recommendations, you can skip to the end.
Backblaze vs Mozy vs Carbonite vs Crashplan
We all use backup software in different ways, and the needs of a professional travel videographer are very different from those of someone who takes a few photos on vacation each year. Features that are vital for one person may be irrelevant to someone else.
So, to start with, I put together a matrix of the aspects that matter to at least some travelers to see how each service fared against the others. It’s a little complicated, but I guess that’s the nature of these kinds of products.
|Backblaze||Mozy||Carbonite Basic / Plus (1)||Crashplan for Small Business|
|Cost (monthly)||$5 per device||$5.99 / $9.99 (2)||–||$10 per device|
|Cost (annually)||$50 per device||$65.89 / $109.89 (2)||$59.99 / $99.99||$120 per device|
|Free/trial version?||15 day trial||Free, with 2GB cloud storage||15 day trial||30 day trial|
|Storage space||Unlimited||50GB / 125GB||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|Backup platforms||Windows, Mac||Windows, Mac, Linux||Windows, Mac, Android (photos only)||Windows, Mac, Linux|
|Restore platforms||Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, browser||Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, browser ||Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, browser||Windows, Mac, Linux, browser, iOS, Android|
|Backup FROM external drives||Yes||Yes, with minor exceptions||No / Yes (single drive)||Yes|
|Backup TO external drives||No||Yes (Windows only)||Partial (just operating system and apps, Windows only)||Yes|
|Multiple file versions||Yes, kept for up to 30 days||Yes, kept for up to three months||Yes, kept for up to 90 days (Windows only)||Yes, unlimited|
|Deleted files auto-removed||After 30 days||After three months||After 30 days||Never unless user-specified|
|Could current files get removed?||Yes, if on external drive disconnected for 30+ days, or after six months of no backups||No||Yes, if on external drive disconnected for 30+ days||No|
|Encryption||AES 128||AES 256 or Blowfish 448||Blowfish128||AES 256|
|Backup frequency||Continuous (but can be slow to pick up changes)||Varies by operating system||10 minutes to 24 hours||Continuous|
|Multiple backup sets||No||Yes, 1 cloud + 1 external drive||No||Yes|
|Can manually control resource usage (CPU, bandwidth, etc)?||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Can send you a drive for faster restore?||Yes. Paid service, but reimbursed if drive returned.||Yes. Paid service, and depends on data center location.||No||No|
|Can receive a drive for faster initial backup (“seeding”)?||No||Yes. Paid service||No||No|
|Other comments||Includes ‘locate my computer’ service||Only backs up certain file types by default|
(1) Carbonite also has a “Prime” plan, but the extra feature (sending you a hard drive to speed up large restores) isn’t worth the $150 annual cost for most travelers.
(2) Mozy has two options: a 50GB storage limit for 1 device, or 125GB for three devices. Extra space is $2/month per 20GB, extra devices are $2/month each.
Backblaze has long been one of the more popular cloud backup services, offering useful features at affordable prices. It seemed like it should be a strong candidate, and so it turned out to be.
The signup process was about as simple as it gets. I entered my email and a password, and the app started downloading automatically. Fire it up, and if you’re happy with the automatic backup settings, you’re good to go immediately.
By default, Backblaze finds and backs up all of what it classifies as “personal data” anywhere on the system. That excludes things like operating system and executable files, although it’s easy enough to add them if you want to. It also ignores “transient” files that can be easily recreated again, including things like podcasts in iTunes.
Excluding a few folders wasn’t a big deal, but adding some files to the backup and removing others took a bit of time. Still, for many people, there’ll be little to nothing to configure here. If you’re mainly looking to back up your irreplaceable data (music, videos, documents), you likely won’t need to change a thing.
My backup took almost exactly 8.5 hours to complete. Memory usage was reasonable, peaking at 183MB and averaging around 100MB. It worked away silently in the background the entire time.
The app won’t win many design awards, but it did the job fine. Note that Backblaze only backs up Windows or Mac machines. If you’re running Linux or something else on your laptop, you’re out of luck.
It also can’t save your files to a portable drive, since Backblaze is cloud backup only. Since slow or non-existent internet makes timely backups and restores from the cloud difficult for travelers, I always recommend backing up to an external drive as well. To do so, you’ll need to use a (free) tool like Time Machine on Mac, or File History / Backup and Restore on Windows.
Although it worked well enough, the online restore process wasn’t as straightforward as it could be. Clicking the “restore” button in the app simply took me to the Backblaze website to select the files I wanted to bring back. I then needed to wait for an email to tell me it was ready, which arrived ten minutes later.
After clicking the email link, I was able to download a zip file containing all the files and folders I’d asked for. In this case it took a further 14 minutes to download, for a total restore time of 24 minutes.
When selecting files to restore, I couldn’t select a file to see which previous backups existed of it. Instead, I had to change the overall date selector to somewhere in the last 30 days, and then pick the file(s) I wanted an earlier version of. Like the rest of the restore process, it worked, but it was clunky.
You can only go back 30 days to retrieve deleted files or older versions of existing files. That’s the shortest of any of the services I tested.
Backblaze’s Android app was simple and effective, as far as it went. Like most other services, it only lets you restore files previously backed up from a computer and doesn’t back up the phone or tablet itself.
Still, it was easy to find and download a particular file to restore. As long as I had an appropriate app on my phone, I could then view, edit, or share it once it had downloaded.
Backblaze is a good, no-fuss backup solution. Features like unlimited storage space for five bucks or less a month, “free” shipping of a USB stick or hard drive to speed up restores, and a handy “find my computer” service, aren’t offered by the competition.
That, coupled with a simple install process and a straightforward interface, makes it an appealing option, but it’s not perfect.
As well as the limitations mentioned earlier, Backblaze is problematic for photographers or videographers with more data than fits on their laptop. While it will happily back up external drives to the cloud, it’ll automatically delete its copy of that drive if it’s disconnected for 30 days or more.
If you take your laptop on a month-long trip, but leave one or more external drives at home, you’ll be re-uploading hundreds or thousands of gigabytes of data when you get back. Eurgh.
The company’s only suggestion? Pause your backups, or shut down your computer with the drive(s) still connected, and don’t start things back up again until you return. If you’re traveling with your laptop and keeping new files backed up as you should, that’s not much of a solution.
Despite those shortcomings, though, Backblaze’s price and ease of use make it a solid option for most travelers.
Once upon a time, Mozy was a feisty little startup offering unlimited cloud backup plans for $5/month. Those days are long gone, however. It’s now owned by Dell, with price hikes and storage restrictions that limit its value.
Signing up for a Mozy trial was easy, requiring just an email address and password, along with country and zip/postcode. The app, too, was solid and easy to use. After a quick scan of my drive, it offered several groups of files to select from, or a familiar file manager interface for more granular choices.
Mozy lets you select one or more external drives to back up to the cloud, and also includes a “2x Protect” system that copies files from a Windows laptop to a portable drive.
The app was one of the better ones, slick and easy to use. Its memory usage was fine, peaking at 110MB, and averaging around half that.
At nearly 13 hours, however, transferring my sample backup set took noticeably longer than the other services. My connection’s maximum upload speed hadn’t changed when running the test, so the slowdown was happening somewhere else.
The elephant in the room, of course, is those cloud storage limits. In a market where most other companies offer unlimited storage, it’s hard to get excited about a service that doesn’t.
Restoring files with Mozy was just like backing them up: an easy-to-use interface let down by slow transfer speeds. While the other services took half an hour or less to restore my data set, Mozy took 47 minutes to do the same thing.
The mobile app is a little better than most. It was fast, responsive, and worked more like a normal file browser than others. Default groups (images, videos, etc) were shown on the main screen, making it quicker to find what you’re after.
There was smart use of thumbnails, too. When browsing images, for example, I could swipe left and right to see low-resolution versions before committing to downloading them. Downloaded files lived in their own separate part of the app.
There’s a lot to like about Mozy. The desktop and mobile apps were solid and easy to use. It’s one of the few services that works on Linux, and that (for Windows users at least) includes backups both to and from external drives.
It’ll never delete current files from those drives, even if you disconnect them for months, and it retains deleted and old versions of files for three months.
There is, unfortunately, a big thing not to like about Mozy as well. Its storage limits.
Unless you’re a Linux user, paying six bucks a month for a paltry 50GB of space for one device is unnecessary. Cheaper services like Backblaze have no such limits, and with the ever-increasing file sizes of photos and videos, it’s much easier to hit that threshold than you’d think.
Paying $10/month for 125GB across three devices might make sense for a multi-computer family with limited backup needs, but hardly anyone else.
Those transfer speeds are a concern, too. Internet connections are glacial enough while traveling as it is, without your backup service slowing things down even further.
Billed as one of the easiest cloud backup services to use, Carbonite is the company Crashplan has suggested its home users switch to. Unfortunately, this simplicity is both a blessing and a curse.
Like Backblaze, signing up and installing the app couldn’t have been easier. After entering my email address and a password, the app started downloading automatically. Installation was equally straightforward, but only to a point.
If you’re happy to stick with the default backup settings, Carbonite is a breeze. It looks in the usual locations for documents, photos, music, etc, and starts backing them up automatically.
For those who want to pick other locations or expand beyond Carbonite’s default file types, however, things get messy. The app doesn’t really want you backing up other types of files, so deliberately makes the process difficult. It’s similar in some ways to Backblaze’s approach, but more annoying in practice.
It excludes any file it doesn’t like, and you need to either add that file type yourself, or individually select each non-standard file and add it to the backup list. Even so, certain folders and types of files are still excluded, and can’t be backed up with Carbonite no matter what you do.
Video isn’t backed up by default on the cheapest plan, and any file over 4GB has to be selected manually regardless. For some travelers, none of that will be an issue. For others looking to make more comprehensive backups, however, it’ll be a show-stopper.
After (painfully) selecting the files for my backup test, I waited 90 minutes for Carbonite to switch from ‘Preparing to Back Up’ to actually starting the backup, before giving up and restarting my computer. That did the trick, and it then took nine hours to complete.
Memory usage was very good throughout, with a peak of 40MB and typically just 10-20MB.
My testing was done on a Windows laptop. If you’re using a Mac, your options are more limited. In that case, Carbonite doesn’t save multiple versions of each file. If it gets corrupted or you realize you’d hit save when you didn’t mean to, you’re out of luck.
Also, while the Windows version can back up the operating system and apps to a portable drive, the Mac version can’t. As with Backblaze, you’ll need to use Time Machine or similar instead.
The Plus version of Carbonite lets you back up from a single external drive as well, a feature missing from the Basic plan.
Restoring files is done in one of two ways. Restoring “a few” files (defined as up to 5000 files or 10GB of data) is done via the Carbonite site, while getting most or all of your files back is done via the app.
Since I was only pulling back around 1000 files, I did it via the site. It was easy enough to select what I wanted, as long as it was all within one folder or sub-folder. After clicking ‘Download’, it took a few seconds for a zip file to be created, and 16 minutes for it to download. That’s the fastest restore speed of any of the services I tested.
Older versions of files are kept for 90 days and were easy to track down through either through the Carbonite app or Windows File Explorer. As mentioned, the feature isn’t available for Macs.
The Android app isn’t the fastest I’ve ever used, especially when retrieving lists of files, but it worked well enough. Like Mozy, files were sorted into default groups like pictures and documents, although it was easy enough to browse the full list as well. It was fast to swipe left and right to see low-res versions of images, and to tap and hold to save them to my phone.
Carbonite was the simplest service I tested overall, but that didn’t make it the best.
Even the basic version is more expensive than Backblaze’s offering, and if you want to back up from a portable drive as well, you’ll pay twice as much. After the trial version expires, you also have to pay for a full year upfront: there’s no monthly option.
While the app works very well if you stick to the defaults, it was very frustrating to use once I started trying to back up extra files. Like Backblaze, you’ll lose the files from your external drive if you don’t connect it for 30 days.
Mac users are treated as second-class citizens, paying the same price for a service that doesn’t include keeping older versions of files or backing up the operating system and apps to a portable drive. For them, there’s no real reason to favor it over the alternatives.
Even with the extra features, though, it’s hard to recommend for most Windows users either. Backblaze covers most traveler’s requirements at a lower cost than Carbonite’s Basic plan, while Crashplan offers a lot more than Carbonite’s Plus plan at the same price.
Crashplan for Small Business
With Crashplan’s Home plan going the way of the dodo, its cheapest option is now a Small Business subscription. Despite clearly not wishing to cater to individuals any longer, the service still has something to offer certain types of traveler despite the price hike.
Signing up for the Crashplan for Small Business trial was remarkably difficult. It wanted a lot more personal information from me than the other services, and was the only one that required payment details beforehand.
Even then, I kept getting error messages during signup, and my account showed as unregistered in the app until I went through the payment authorization process a second time. Frankly, it was a mess, and if I wasn’t committed to including Crashplan in this article I’d likely have given up in disgust.
Once it was finally working, though, selecting which files I wanted in the backup was simple and straightforward. It helped, of course, that the backup and restore parts of the app were the same as the Home version I’ve been using for years.
Crashplan took just over nine hours to finish backing up, in line with the other services.
Unlike the other apps, though, memory usage was excessive. I’ve noticed this in the past with the Home app, but assumed it was due to having a relatively large (400+ GB) backup set. Apparently not.
With just 10GB of files selected, the Crashplan backup service used around 450MB of RAM on average, peaking at 517MB. Even when it had finished backing up, memory use barely dropped below 400MB. That’s 3-10x more than any of the other apps I tested, and is unacceptable, especially on older or low-spec machines.
Crashplan has more backup options than the competition, placing no restrictions on the number of portable drives you can back up from or to, and you can choose different sets of files for each. It also won’t remove files automatically, even if they’ve been deleted from the source. Similarly, it keeps unlimited file versions available forever.
Restoring files with Crashplan was a breeze, and can be done entirely from the app, including deleted or old versions of files. I simply selected the files I wanted to restore, where I wanted them to go, and that was that. The files finished downloading 31 minutes later.
Crashplan’s Android app was a little unreliable, repeatedly saying Error connecting to server when I tried to browse files from a previous backup. It worked after switching from Wi-Fi to cellular data and back again, and was simple to use from then on.
Downloaded files were listed in a separate section of the app, and could be viewed and managed from there. The app was nothing special, but it performed its limited tasks well enough.
There’s little doubt that Crashplan beats the competition when it comes to features. It works on Linux as well as Mac and Windows, and places no limits on portable drives, storage space, or retention of old or deleted versions of files.
The interface, while uninspiring, works well, and transfer speeds are in line with the competition. Restores are as simple as backups, which isn’t always the case with other services.
At five bucks a month, it was easily the best pick for any traveler, despite the excessive memory use. At double that, though, I can’t recommend it to everyone.
When it comes to keeping the files safe on the road, many (but not all) travelers will be served almost as well by Backblaze, and they’ll only need to spend $50/year to do it. Only those with specific needs, especially around backing up portable drives or restoring any file they’ve ever backed up, need to splash out on the expensive new Crashplan plans.
So, which cloud backup service should you use?
None of the products I tested came without flaws, but for most travelers, the answer is Backblaze. While it has frustrating limits around automatic removal of deleted, “missing,” and older versions of files, there’s also plenty to like.
At $5/month or $50/year for unlimited storage, it’s a cost-effective way of keeping your files safely backed up in the cloud. The app works well, unobtrusively backing up files without using all your system resources to do it. The restoration process, while undoubtedly clunkier than it needs to be, is equally speedy and works just fine.
Just don’t forget to configure Time Machine or one of the inbuilt Windows backup tools to back your files up to a portable drive as well, especially if internet connections are slow or infrequent when you travel.
For certain situations, however, Crashplan remains the better choice despite its price hike.
For those running Linux, it’s clearly the best of a limited bunch. If you’ve got external drives that also need backing up and you could potentially travel for a month or more without them, go for Crashplan as well: the extra cost is easier to stomach than re-uploading terabytes of files.
Likewise, if you need to be able to restore any version of any file you’ve ever backed up or deleted, it’s your best bet.
If you’re going with Crashplan, though, make sure your computer has plenty of spare memory. The app is a total resource hog, and the company has shown little interest in doing anything about it so far. On older machines, you’ll definitely notice the difference.
While Carbonite is sleek and simple to use for basic requirements, it’s frustrating to configure for anything else. Worse, the default settings make it all too easy to leave you thinking you’re backing up an important file when you’re not. In any case, it’s too expensive for what you get.
Likewise, Mozy has solid apps and useful features, but it’s impossible to recommend given how much you need to pay for its relatively small storage limits.
Final note: If you were a Crashplan Home customer prior to last week, and the company’s change of focus hasn’t left too much of a bad taste in your mouth, you may as well take advantage of the discounted small business version.
$2.50/month is cheaper than any of the alternatives, and gives you an extra year to finish moving your data to a different service. That’s what I’ll grudgingly be doing myself.
Main image via Simon Steinberger, other images via respective companies