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CrashPlan, Backblaze and IDrive

Posted on November 25, 2017 at 14:13

I am pretty paranoid about data loss. Locally, my Macs all use Time Machine, the servers all have RAID of some kind, and virtual machines are regularly backed up using Bacula. Local backup is not enough, though, so most of this is also backed up to the cloud. Unfortunately, the cloud service I’ve been using for the last few years has just been discontinued, so it’s time to pick something new.

Over and above the measures I take locally to preserve data against loss from things like equipment failure, I’m a big believer in off-site backups as a hedge against catastrophic loss: fire or theft, for example. That used to mean sending physical storage (magnetic tapes, CDs, DVDs, HDDs) to another location; these days using the Internet to continuously trickle updates to cloud storage is the way to go. My first forays into cloud backup involved a Pogoplug device, then services from Jungle Disk and Carbonite.

My current cloud backup regime involves some judicious use of Amazon Web Services’ S3 and Glacier products, but the workhorse is CrashPlan for Home: unlimited cloud backups for up to 10 machines. Unfortunately, this was so generously provisioned and so aggressively priced that it is being discontinued, so I needed to look for a replacement. The recommended replacements (CrashPlan for Small Business and Carbonite) are both significantly more expensive for my situation, which involves a number of machines with relatively small storage needs. They get even more expensive after the first year (a 75% discount on year 1 is another way of saying “it’s really four times this price”).

This meant that the choice was relatively open for me, and I was able to find a good review of the leading options. I have ended up picking a combination of services from their top two picks: Backblaze and IDrive. Let’s break that down.


I have been aware of Backblaze for some time. John Gruber recommends it, specifically as a CrashPlan alternative. They have regularly sponsored podcasts I listen to, and the hosts there also seem to be using it. They are very transparent about the way they build their storage systems and what they know about hard drive reliability, so I don’t have as many concerns that this will turn out to be an unsustainable business for them.

Backblaze’s Personal Backup service fits my primary machine perfectly. It’s an unlimited-storage deal, but for a single computer rather than many. It defaults to backing up essentially all non-system files with some exclusions so for a developer who has a lot of data in non-standard locations I get a good feeling that if I add new data it will be protected by default.

My main issue in adopting it has been to temporarily exclude some low-priority data to allow the important material to be backed up first, and excluding some cache locations it doesn’t know about already (I’m looking at you, EVE Online’s 20GB SharedCache directory stored under ~/Library).


With Backblaze taking care of my main development machine, I still have a lot of other things that need to be protected. There’s not a lot of data per machine, though, so IDrive’s service model of a fixed storage limit across any number of machines allows me to use them for “everything else”.

IDrive’s defaults are more appropriate for a consumer offering. For example, their defaults for a Windows machine are to back up just your personal Desktop, Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos directories. AppData is not included by default, so anything an application might be keeping in there isn’t being saved unless you want it to. If you have other directories under your home directory, you need to remember to add them. It’s a similar story on the Mac.

This is probably the right approach for this service to take given the storage limits, but it doesn’t fit some of my development systems very well. On those machines, I have the option of explicitly adding more directories to be backed up, or removing the default sources and asking it to back up everything and excluding the excess as I have done with Backblaze.

The Future

Another long term option for some systems would be to move from IDrive to raw cloud storage. I’ve used Amazon S3 for this in the past, but although prices are always dropping they are still fairly high; at present, S3 costs about $275 per terabyte-year. Backblaze’s (relatively) new B2 cloud storage service runs around $60 per terabyte-year; that’s a big enough downward jump in price to make me start to think about it as a practical alternative to something like IDrive.