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A holiday crash plan
Swamp Tech

You Can't Wait

Here are the links for those who tear the paper before reading the card:

http://www.crashplan.com – Free software that allows backups to local, remote and very low-cost online backup service

http://www.zumodrive.com – 2GB free space with file sharing and streaming files to an iPhone / iPod Touch app

http://skydrive.live.com/ - 25GB of free web storage

http://www.gladinet.com – free software that lets you map SkyDrive, Picasaweb, Google Docs and other free and commercial cloud storage as a local drive

http://www.syncback.com – free software that synchronizes and backs up to local, virtual and FTP storage

On Sunday, my home backup drive failed. Unfortunately, it also included some free music I’d downloaded only to that drive. So I decided to review backup options because I definitely needed a new crash plan. Little did I know that what I needed IS CrashPlan…

A Plan for When Your Hard Drive Crashes

Online backups are nothing new. Services like Mozy and Carbonite (I’ve used both) have been around for years and have saved thousands of rear ends in that time. They cost about USD $5 / month and provide unlimited backups, but they have “issues”… And, they only provide online backups, which are notoriously slow to restore. For faster restores, a local backup (another internal or external drive on your system) is your best bet.

That’s where CrashPlan comes in. CrashPlan provides free software that allows you to backup your files to multiple locations:

  • CrashPlan Central (online backup, free for 30 days, but unlimited space is as low as USD $3.50 / month)
  • Friends’ computers or remote file servers via the Internet
  • Other computers on your network
  • Local drives (internal, USB, etc.)
CrashPlan’s features are the best of all of its competition, without some of the limitations. You can get continuous backup (i.e. files are backed up as they change) with the CrashPlan Plus software (normally $60, but free through 12/31/2009 with a CrashPlan Central account) and scheduled backups with the free CrashPlan software, both of which run on Windows, Mac OSX, Linux (yes, you can backup your Windows 7 desktop to your Apple Macbook and vice versa). Because CrashPlan backs up changes, you can restore previous versions of files.

You Have Questions

Does it take weeks for the initial backup of my video collection to the online service? It could, even though files are compressed locally before sending. But you can also “seed” the backup by sending a local backup to the company (there is a charge for this, but the company provides the drive and mailers).

Will it take over my computer when it’s doing the backups? Only if you let it! After reading about 20 reviews and completing my own testing, I’ve found performance to be much better than services like Carbonite and Mozy. Like these services, CrashPlan enable you to control bandwidth during usage (i.e. it kicks in when you’re not using the computer).

Will a restore from the online backup take weeks? It could, but you can also have the company ship a hard drive with your backup on it for a fee. Again, using a local backup addresses this.

What about CrashPlan Central’s backups? They are verified every night.

Is CrashPlan secure? Of course. 128-bit encryption is standard, and you have the option of specify your own private encryption key (i.e. no one but you can access your files), and 448-bit encryption is available with CrashPlan Plus.

Is the company going to be around next year? After losing backups with several services that disappeared (e.g. MyBloop.com, HP’s Upline.com, etc…), I have the same concern. But that’s the benefit of having (and using) other options in addition to online.

Is CrashPlan perfect? Not yet, but I’ve been watching this space for years and it seems to have the best mix of features and performance. This review highlights some of the things that would make it perfect, and I absolutely agree with the suggestions for missing features. Being able to specify unique backup sets by destination shouldn’t be difficult and would be a major benefit. Since this is a backup service, rather than a file sharing service, having better online access to files is a nice to have. This should also be fairly easy to implement (though it must be secure), and I suspect this may be on the drawing board, if not already in development. Please note something very important about this review (I saw this on the only other review that had anything negative to say, too): someone from the company responded! This company gets it…

If you want to share files or stream music to your iPhone or iPod Touch, check out ZumoDrive, which gives you 2GB of free space, mapped as a local drive (i.e. you load files by copying them from your C drive to your 2GB Z drive). It works with iTunes, too, and there is a free iPhone app that lets you stream files from your ZumoDrive over wifi. The file sharing over the Internet isn’t bad either…

If you’re too cheap to spring for the low-cost CrashPlan Central, but still want online storage, or you want more than 2GB of free space for file sharing, check out Windows Live SkyDrive which provides 25GB of web storage for free. Yes, it’s from Microsoft, so it works better with Internet Exploder, uh, Explorer. The free Gladinet Cloud Desktop software enables you to create a virtual drive using SkyDrive, Google Docs, PicasaWeb, and other free and commercial cloud storage options, and provides a backup function and the ability to schedule backups.

Although CrashPlan doesn’t appear to work with a Gladinet virtual drive, it works with ZumoDrive and may work with other virtual drives, too. And, if the Gladinet Cloud Desktop software doesn’t meet your needs, the free SyncBack software works with Gladinet virtual drives.

Have a safe and happy holiday season – and don’t forget to backup before the new year to enjoy the gift of having the peace of mind to know that your important computer files are safe because you have a good crash plan.

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